“Improvisations for Theremin and Piano” – Carolina Eyck, theremin/Christopher Tarnow, p. – Butterscotch Records (both CD & audiophile vinyl)

“Improvisations for Theremin and Piano” – Carolina Eyck, theremin/Christopher Tarnow, p. – Butterscotch Records (both CD & audiophile vinyl) BSR010, 35:57 (11/18/14) [Distr. by Redeye] ***:

This weirdly fascinating and surprisingly rewarding dual-format release (CD and hi-definition vinyl) is a set of pieces improvised or “composed” on the spot by pianist Christopher Tarnow and thereminist Carolina Eyck. Both artists are from Germany and have long and impressive resumes showcasing their solo appearances and collaborations with a number of renowned organizations, including the Bern Symphony, the Stuttgart Philharmonic, the Hamburg Ballet and Theatre Leipzig.

Now. Theremin and piano is not exactly a common combination. The theremin, if you are not familiar, was invented in 1928 by the Russian acoustical engineer Leon Theremin. It is an instrumented played without actually touching anything. Sounds are generated electronically and allowed to create waves which can be altered for pitch or volume by the operator/performer’s hands moving in proximity to one of two antenna-like metal bars. ThereminPhotox

Those already familiar with the instrument’s eerie and hard to describe sound already kind of know what to expect. We think of – by now – somewhat dated and “cheesy” horror movie or sci-fi sounds effects, such as those heard in The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World or the iconic Forbidden Planet.

I myself was uninformed to think, initially, “Theremin and piano? Really?” The fact is that the album and the pieces developed by Tarnow and Eyck bear no resemblance to the stereotype. The selections bear interesting and provocative titles like “A Whale in Love” or “Deep in the Earth.” The former does actually bear a resemblance to some hump-backed whale sounds but the interaction between Eyck and Tarnow results in a thing of true beauty. Another very interesting example for me was the closing “Haunted Ballerina” which conjures up the delicate moves of a dancer, just as anticipated. A similarly rewarding experience comes from “Quiet Snowfall” with its soft, tinkling effervescence.

Eyck is able to get some gorgeous and unpredictable sounds from her instrument, modern versions of which are more sophisticated than Dr. Theremin’s original (I discovered you can actually buy one from a few manufacturers and it is tempting). I also discovered that Eyck and Tarnow have collaborated before on several projects, including Christopher Tarnow’s Sonata for Theremin and Piano.

These are talented people performing in a wholly unusual and one-of-a-kind genre. I was surprised with the pleasant, somewhat “new age” feel to some of the improvisations on this release and you would be too. It is obtainable in standard CD or high resolution vinyl, both of which are quite good. (There is a bit more ‘presence’ to the vinyl but I cannot honestly declare it to be ‘so much better’ than the compact disc. In fact, it would appear that the vinyl can be had directly from Butterscotch Records but not on Amazon it seems.)

This probably won’t appeal to everyone but I can take my original reaction to the concept and my reaction after listening and share my thoughts as “Theremin and piano?? Yes. Theremin and piano.” Check it out! [The Amazon link is for the CD version…Ed.]

—Daniel Coombs

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