The Theremin Set
by Sergio Messina

Some of my work in 1997 involves the use of a small Theremin. The Theremin (Thereminvox or Eterophone) was patented in 1924 by the russian scientist Leo Theremin. It is a box that contains an oscillator and an antenna. Moving the hands around the antenna induces an alteration of the microwave field around it, thus producing a sound that increases in pitch as the hands draw nearer; this means that you hardly ever touch it while performing (and adds a charming visual element to it). The Theremin caught the attention of such composers as Edgar Varése and Bohuslav Martinù.

I have been playing it in extremely different contexts such as hip hop jams, techno raves, radical improvisations, readings and street performances. I use a set (battery powered when no AC is available on site) that includes the Theremin, various effects (tremolo, fuzz, distortion, delay, phaser, wah and harmonizer) and a guitar amp. Most of the street solo work involves the use of another audio source (usually a radio, or a microphone placed at ground level) to provide a "sound dialogue".

It's important to understand that these performances do not involve finished pieces or even work in progress. They are just what busking is to me: sounds for (or against) the soundscape of cities; audio that is produced live for the public's (as well as the performer's) momentary entertainment and pleasure 8this is also why the passing audience is free to give me money or not). The perfect placement for the listener is walking by, going somewhere (or at the most innocent bystanding, but no seats).


All is needed for this performance is a bit of street, an AC outlet (if available) and a permission to perform there. on site there will be a note explaining the nature of the instrument and the sounds produced. Some performences will be recorded with ambient microphones on digital tape.

Sergio Messina - 1997