Continuing Education Blog

PNCA offers evening and weekend classes for adults and young people. For adults we offer courses in art, craft, and design, as well as professional development classes. For children we have Saturday classes during the school year and week-long camps during the summer. In addition to our regular teen classes, we also offer immersive summer Pre-College Studios. Our blog below gives you an idea of some of the goings on, and you can see our full course catalogue online here.


Electronic Instruments

With are re-running this interview with Theremins and Monophonic Synthesizers, instructor Mark Keppinger, who is bringing the class back this term.

Our Creativity Labs courses are designed for students interested in creative experimentation while learning about art, design and craft in ways that are meaningful, fun and educational. Examining craftsmanship and design-oriented thinking, each course introduces students to new ways of art making with unique curriculum and engaging instruction.

Mark Keppinger has been teaching with PNCA Continuing Education for over eight years. For the second time, we are excited to offer a class on Theremins and Monophonic Synthesizers, a great passion of Mark’s. A professional Theremin builder, his instruments are used by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, among others.

Can you talk about what drew you to creating electronic instruments?



I started out life as a musician, playing piano for school plays,
assemblies, etc. My interest in electronics came early on. The Theremin was a good mix of music and electronics, and seemed to be a natural for me.




The analog Theremin and moog synthesizers are still popular in this
 digital world what make these instruments special for musicians and 
listeners?


In addition to having a cult following, both are capable of generating
 sounds that can be difficult to replicate. I think that the Theremin
 popularity became mainstream when it was given credit (which is actually incorrect) as having been used on “Good Vibrations”. The early Moog synthesizers, although very expensive at the time, were still a fraction of what you would pay for similar equipment. “Popcorn” by “Hot Butter” was the first hit song performed exclusively using a Moog synthesizer.




You build Theremins professionally along with your work at OMSI, how did
 you first get involved with this?


I saw the Theremin documentary around 1995, went home, and decided to see
 who was making tube Theremins. I found a number of people who claimed 
that they had either been building or were going to start building tube
 Theremins, although none had anything to show for their efforts. I 
figured it would take me six months from start of design to production. 
Five years later, I finished my first one. I put a posting on one of the
 Theremin sites, and was greeted by much skepticism. Jason Barille, owner
 of  the website thereminworld.com said he wanted to see my accomplishment. At the 
time, he was living in Redmond, WA, so I drove up one week-end and we
 geeked out like you’d expect from a couple of Theremin nerds.




What can students expect to build in the class?


Second guessing what students will want to do is a good way for me to get
 in trouble. I guess a better question would be, what can they build? I 
have a simple optical Theremin that can easily be built in one evening, 
even when we are sharing soldering irons, etc. Synthesizer circuit boards 
are much more complex, but still something that can be done over the 
duration of the class. For those with too much time on their hands, I
 have made the design of my high-end tube Theremin public domain. A group
 of individuals building Theremins based on my design tend to hang out on
the Yahoo group “kepptheremins,” which is administrated by a guy in
 Atlanta. Once you have your Theremin running and properly tuned, you will 
be given a serial number. I think there are now between 20 and 30 out 
there, with a number more in progress.




What are good resources for people interested in learning more about
 Theremins and Monophonic Synthesizers?


The internet is a wonderful place to gather information. However, there
is as much if not more misinformation as there is factual information
posted. Many years ago, you would go to a library, and if a book had
information that was corrected or updated (I remember a book that was 
printed before two more elements had been discovered), it would be marked
in red. There is no “Truth Filter” for the internet. I regularly have
 Theremin designs forwarded to me that have no chance of working. The 
discussion groups are good clearing-houses for what’s real and what’s not.

Mark’s Theremins and Monophonic Synthesizers, class starts April 3. To learn more about it and our other classes visit pnca.edu/classes.

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