Why did you start playing the theremin?
I felt an instant attraction to the instrument and the sound and approach of Clara Rockmore's style of playing. Her style was very different from all other theremin playing I'd heard before; it looked crazy! I couldn't understand the hand movements in correlation to what I was hearing. The heavenly/unearthly music/sound was the thing!
It was a beautiful singing style, infinitely shaded and not at all like the fast psycho sci-fi vibrato we know and love. I thought, "I must have this instrument!" I thought since I have very good pitch that I would be able to play well right away...followed by a rude awakening to a whole new wide world of difficulties.
I figured after about 5 minutes that it had to be a hoax! Impossible to play in tune! Nevertheless, I kept at it, annoying my family and neighbors to the best of my abilities until after a (long) time it started to sound better...slowly.
What’s your typical response to someone who asks what a theremin is?
"You talkin' to me?" Followed by too much information if they're really interested. Usually I get more people talking about it after they've seen/heard it. It's a very striking thing to see/hear something out of nothing. Kinda like tickling The Invisible Man and hearing laughter.
You’ve worked with a diverse group of musicians, from Simon and Garfunkel and Stevie Wonder to Willie Nelson and Queen Latifah. You’ve even worked with Kurt Vonnegut and Steve Buscemi. What experience has been the most rewarding musically? Personally?
I try to make the most rewarding thing I've ever done be what I am working on at that moment. While that sounds good it doesn't always work out that way. I really liked playing with Wayne Shorter, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Paul Simon, Bobby McFerrin at Carnegie Hall, Simon & Garfunkel in front of the Colosseum in Rome for more than 600,000 people, playing in my group Polygraph Lounge, playing my solo piano/theremin/continuum concerts. Oh, yeah, and playing for strippers at a truck drivers' convention.
Your last record was released in 2007. What have you been working on since then? Have you been recording new material?
I think I'm just going to agonize over my next move until complete paralysis sets in. I was very happy with how my last record Beyond The Sky turned out, so I want whatever comes next to be at least comparable. I had a great producer, Joe Mardin, working with me.
Actually, I have been recording new stuff (mostly piano, my main instrument), but lately things have begun to change in terms of wanting to record some different kinds of music. I could tell you more, but then I'd have to kill myself.
You recorded with Martin Rivas on his most recent album, Reliquary. Can you tell us about the session?
Evidently producer Alex Wong and Martin had been thinking of using theremin on a tune. I didn't know Martin or Alex at the time. (Strangely enough a good friend of mine asked me a few months before, "Did you ever hear a guy named Martin Rivas? Really good!") I was heading out of town when they wanted me to come in and the only possible time was the morning. It's hard to make a good impression on new people on an impossible instrument when I'm such a cantankerous fuck at that time of day. We had a great time and they were fun and funny and great to work with.
What’s next musically?
My latest passion is an instrument called the Haken Continuum! It's amazing! Rather than try to describe it for 12 paragraphs here are 2 links of me playing at home with lousy camera sound. The first is The Beatles' "Because." Check out the totally polyphonic aftertouch and vibrato.
This second one is imagining Jeff Beck blowing on a Rachmaninov etude.