Category Archive: Theremin
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My AirDeck virtual theremin application was recently mentioned in Electronic Gaming Monthly and I was briefly quoted. Here is the excerpt from the article:
I am also posting a couple of photos that I sent to EGM to use in the article. EGM did not end up using them, but they are really great shots taken by my friend Omar Ramirez of Public Works Collective from my sit-down with them last year. Public Works Collective is a group putting together a film documentary chronicling the history of the Los Angeles electronic dance music scene. Here are the shots:
Ken Moore has been working on theremin emulation for some time now. He developed a Wii remote based theremin, and was quite helpful to me as I was developing my AirDeck project, which was also a Wii based theremin emulation application. Now Ken has done it again. This time, with the Kinect motion detection device that is used with the Xbox 360. Perhaps, if I can find the time, I can work on something similar with the PlayStation Move, which I have, and then we will have effectively converted all three motion based video game systems into theremins. Check this out:
This is a pretty good basic introduction to theremins and how they work from G4TV’s Attack of the Show segment called It’s Effing Science.
For the past few months I have had a number of people asking me if and when I plan on releasing the code to my AirDeck project. This is something I have been thinking about, but I have a number of concerns. I am not intending to make any money off this project (not even sure if I could), but I know that I would not someone else to run with the code and make money off of it either. Also, because I am using several APIs that were developed by other people, I am not sure what the licensing issues are. So, I am still deciding on how to proceed.
In the meantime, however, I have decided to post an early iteration of this project in applet form. This is a mouse based version, not using the Wii remote, as this is how I initially began coding and testing the project. I will be the first to admit this is somewhat buggy. I am also interested in seeing how this runs as a client applet on other machines over the internet. This is using a beta version of the JSYN api that is supposed to work without any plugin software. It works fine on my machine, but please leave me a note in the comments describing any issues you may encounter. Thanks and enjoy!
Also, this is a java applet, so java must be installed on your machine. Here is a link to the applet page:
This is a beautiful rendition of one of my favorite relaxing classical pieces. This version is played on a theremin by Randy George. Enjoy.
This website chronicles the history of electronic musical instruments from the late 1800s to 1990. Included is information about the theremin, the Ondes-Martenot and the Telharmonium, which are three very interesting early instruments.
Here is some video I shot shortly after my project presentation which demonstrates the AirDeck virtual theremin application I designed and explains some of the features. It uses the Wii remote as an input mechanism by tracking motion with Infrared LEDs. The AirDeck is written in Java with the WiiUseJ API for handling Wii remote events and the JSyn API for internal synthesis. It can control MIDI out as well as offering a simple DJ scratch interface for real-time manipulation of sound samples similar to a DJ scratching with vinyl records. After about a year of working on this project, I am very relieved that it is finished. I’ve learned a lot and am looking forward to possibly working on other similar concepts in the not too distant future.
The Fall Quarter will be starting up this week and as a result I am really making a final push to complete as much of my project as possible. My goal over the summer was to complete as much of the application as possible, so I wasn’t scrambling during the quarter to wrap everything up. The good news is, I have made some significant progress on many fronts, but I am still not where I wanted to be when the quarter started.
Here is where I am at so far:
- I have redesigned the GUI somewhat, adding elements for some of the features that I am adding. For example, I added tabs to select the mode the AirDeck will be using based on user selection. Right now, my main priority is on the “SynthDeck,” which is the theremin app. I added tabs for ScratchDeck, a DJ scratching utility and MixDeck, a DJ mixing utility. These last two components are outside of the scope of my Project, although I would like to fit them in, time and resources permitting. Even when the Project is complete, I still plan to develop these elements… I Just had to limit the scope of my project work to something that I am 100% confident that I can deliver – which is the theremin/synth side.
- I have the MIDI out working now. This will allow the user to select a MIDI out device and it either can use the built in General Midi Instrument library(from the soundcard), or it can be used to control an external sound source such as a VST instrument, a 3rd party synth application or MIDI capable keyboard/gear. One issue I am trying to work through is that because I am using the MIDI pitch bend control, which is a variable parameter depending on what MIDI capable device is being triggered, the notes on the keyboard grid do not line up with the grid that I currently have set up for internal synthesis. So I might have to dynamically reconfigure the keyboard grid depending on the range of notes the pitch bend is set for, although this is dependent on the external application. I did include a dropdown menu for choosing the General MIDI patch, so the user can change the instrument they are playing. Currently these are represented by numbers, if I can figure out how to get the list of instrument names programmatically, I will add that as well.
- The amplitude control issue has been resolved, although I need to work this out for midi control. It is my understanding that midi control has aftertouch and velocity signals that can be modified, so I need to figure out how to dynamically control these.
- The GUI has been tightened up in terms of event logic. I have individual methods for each of the GUI components such that choices made by choosing certain items make the appropriate calls.
Here is what is currently outstanding:
- While I added synth parameter sliders such as Attack, Decay, Resonance, etc. I still need to figure out how to program those to apply the actual effect.
- Same thing with the effects sliders, which will add global effects such as Reverb and Delay.
- I need to program the preset sounds. I want these to sound as realistic as possible and since I am still learning a lot about analogue synthesis, it will remain a challenge to program these right.
- I want to incorporate patch saving capabilities so that a user can tweak certain parameters of a sound and then be able to recall these later. That is why I have added a File Menu.
- I want to add status indicators that show the three following things: a) the Wii remote is connected, b)battery level of the Wii remote, c) Midi out is active.
Here is the GUI as it currently stands:
I haven’t posted anything new for a couple of days as I’ve been busy working on some new elements for the Airdeck. For starters, I am designing some Infrared LED gloves. I know virtually nothing about electronics, so I had to research this, but I think I have a decent design in mind now. I actually had a working glove this weekend, but I didn’t know that you needed resistors, so I have to order some and start over. Also, my dad shared with me some information about Molex solderless connectors, so I am gonna try those for some of the connections because my soldering skills need some work. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post some more info on the gloves by the weekend.
As for coding, I have been trying to incorporate some new features. I have two oscillators available now that get mixed together. So if a user picks a “Custom” preset, the radio button panels for oscillators 1 and 2 will be available to select different waveforms. I also have a panel with several faders, but they don’t do anything yet. The idea is to offer some filtering and modulation to the waveforms. Additionally, because the left hand(Y-axis) is only used for volume… I thought that any left hand movement on the X-Axis should be available to control another parameter such as a filter, if the user desires.
I still need to program the preset sounds, program the filters, and figure out how to get MIDI out to work. Also, when I added two waveforms mixed together, for some reason the amplitude control sounds a little glitchy when you try and raise or lower the volume with the left hand. So I have to figure out what that is all about.
Finally, I’ve been working on making the GUI look a little nicer. I still have to work some kinks out, but this is one of the ideas I had. Going old school. Although it might be cool to offer several skins that the user can select from. I will give that some thought as well.
This is a great performance, and it is amazing how the timbre of this theremin really comes across as a human-like voice…
Ken Moore is another Wii theremin designer who has done a great job working in this realm. His project predates mine and he has received much deserved acclaim for the work he’s done and I would be remiss without acknowledging his accomplishments. He is working in C#, using Brian Peek’s Wiimote Library, which is what I was initially going to use as well. I went the Java route primarily because there is better synthesizer and MIDI support in Java. In any event, Ken has been very nice and supportive of my efforts and I wish him all the best as he moves forward. He is also way ahead of me in getting some actual music outta the thing!
As promised, here is some video of my project work completed so far. I still have quite a ways to go; there are a bunch of ideas I have to add to this, as well as checking for bugs and making the GUI look more sophisticated. But this video captures the main functionality of the application and I am pleased with the initial progress I have made over the summer.
Here is an amazing performance by an elite thereminist. Her name is Pamelia Kurstin. She also discusses some aspects of playing the instrument. Aside from the elegant beauty of her performance check out the cool walking upright jazz bassline she pulls off at around 2:48. Unbelievable!
The theremin, developed by Russian physicist Leon Theremin, is an instrument that allows the user to manipulate musical volume and frequency by moving one’s hands in front of the instrument’s antennae. The sound produced is a haunting, almost eerie, timbre that made the instrument a novel feature in many 1950’s horror and science fiction movies.
This is just the initial interface to get things going. I intend to have a drop down menu with several preset sounds. Additionally, I want to offer the user the ability to customize their sounds, which is what the waveform radio buttons are for. I am still debating how much customization of sound I will be offering, but choosing a waveform is a good basic start. Further, there will be an option to send the notes out through MIDI. The red dot represents the right hand and controls pitch by tracking movement along the X-Axis. The blue dot represents volume and is controlled by the left hand moving along the Y-Axis. The application is triggered with the Wii Remote communicating with the host PC over bluetooth. More on this process in upcoming posts.