Gordon Monahan

Theremin in the Rain
C3R Records C3R-011

Performance: ***

Sound: ****

Combining craftsmanship and chance, this out-of-the-ordinary CD is a further elaboration of Berlin-based, Kingston, Ont.-born composer Gordon Monahan’s ongoing experiments with sound environments. Here he harnesses seemingly incompatible organic and electronic sounds to harmonic ends.

More complex that it’s concisely descriptive title, Theremin in the Rain involves a series of sound sculptures installed in a performance space, which are then “played” by an interactive theremin routed and patched through a midi converter. Signals triggered by the midi result in a variety of sound expansions. A pneumatic air cylinder manipulates long piano strings; a variable-speed electronic motor produces sliding harmonic tones from another string; and an even longer string is walloped by solenoid strikers. Meanwhile individual water drop triggered by the midi fall on percussion plates which are amplified and mixed for rhythmic consistency.

Putting aside the mechanics of creation – the booklet includes two pages of dense, schematic diagrams – the resulting 10 track CD is as mesmerizing as any “live” performance of a highly rhythmic notated composition.

With the theremin’s familiar eerie flutters and pulsating screeches subdued among the fluttering, cracking and grinding around it, some of the resulting pulses take on a decidedly human cast. At points cumulative cymbal scrapes and drum beats sound as if they’re being played by a multi-member percussion ensemble or are the product of a well-run assembly line. Throughout different staccato timbres resemble the pealing of orchestral bells, the jittery swells of an electric organ or the electrified strum of a bass guitar. Also, since the triggered vibrations both adumbrate and reflect the composer’s input, the element of chance adds palpable excitement to the performance.

Experimental but certainly not unapproachable, the CD shouldn’t upset anyone whose listening encompasses electrified instruments and focused percussion forays.


— OPUS Volume 31 No. 1