The Lothars

From the Dec. 3-9, 1998 issue of Metroland - Albany, New York's "Alternative Newsweekly."

The Lothars

Meet The Lothars (Camera Obscura)

Ever since I was a little boy I've made it my practice to check out any record that had a monkey on the cover. So here I am with the new album by the Lothars.

What sets this band apart --- I mean, besides the monkey on the cover --- is the simple yet daunting fact that one member of the quartet plays guitar while the remaining three all play theremins (not a word often seen in its plural form). Jon Bernhardt was inspired to start the ensemble two years ago after seeing a documentary on the life of the electronic instrument's inventor, Leon Theremin, who envisioned a place in the music world for his creation that never materialized. He saw its single sliding tone as a cousin to the violin, but in the more than 70 years since it left his laboratory and was introduced to the world, the instrument has been used primarily in horror film soundtracks and on the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations."

Energized by the story of Theremin's life and the possibilities of his instrument, Bernhardt set out to create a "theremin orchestra," which led to a two-part process of finding instruments and finding players. The result of this process, Meet the Lothars, exists in a sort of friendly corridor of the avant-garde. It's demanding only insofar as the combined swell of three theremins can sound variously like bees, traffic, wind through a silo, steam and assorted manufacturing processes. But the nine instrumental pieces all have their own clear identities and owe a great deal of their architecture to pop sensibilities. The Lothars are not the first to wed a theremin to a pop group, though; their name is a reference to Lothar & the Hand People, who in the '60s wove a theremin through what was otherwise a fairly standard-issue psychedelic garage band. These Lothars are much more orchestral in their scope, pitting sound against sound without any additional context (such as human singing), which makes Meet the Lothars a brave enterprise.

--- David Greenberger