Born in Tehran, the mesmerizing style of Theremin virtuoso, Armen Ra, has garnered the admiration of fans on multiple continents.
He is considered one of the finest thereminists in the world today. The theremin is an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the thereminist (performer). It is named after its inventor, Léon Theremin who patented the device in 1928. You’ve heard it in horror and outer-space movies a hundred times.
(My friend, Michael O’Donoghue, the original SNL headwriter had a salon in his NYC brownstone in the 80s where I met Leon Theremin at a private concert.)
The theremin’s controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas that sense the relative position of the thereminist’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.
The sound of the instrument is often associated with eerie sittuations. Thus, the theremin has been used in movie soundtracks such as Miklós Rózsa‘s Spellbound and The Lost Weekend, Bernard Herrmann‘s The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Justin Hurwitz‘s First Man. The theremin is also used in concert music and in popular music genres like rock.
Intrigued by this strange and one-of-a-kind instrument, Ra began his study of the theremin in 2001 and his debut performance came later that year when he shared the stage with the orchestral group, Antony & The Johnsons, in NYC.
Since then, Ra has played at the UN, Wiener Konzerthaus Mozartsaal Vienna, CBGBs, Knitting Factory, La MaMa E.T.C., Joe’s Pub, Boulder Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, The Gershwin Hotel,[ B.B. King Museum, and Dietch Projects and he was featured performer for the Christian Dior Haute Couture Ball at Museé Rodin, Paris.
Ra said of his version of The Star Spangled Banner,
“For all the young souls sacrificed for oil and money. For all of the veterans who are on the streets with PTSD and unimaginable scars.
Watch & listen.
In honor of Pride, here’s Ra’s haunting version of Somewhere over the Rainbow from his album, The American Songbook.
(TY Ann Magnuson & Michelle Juliette Carr)