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Interview with Giulia Riboli – the finalist of THEREMIN STAR – the international theremin video competition

We continue a series of interviews with the finalists of THEREMIN STAR – the international theremin video competition dedicated to the centenary of theremin. Today we bring to your attention an interview with a theremin performer from Italy – Giulia Riboli

Giulia, I am very pleased that you are among the finalists of the Theremin Star
competition dedicated to one hundred birthday of the theremin.
You are in the top three, you have become one of the most supported
participants in the contest.

What do you think is a competition like Theremin Star needed today?

Hi Masha, first of all, thank you.
I was very surprised when I saw my video in “Theremin Star” competition.
At first, I did not understand that the videos were selected by you, without the artist
personally proposing his own video. So I experienced two mixed emotions.
On the one hand I had the chance to realize a great dream: the prize at stake for the
winner was a trip to Russia to perform at the next Thereminology Festival (and to
have the honour to know the Theremin family personally). On the other hand, I had
to deal with my low propensity for contests.

However, I decided to try, because the stakes were really high.
Thank you so much for giving me this wonderful opportunity: unespectedly
“Theremin Star” competition brought me a lot of good things, such as several
contacts for future musical cooperations, many appreciations, several articles on
Italian newspapers and above all a lot of love and support from friends, family,
acquaintances and also strangers who have turned into new fans. I also received a lot of love and appreciation from the “Synth Cafè” community, an
Italian Facebook group for synthesizer lovers I belong to, and through which I could
realize a very interesting interview with Peter Theremin some time ago (I take this
opportunity to thank him again).
So, I believe that the contest organized by you, has brought much visibility to many
artists who participated.

You began your career on the theremin in a very bright girlish vocal and
instrumental group.
Today you are working together with Fabio on the project “Tears of Sirens”,
which in my opinion is your visiting card. And today the sound of your
theremin is very sensual, philosophical-psychedelic. Is collaboration with
Fabio limiting you or is it an ideal format of cooperation to reveal your
personality. Please tell us about your project.

I started using my theremin immediately, as my friends (most of them musicians)
and I, met almost every night in a small bar in a mountain village where I lived, and
we had fun playing among us.
We performed cover songs by some Italian songwriters (De André, Capossela, etc.).
With the “Aritmia Cardiaca” band I played many years, before breaking up.
In the meantime I also cooperated with several artists of the Italian background, but
without having a true musical project on my own.

In 2014 I met Fabio Properzi (singer, multi-instrumentalist, author, composer and
artistic producer), on a YouTube video by accident.

tears of sirens properzi riboli

I was looking for an Italian band that uses the theremin. I didn’t find anything on YT
related to this band, but I noticed another Italian band: “Ameba4” among the search
results. I listened to a song and I was enchanted.
Fabio was the leader, but at that time the band had already broken up.
I looked for Fabio on Facebook and sent him my friend request. He was very
enthusiastic, because he also appreciated the theremin.

At the beginning I fell in love with his music and after a few months I completely fell
in love with him, while we were working on our first instrumental EP.
Our first instrumental EP “The Abyss” (2015) was born at a distance, thanks to
continuous exchanges of music files via internet. We made our first album
exclusively to give voice to the theremin, as the main protagonist: we tried to
combine modern classical and electronic music using, in addition to the theremin and
electronic beats, acoustic instruments such as: piano, cajon and rattles.
All the sounds were created with the theremin. No synthesizers were used.
Inside this EP there is also a track only theremin-piano, with quite classic sounds: it
is called “The Abyss”, like the album name.
Listening to this EP, after some time, I realize that the timbre of the theremin that I
used for most of the songs does not satisfy me.

Fortunately, in the following albums we have evolved, not only by adding the voice
with sung songs, but also as a general sound, tending to alternative-rock/electronic/
trip-hop; and growing up, I have greatly improved the sound of my theremin.

 

Four years ago I moved from northern to southern Italy (1,000 Exact km from home),
to start our life together.
That’s why I’m increasingly convinced that theremin has changed my life. Because
this musical instrument has changed me in every way (private life, love life, social
life)!
“Hum” is the transition album between the first EP and “Flow” (the last album
released).

Compared to the previous disc, Fabio’s voice was added here (and in two tracks my
voice is also present), and the acoustic guitar, the Theremini, and the Kaossilator
were added in addition to the instruments already used in the previous album.
In this album I applied a very important sound research, managing to get very
particular sounds from my theremin, also through some effects applied to it

 

 

I consider “Flow” the album of maturity for Tears Of Sirens.
In this album I decided to remove, rather than adding.
I love theremin, but I know that I don’t need to insert it in every song.

So, I preferred to dedicate myself to the album more as an all-round artist and not
only as a thereminist, also using other musical instruments, writing the lyrics,
bringing my taste in sound design; and of course, as for the other discs, I preferred
to work for the creation of melodies (even if Fabio is the main composer).
I preferred to give voice to the Microkorg, the new entry of my setup, using the
theremin as a background above all.

Therefore, the theremin lost its main role, being incorporated into a wider sound,
while remaining our recognizable brand.
“Flow” is chosen by Trip Hop Nation among the 50 best international albums of
2019.

 

 

I think I have created an all-round band with Fabio and I think you can perceive the
transforming process by listening to the various albums.
So the cooperation with Fabio is not limiting me, on the contrary, I finally have a
project in which I can express what I want.
It’s a project that I feel mine, even if it’s shared with another person.
“Tears Of Sirens” are him and I.

I can only complain about having little promoting myself as a thereminist and having
privileged the duo, putting aside my solo videos.
But I will soon start making them again.

 

 tears-of-sirens-alternative-rock-trip-hop-theremin

 

Some time ago you participated in a very beautiful “music on water”
project, then you played on a raft in the middle of the lake, and the audience
listened on the shore, it seems to me that it was beautiful from an aesthetic
and acoustic point of view, although I’m not sure that you and your theremin
felt very comfortable at that moment. More recently, in connection with the
outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic, you took part in the Italian action”
Music on the balcony”. Please, tell us about this and the most unusual
performances in your life.

Surely, among all, the most particular performance was precisely the one on the raft.
On that occasion I played together with Davide Merlino (vibraphonist and
percussionist, an extraordinary Italian jazz musician).

To get to the lake of Monte Mucrone (Biella – 1,894 meters above sea level) we took
the Oropa Cableway; it was the second Italian cableway to be built, in 1926, a few
years after the invention of the theremin.
Once reached the wonderful mountain lake, a very small raft was waiting for us on
the shore.

Then the raft set sail, pulled by the event organizers.
Several years ago I had one of my theremin modified to be able to power it on
batteries and, on that occasion, I also used a battery powered amplifier, of course.
It was a difficult task to tune the theremin on a raft which swayed continuously!
It was terrible, to be honest!

Fortunately we had imagined and foreseen these difficulties; so we had created a
very simple playlist, with relaxed songs, very relaxed and long sounds. Nothing too
complex.
It was one of the most suggestive lives ever: in the center of a lake which occupies
part of a glacial step; a beautiful natural amphitheater, between the high boulders
and the bright green of the grass.
We were merged along with the public into the sublime immensity of nature.

 

 

On the other hand, the music on the balcony has nothing to do with wonder.
The music on the balcony was an initiative of the Italian musicians, during the first
week of lockdown in Italy, in order to try to give some hope and moral support.
In Northern Italy the situation had been bad enough for quite a while and had already
been in lockdown, before the total Italian lockdown. The worst was yet to come in the
following week.

They were weeks I no longer felt like playing, in the grip of anxiety, fear, sadness
and discouragement.

I will never forget the army that transported the bodies of the people who died from
Covid-19 to other Italian regions because in Bergamo there was no more a place to
bury them or to cremate the corpses.
Lots of coffins all together, on military wagons lined up.
Silence.
All I could do, was keep silent.
Italy was unprepared for all this: we were the first nation to be affected after China.
Then the pandemic was declared. I feared for my parents at 1000 Km far away from
me, in one of the most affected northern regions. I am in southern Italy, unable to go
to my family.

Playing on the balcony made me move.
I performed a piece by Ennio Morricone and a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach.
People leant out over their balconies shyly; the few people who passed on the street
drew my attention by whistling in order to compliment me. From the opposite
balconies a lady shouted at me: “Forza Italia!!!”.

Even the homeless people who often sit on the benches, complimented me and
thanked me. I know them, we are friends, Fabio and I often try to help them just a
little bit, as far as we can.

My performance was not at all “clean” in terms of intonation; while I was playing I
took more care of the emotional side than the executive side (actually in the video I
interrupt the performance to talk to people as well, greet them, etc.).
In that moment I was not interested in the perfection of the execution but I focused
on warmth that we could give each other, from our balconies, with a lump in one’s
throat caused by the situation: Italy was so different from the usual, almost deserted,
brought to its knees by a Virus.

It always seemed to me that you chose theremin not rationally, but
irrationally. In the sense that it always seemed to me that at a very early stage
you immediately felt a certain connection with the instrument, it was felt even
in your first works on theremin.
Is it so?
Did you immediately realize that theremin is exactly the tool to which you are
ready to devote considerable time to it in your life or did it take you some time
to understand why you need this strange instrument?

I immediately fell in love with the theremin: it was love at first sight!
I started playing the theremin without knowledge in music theory and without ever
having played other musical instruments (except the sweet flute, learned in middle
school); my ear for intonation at that time was not yet developed as it is today; but I
believe this is a natural path, a path that any musician must face when he/she
approaches a theremin.

I felt the need (it was not only a mere wish) to learn to play it.
Given the difficulty of playing the instrument, nobody believed in me, or at least very
few people. And this gave me greater impetus in wanting to be able to play the
theremin at any cost.
Of course, I approached the theremin irrationally and I still play it in this way, I don’t
follow a technique. I had the opportunity to learn Carolina Eyck’s technique thanks to
a course at the “Theremin Summer Academy” (France). I still keep some of her
advice in mind, but I prefer my hands to follow my heart. I don’t want to impose a
technique on myself.
However I recognize that, the way of playing of those who do it with a technique, is
much cleaner and in tune.

I immediately realized that the theremin was exactly what I wanted. Before then I had
no purpose in life and I had no strong passions until I discovered the theremin.
I have always loved art in all its aspects, but I had never felt so drawsomethingn to.

 

 

I wanted to learn to play it with all my heart. At the beginning it was not easy:
I practised alone, in my loft, with the help of my computer for musical bases.
So I started training my musical ear (it’s basic to be able to play theremin).

When I listen to the recordings of a few years ago I realize how much I improved
myself. I can even say that I feel ashamed of how I played theremin in the past.
The wonderful thing that happened thanks to the theremin, is that my love for the
instrument has increased so much that also my love for music increased even more.
So I started to compose music.

Then I bought a keyboard and later I also bought some synthesizers (such as
Microkorg, Kaossilator, etc).
This strange instrument changed my life. Since then I have found my identity.

I know that in addition to your main project Tears of Sirens, you have
collaborations with very different musicians, please tell us about it. And it
would be also very interesting to know if you have a certain over-task in your
work with Theremin, something that you constantly strive for but so far it
remains unrealized?

Currently the only ongoing project is “Tears Of Sirens”.
I put heart and soul in my project and I will continue to work in order to pursue my art
and try to make it known to more people.
I am not only the thereminist of the duo, but I am also a musician, author, graphic,
video editor and sometimes composer. In two occasions I was also a singer (but
surely it’s not my best talent).

Everything that has been done by Tears Of Sirens until now, it has been done by
Fabio and me. We have tried to build our own parallel dimension, to let those who
follow us within our “dreamlike… but not too much” world; we have exposed our
fears, our certainties, our visions of the world around us, and we tried to share them
with the public.

 

However, I keep an open cooperation with Maria Olivero: Italian composer, multiinstrumentalist, singer and songwriter. She is the mind and pen of her project.

I recorded my theremin for some tracks and sometimes I accompany her project with my theremin during her live show called “Still My Heart Beats, My Josephine Baker”, a music concept dedicated to Josephine Baker, famous African-American singer and
dancer, the first black star, engaged in the fight against racism and in favor of the emancipation of black people, supporting Martin Luther King’s fight for civil rights. Together with Maria Olivero I played in enchanting and wonderful places, such as the “Dal Pozzo Castle” in Oleggio Castello, the Medieval Church in Casalvolone, or the “Teatro Coccia” in Novara (one of the major traditional Italian theaters).

A short section of the live show at the “Coccia Theater” (in Novara)

 

 

I have several collaborations with Italian artists and also with foreign artists for the
recording of my theremin on their albums.
One of the collaborations already published, which makes me extremely happy, is that with Ermal Meta: Albanian-born Italian singer-songwriter, composer and multiinstrumentalist, winner of “Sanremo Festival 2018”.I played the theremin for the song “Voce del Verbo” (track 9) of his album called “Vietato Morire”, released in 2017 by the Italian record label Mescal. The album sold more than 50,000 copies, becoming platinum and getting the first place in the “FIMI Album Ranking” (official ranking of the best-selling albums in
Italy).  This is a strange and beautiful sensation! I would never have imagined all of this, a
decade ago.
Can I reaffirm once again that theremin literally changed my life?!

 

 

What can you say about the attitude towards the theremin in Italy? You are
regularly conducting masterclasses, talk about the theremin, how do people
react to theremin at such events? Are you often asked for mentoring by people
who are interested in learning to play the theremin?

In Italy there are a lot of artists who love theremin and play it.
Several people, however, buy it and then put it in the basement gathering dust,
because they are taken by despair of not being able to play it (and I’m also talking
about musicians who graduated from a Conservatory).

You need to be psychologically prepared before deciding to devote yourself to this
instrument: theremin is so simple to create effects, but so complicated to play
precise melodies, without creating that “seasickness” effect. It is therefore necessary
to keep in mind that, if you want to have good command of it, first of all you must
have a good musical ear and then devote yourself to it with great patience to
practise.

Often people write to me on Facebook to ask me for advice on purchasing or to have
lessons, etc.
I love to share my experiences amicably with those who need them and I always
willingly dispense those “sacred” advice to those who approach the instrument for
the first time.
However, for those who are not satisfied with just a few tips, I am available for a
more demanding tutoring, in Italian, for those who want to start approaching the
theremin, lately also online (in reality I am doing it right in these days for the first
time, via Skype).

Anyawy I don’t promote this kind of things at the moment. I ‘m not interested in
promoting myself as a teacher.
Instead I would like to make myself known as an all-round artist, especially with
regard to my T.O.S. project.

What do you think, is it right to compare theremin and synthesizer? Do you
think theremin is a synthesizer? Do you see the difference between theremin
and synthesizer?

The theremin is a musical instrument classified among synthesizers.
Personally I do not consider it a synthesizer. I’d rather see it in a way, as the “father”
of synthesizers and at the same time, Leon Theremin can be considered the father
of synthetizers too, though he was never interested in electronic music. He invented
also the Ritmikon (ancestor of the drum machines) and the Keyboard Theremin
(ancestor of synths), in addition to other inventions.

Léon Theremin had a brilliant intuition and managed to create something completely
innovative in the musical field. Actually the theremin is the first fully electronic
musical instrument, still in use.

Nowadays the theremin still seems to be an instrument coming from the future, for
the way it works and for the way it is played. It is incredible to think that it was
invented 100 years ago (considering that in 1925 the first adhesive tape was
invented). The adhesive tape is very useful, of course, but the theremin is a super
innovation! Think about the invention of the television (and Léon worked on one of
the first television systems, he was a pioneer in this too) or about the electricity
which had arrived only forty years earlier! Léon is a great genius!
Can you imagine? The “impalpable” that turns into “palpable”! It’s wonderful!
Moving images transmitted remotely and visible inside a box! Yes: I am talking about
the television.

And what about music? I am talking about notes which are not seen but heard; a
musical instrument without strings, vibrating reeds and keys/ keyboard. An invisible
electromagnetic field is not seen but exists. It makes sounds! This musical
instrument is really on the cutting edge and it can’t be really compared to other
instruments. Theremin cannot be classified/categorized.
Conventionally it was included among the synthesizers.
On the contrary the Theremini (or “Mini”) produced by Moog, is a full-fledged synth.
I do not consider it a theremin, but an excellent synthesizer (it is equally played by
moving your hands in the air, but you have a very different approach; it has neither
the soul nor the sound of the theremin).

“The theremin VS Mini” can be compared with “the classical guitar VS electric
guitar”.
A substitution is not possible, there’s only a coexistence of two similar and absolutely
different instruments.

However, over the past few years, I have also approached synthesizers. So I learnt
to appreciate the Theremini too.

Theremin and Mini can cooperate together with an excellent sound result:

 

 

What do you think about Clara Rockmore, her role in theremin history, the
relevance of her contribution to the theremin culture today?

I think Clara Rockmore was a kind of muse for Léon Theremin, and he was the
creator of Clara’s immense popularity. I think they both benefited from each other.
Léon had the genius to invent such a unique and innovative musical instrument and
Clara was a child prodigy with her violin from an early age.

Rockmore’s enormous luck was to manage to study the heterophone together with
Theremin. And Leon was lucky enough to meet a prodigy musician like Clara, who
raised the value of the instrument by playing it in an exemplary way.
Clara’s virtuosity and her encounter with the theremin turned her into a timeless
legend; she is still the best known and loved thereminist ever.
Clara Rockmore will remain forever in the history.

Personally, however, I get even more excited to listen to Leon Theremin: his way of
playing, the feeling with which he plays the theremin in that video in 1954 is a unique
emotion.

It would be fantastic to listen to his music album, but unfortunately it doesn’t exist.

 In 2019, we began to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the theremin. Do
you think a hundred years for the development of a musical instrument is a lot
or a little? Were there objective reasons in the 20th century that slowed down
the development of theremin?

As for the design and the engineering, I don’t think the theremin has developed
slowly. However I believe that it has adapted very organically to the needs of the
artists.
The unparalleled beauty of a tube theremin like an RCA would have needed no
improvement; however Robert Moog subsequently began to produce more compact
models of theremin, with an integrated, non-valve circuit. In this way Moog managed
to facilitate the commercialization of the instrument, having become more affordable
economically and easier to transport.
Therefore, focusing on the models currently on the market, I would say that an
evolution in these 100 years has already taken place: the first step took place from
the tube to the electronic chip. But look! I am not saying that there has been an
improvement, but in any case it is a matter of transformation.
Sixteen years ago the theremin was modified, making it usable also as a controller
for the first time (E-pro Moog).

Finally, in 2014 there was the arrival of Theremini (even if this is not a real theremin).
Getting a vintage tube theremin has now become a luxury for collectors (and a
dream), instead everyone can have access to modern models.
As for the spreading of the theremin, I find it incredible that such a fantastic
instrument is often ignored by people: despite 100 years having passed, it is still
little known.
In reality with the pounding horror/science fiction soundtracks the theremin has
spread all over the world; nevertheless people are not aware of the existence of the
theremin: they listen to a sound without knowing its source. And above all, most
people do not know the musical potential that goes beyond the simple effects.

However, starting from the 2000s, with the creation of the first social platforms and
especially with the birth of YouTube, it was possible to rediscover the charm of the
theremin also visually, being able to make people around the world reach the videos,
directly in the homes of those who did not know it.

In 2009, when I bought it, there were still very few videos of artists at the theremin
(only four years had passed since the birth of YouTube).

 

theremin giulia riboli thereminist

How do you imagine the 200th anniversary of the theremin?

I don’t know how the 200th anniversary of the theremin will be.
We must first see how humanity will be reduced in another 100 years.
Maybe man’s greed will cause enormous and irreversible damage leading us to a
slow (or rapid) extinction or it is possible that humanity will make great progress in
the field scientific/technological, and in the ethical field.
If it were only a climate change I don’t think the end will come so soon, even if in the
next decades we will already be able to see the dramatic change of our planet:
nature will change, the planet will survive us, but we must see if humanity can adapt
to all that. Poverty will increase, many places will become uninhabitable, there will
probably be riots and several civil wars.

I imagine a grey, dystopian future. I am not at all positive, unfortunately.
And I speak about that in my lyrics with my Tears Of Sirens project.
As for the theremin, I imagine it as it is today, perhaps played in other musical
contexts or used in conceptual artistic contexts. Nothing that can’t already happen
now. In any case, it is perfect as it is now: imaging evolving it even more, could
mean losing its soul.

I could imagine the use of the theremin together with some particular tool, such as a
brain controller for synthesizers.
In reality, perhaps, it could already be done.
In Italy there is the “BI1brainterface” of the Sound Machines company.
Maybe this could be my next experiment.
But I do know this: I won’t be alive anymore to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the
theremin, but that’s okay


P.S. I am very grateful to Giulia for the interview. When Giulia says that she plays and feels theremin in her heart, this is not a metaphor. Giulia is a very rare artist with a keen sensory perception of the creative process, and thanks to this, she is able to more deeply and in a new way feel not only work with the theremin but also create a unique sound and unique image.
The union of Giulia and Fabio is a harmonious and rare luck of creative interaction.
They complement, shade, reveal each other and the world around us in their sensually-tectonic music, they affect not only our mind and feelings, but also our subconscious.

It seems to me that this is a new direction in the 21st century, since very often the union of electronics and theremin even if is not toxic to my personal taste, then redundant, but Giulia and Fabio always add their personal human emotions to their wonderfully built music and it inspires.

Giulia and Fabio as if two Greek demigods with passions tearing them with contradictory love for the earthly and unearthly. Then they switch to an inspired mystical language, raising the listener over the abyss of everyday life and the stereotypes of civilization.

And sometimes a very moving lyrical beginning dominates, but even at these moments the general sound does not allow the listener to forget about the almost unearthly origin of this pair. I wish Giulia and Fabio development of their project, new beautiful music and wonderful creative life.

https://www.youtube.com/user/tearsofsirens
https://www.facebook.com/tearsofsirenstheremin/
https://tearsofsirens.bandcamp.com/music
https://www.facebook.com/giulia.riboli
https://www.youtube.com/user/Giulytheremin

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