Absence. Heartstrings. Fondness.

Clara Rockmore is widely regarded as one of the greatest Theremin players of all time. Her rigorous classical training as a Violinist and perfect pitch gave her a significant edge on other players that attempted the instrument.

I had previously only heard recordings of her work, particularly her beguiling version of Tchaikovsky's Valse Sentimentale in which Rockmore succeeds profoundly in dragging something achingly human, comical and sad from the electronic buzz. But watching this footage is fascinating - it seems vital to see the recital in progress for several reasons;

One for the sheer curiousness of this unique performative. Without the conduit of an instrument (i.e. something solid, touched and manipulated to bring about an effect) the presence of the performer is foregrounded so sharply – her very being and doing commanding a change in the movement of the air, the very action of playing is both performance and music.

Secondly (and closely linked) the absolute absence that this produces. The visual effect of something being missing introduces a kind of tricky, mercurial otherness into the scene, whereby we must suspend disbelief, fight the urge to attempt to fill that gap and imagine anything else but the actual space upon which her fingers fall. Whatever we may want or expect to be there simply is not.
Lastly Rockmore herself, in this strange, pseudo domestic setting – such comfort and steadiness, resting among soft furnishings and the gentle accompaniment of Nadia Reisenberg, her elder sister. Rockmore is both completely at ease and completely solitary with the music in her head and the air in front of her. There is nothing else to imbue with her presence or transfer her ability. It is barely there. In the clearest sense.

This is a miraculous visioning and sounding of our imagined/idealised/hoped for abilities.
Of how we sound in our heads.


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