It must be quite a sight: four guys wiggling their hands in the air near antennaed boxes, one girl playing a guitar. The music is like nothing you've ever heard: The Lothars, a four-theremin outfit from Boston, make music that falls in the unoccupied zone exactly halfway between a Mideaval choir and a 1950s sci- fi film soundtrack.
Theremins have most often been heard as incidental accompaniments to standard orchestral music, and occasionally appear on pop songs. But The Lothars have created a theremin-focused mini-orchestra, with a guitar acting as the rhythm section. Their songs swirl and quiver as music only can when four people play their instruments without touching them.
- Russian Leon Theremin invented the instrument in 1920.
- Theremin players don't touch their instrument while performing; instead, they wave their hands near the instruments' antennae.
- The documentary film Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey follows Leon Theremin's life, including his kidnapping by Soviet operatives in the 1938.
- The most famous song featuring a theremin is the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations."
- Soundtracks to '50s science fiction films The Day The Earth Stood Still and The Thing prominently feature theremin music.
About half of the songs on The Lothars' recent CD Oscillate My Metallic Sonatas were improvised live. When the band hit chords that sounded like voices in a church, "It was just happenstance," says Jon. "People just key in. I kind of like that randomness." He strives for the theremins to be disparate, falling apart, then come together again naturally.
So, what's a lothar?
An American psychedlic pop group in the 60s was called Lothar and the Hand People - Lothar was the name of their theremin. Despite top billing, the theremin was barely used on their recordings. The Lothars are rectifying the exploitation of their theremin forefather decades ago by taking his name.
"It's really, really heard to keep a steady pitch on a theremin," says Jon Bernhardt, founder of The Lothars. "One of the little secrets about playing theremin is that it sounds really cool when you hear the vibrato - but it's almost a cheat because it's a little bit easier." Ask any surgeon - letting your hand tremble a little while it's hovering near the theremin is easier than holding it very, very steady. "That said, you can have really bad vibrato."
4 CDs that The Lothars' Jon Bernhardt is digging right now:
Chris Knox - Beat - there's an amazing song about his father losing his mind and dying
Alastair Galbraith - Cry - from New Zealand
Big Tobacco - Big Tobacco - a.k.a. the Pernice Brothers. I just saw them live and they were amazing
Bright - Full Negative (or) Breaks - they're from Boston
They got their first gig before they'd even gotten together to rehearse. Now they've released their second CD - download the track "Bleep-Bloop" now to hear the completely unique sound of The Lothars.