This is the most 'Star Wars' instrument ever.
Click on the website of Dorit Chrysler and you’ll something along the lines of the Addams Family.
Chrysler has been dubbed a hybrid Björk-Faithfull entity, a superior wizard of the Theremin. An Austrian-born, New York-based composer and musician, she is mostly known for her use of the instrument you don't actually touch, but automatically think of the Twilight Zone when you hear it.
The Theremin is one of the first electronic instruments, invented in 1928. It’s kind of psychic because you’re playing the invisible energy fields around the aentennas, which are controlling the sound’s pitch and volume (Led Zeppelin used it on tracks like "Whole Lotta Love" and "No Quarter").
Chrysler may play a fringe instrument, but she has had her fair share of being center stage (when not sharing the bill with Marilyn Manson, Dinosaur Jr., or Blonde Redhead). She has recorded with the producers of Cat Power, The Strokes and Tocotronic, with her first solo record was released in 2004 and her most recent record is the spooky-sounding Avalanche.
A solo artist for 13 years now, Chrysler has got one foot in the art scene, playing at the biggest art events like the Venice Biennale, Art Basel and museums all over Europe. She has founded the New York Theremin Society, which brings together like-minded Theremin players and put on shows together.
Between shows, Chrysler chatted about her new LP, bloody knees, music videos and her deep, nerdy love of all things Theremin.
Noisey: So Dorit, how many Theremins do you have today?
Dorit Chrysler: Four—I am a geek! I have two MOOG Theremins (the Etherwave and the Eherwave Pro), furthermore a Theremin built like a spy's suitcase, which I use for my secretary act, and my latest acquisition is a custom made HOBBS, prototype number two, it looks and sounds amazing and was created by a young genius called Charlie Hobbs.
How is playing the Theremin different from playing other instruments?
Well, you don't touch anything, for once, so any reference or orientation is not physical but in your mind, you hear the note in your head first, then you play it. A Theremin is so overly sensitive in responding to the tiniest move, it amplifies your own moods dramatically, therein lies the danger, the challenge and the joy.
Are there any misconceptions about the Theremin you wish would go away?
Yep. Don’t think a Theremin is this dismal sounding silly device or nothing but a gimmick, show it some love and it will open up to you like a lotus flower, a very expressive and versatile instrument. It can rock and it can hum.
You co-founded the New York Theremin Society. Who are the members and what do you do together?
A Thereminist is a rare breed. I wanted to meet the other players, and brought many of them together in New York, the big surprise was how different the approaches were, it became a healthy exchange and challenge for everyone, plus when you play duets, trios or orchestras, that's when the fun really begins. In the meantime, the New York Theremin Society has grown, all the shows are sold out, and Thereminists from all over the world have performed, as it still is a small group of people we mostly know each other or of each other and it is healthy to support each other. Community is everything!
You have been a guest artist on many albums, how does the Theremin fit with various music styles?
That is the challenge, some musicians like Trentemøller really understand the instrument and know how to use it properly in song structure. I was very surprised when playing on Tocotronics last album, how experimental I was allowed to be. Moses Schneider, the producer was pushing the capacities of the instrument. It was great fun!
Your music video for Avalanche was directed by Jesper Just and Martin de Thurah. When was it shot?
Avalanche was my latest release, produced by Trentemøller and put out on his label. It was shot shortly after we all experienced the hurricane and electricity fall out in NYC, I am blind in the video, after the ultimate disaster, dishevelled and searching for someone or something. My knees were bloody from crawling on the floor for hours during the shoot.
Ouch. The singing is great, though. Did you always sing?
Yes, as soon as I could climb trees, I was sitting in them, singing.
What do you have upcoming this winter?
I’m playing Bogota, Columbia, some concerts in Europe, NYC, and mostly working on my new record, plus a soundtrack for a horror film by James Photopoulos, which is something I’ve always wanted to do!