Wild Learning – Human Theremin

Participants produce and control the pitch of sound using a homemade theremin and each other’s movements

During Wild Learning: Human Theremin, artist Stuart Moore led participants to the meeting point of sound, music, bodily rhythms and improvised technology.

As with all other adult programming at Fermynwoods, no previous experience with the subject was required, though everyone present had at least a passing knowledge of technology, sound art, or music. Those who came with a music background were quickly disavowed of the mathematical notion of musical notes, and were instead instructed to focus on pitch, volume, intensity, temperature and frequency of sound. “There is no dissonance,” Stuart explained. “Just complexity and emotion.”

The day began with listening exercises, then some basic mixing of natural sounds to prepare everyone to play together as an ensemble. Throughout the day, Stuart introduced numerous techniques and bits of technology which responded to kinetic expression, converting conscious and unconscious movement into sound. Natural sounds, such as birdsong, water flowing, and crickets, were channelled through heartbeats, pitch was bent using a homemade theremin and the gestures between people, voices were visualised through an oscilloscope, and light was converted to percussive beats.

In addition to just enjoying the activities, two of the participants felt the day helped them with their uneasiness about technology. “I’m a bit of a technophobe,” one said. “I was really nervous about using the equipment but this has been so fun.” Another remarked while building her own microphone, “This is so empowering!”

The group’s final collaborative piece, a composition in noise, can be heard below.

Human Theremin is a continuation of the Outdoor Institute of Art, a two-year programme conceived by Yasmin Canvin and run by Fermynwoods Contemporary Art. The Outdoor Institute is an alternative art school with discussions, skills and knowledge sharing events between artists, experts in relevant fields, the arts sector and members of the public.