The Theremin-X Project
The Theremin-X Project imagines a small concert in which a theremin is hooked up to vibrators worn by audience members, with the pitch, volume, and intensity of the music translated directly into vibration. You can see the result below.
The piece features Armen Ra on the theremin, with Casey Calvert, Lance Hart, and Ella Nova playing the audience members. I couldn’t have asked for a more talented group, and am still amazed that we were able to bring them together for this.
Although the video doesn’t show implementation details, Armen’s theremin really was driving the vibrators during filming. Three wireless, wearable vibrators from Lovense were used, with Midi Merlin converting the audio signal from the theremin into data that a simple script translated into vibration strength.
There’s probably a certain piece of music that evokes particularly strong emotions in you, be it by the Beatles or Ludwig van (personally I can’t make it through the French horn parts of The Firebird finale without getting all choked up). But what if you take that emotion to the next level? What if you could literally be turned on by a song? How would this change your relationship to music, or to the musician for that matter?
I’m fascinated by the idea of remixing the senses, using technology to change how we can see and experience and understand the world. The Theremin-X project is a very direct take on such remixing: translating the music of the theremin into stimulating vibrations. With this setup, the musician “plays” the sensations and emotions of their audience while the audience submits themselves to this. Really, in a way, this is sort of what music is already about, the vibrators just make it obvious.
Not that getting turned on by music is all that far fetched either. Aspects of the project were directly inspired by my own synesthesia experiences, fleeting states in which music not just provided a vehicle to express desire or put me in the mood, but became an abstract lover so to speak. Such experiences have been incredibly profound, yet sound incredibly stupid or gross when I try to put them in words.
Explaining to people just why I was so invested in creating this silly theremin sex video has been challenging—because I’m the first to admit that it is kind of silly. But watching the end result, I see some of the dynamics that I had trouble expressing: the blending of senses, giving in to the music, a surreal type of beauty.
Perhaps that’s one reason why the theremin was such a perfect fit for this project. The instrument is both strange yet familiar, and I was captivated by its etherial, electronic sound, which can range from an otherworldly synth to a beautiful female soprano. Playing is expressive—almost a form of conducting—yet it also demands enormous control and precision. The fact that you play without physical touch and that it was one of the first electronic instruments also seemed entirely appropriate here.
It’s also a damned difficult instrument to pickup. I’ve been trying to learn for a few months now with little to show for it. And back when I was first planning this project, I had serious doubts that any professional thereminists would be interested in a project like the one I was proposing. (The first iterations of the project instead considered creating a club scene where all the patrons would be outfitted with vibrators controlled by the DJ. Which still sounds pretty awesome, but I can’t imagine that it would have actually turned out well.)
I am incredibly grateful that Armen understood the ideas behind the project and trusted in my vision. He brought incredible musical talent and gave the entire piece a very unique style. Casey, Lance, and Ella also all did an amazing job bringing everything together and conveying the sensations visually, in spite of my terribly vague directions. And the whole thing would have never been possible without Anatomik Media’s coordination and filming. It was a lot of fun to be around such a unique group, and to discover some of our unexpected connections.
I really felt completely out of my depth while working on this project. Why was I the right person to create this thing? Yet as I watched everything come together in that hot Los Angeles warehouse back in early June, I realized that I had brought all these amazing people together to create something that no one else had really done before. That’s pretty cool. And I think that we created something pretty great.