Continuing Education Blog
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
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.
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