Theremin Player DORIT CHRYSLER – founder of the NEW YORK THEREMIN SOCIETY and currently working with MOOG MUSIC on a new Theremin prototype – has collaborated with an astounding amount of established artists that inc. Tony Conrad, Foetus, Chicks on Speed, Jean-Jacques Perrey and countless others (Be sure to check out her website for more info), demonstrating her versatility and diverse approach to one of popular cultures most irreverent and infamous instruments. Black Forest spoke to her about her active and past projects, her recent collaboration with Trentemøller and her plans for this year…
When did you discover the Theremin and what made you gravitate toward it?
About ten years ago a friend had a theremin for repair at his house, he demonstrated it to me and I was intrigued!
Rather than the austere approach some theremin players have, you seem to utilise it in a professional yet playful way , sometimes paying homage to sci-fi kitsch, a style more akin to its famous usage in 1950’s sci-fi movies, where do you draw you inspiration from for your style?
I appreciate the emotional expressiveness a theremin brings to the table, I like its humour too, it’s drama and its eeriness, mostly the unique way of laying several layers on top of it, when it creates a weaving effect that taps into the subconscious.
But yes, I grew up being a huge star trek fan, so I could easily relate to the theremin from its sci-fi angle, it just doesn’t stop there, for me the theremin is a serious instrument, even when also used in a light and playful way – different styles, bring it on!
Does Léon Theremin’s life interest you – the eccentricity and innovation? As with Nikola Tesla his life was permeated with a
strangeness and otherness – does the alluring arcane romanticism of this period in scientific discovery permeate your attitude and
approach toward the Theremin? Are there any areas of science that really interest you?
Obviously I want to know what makes things work and the innovative lives of both Theremin and Tesla are fascinating and inspiring. I ventured to Belgrade to play right next to a Tesla coil and Tesla’s ashes in a museum carrying his name -I also traced back Theremin’s early life when i was in St. Petersburg, the big question beckons if those two ever met during their time in NY, the city has many traces of both of them. To be honest, my strength lies more in history than physics, but i do like to take a screwdriver in my hand and fix things.
Are there any tweaks or adjustments that you have implemented to a Theremin ,or inventive ways you have discovered of anipulating
the Theremin’s sound and capability?
It seems to be a big job already to get the intonation right, so i am a bit conservative when it comes to that, I do enjoy sending the theremin through different effect boxes though to influence its voicing, some old guitar effect box that I customized, a line 6 pedal and some moogerfoogers, then some looping to turn the phonophonic instrument polyphonic.
Moog music is working on a new Theremin based prototype and i am working with the engineers to customize some of its settings, so that is a big thrill to actually be able to influence the design of an instrument. The outcome remains to be seen!
What’s the most fun or innovative project you have been involved with Theremin wise?
Hard to tell, there have been so many different angles, playing along and being attacked by dancers, but my favourite was a production by Philippe Quesne, a big bus filled with an innocent audience drove into a big hall filled with smoke, as people stumble out of the bus, disoriented by the fog, the headlights of the bus hit the Thereminist and the music starts, a setting like swamps in a horror movie, a Thereminist’s wet dream!!
Your collaborations have been excitingly diverse, and as well as lending melodies and atmosphere to peoples work ,you have also
guested with artists with a very abrasive sound – what was it like collaborating with J G Thirwell, and how did that come about?
JG Thirlwell and myself go a while back, we dated for some years and have been best friends ever since. One of my first big tours was opening for foetus, and it influenced me very much, I think, mostly in terms of showmanship. I know his, as you call it, abrasive sound but I also know other musical sides of his very eclectic tastes, in general I like the challenge of finding a way to collaborate even if it does not seem obvious at first sight, either you like it or not, the theremin has many faces. I like to rock it and I think it important to involve this instrument in contemporary sound.
Are you interested in scoring soundtracks for movies and if so what type of movie would be ideal for you to compose a soundtrack to?
So far I have done music for short movies or licensed songs for different scenes in tv and movies, but obviously, of course, my phantasy soundtrack would be for a scary spooky & seductive mad b-movie!
Last year you expanded your sound into seductive electronic pop by collaborating with Anders Trentemøller on the fantastic Avalanche EP, was this a liberating genre for you to work in?
It was a good angle to take, he told me to sing low and his support gave me the confidence to try some different things. it has been a great experience and beckons to be followed by an LP.
What’s the music scene in New York like now, what places/scenes can you recommend? How has New York changed over the years
since you relocated there?
New York is in constant flux and I don’t even know where to begin, definitely check out concerts at the new rough trade store in Brooklyn, my personal discovery has been Pioneer works (pioneerworks.org) in Red Hook Brooklyn, a place for art and innovation, and i discovered some great things there.
Are there any stories, funny ,bizarre or otherwise you would care to share with us from all your time as a performer?
About to play a synagogue in Serbia, when the organizers refused the concert as they had discovered a picture of me with Marilyn Mansion, the devil as they called him, but my favourite incident is when, playing in a small eastern European town, an orthodox priest held his cross not against me but against the theremin as to protect the audience from its evil, something like this just doesn’t happen when you are a trombonist..
What does 2014 hold for Dorit Chrysler?
Conducting a theremin orchestra, a commission for a soundtrack by MoMA, creating a song each for 10 photographs in an exhibition, working and hopefully finishing my new record and, ideally, being challenged and surprised along the way.
NEW YORK THEREMIN SOCIETY HOMEPAGE: