Interview with Theramin Virtuosa Lydia Kavina

Last week I chatted over the phone with a charming and expansive thereminist – the world’s leading theremin player, actually – Lydia Kavina, an incredible performer, a composer, and an advocate for the strange instrument her great uncle Lev Termen created in 1928 – as well as for the ideas behind it.

The interview is live now at The Skinny, so go ahead and click.  Only one thing didn’t make it into the published version of our wide-ranging conversation (certainly my most interesting interview since I drank Americanos with The Room‘s Tommy Wiseau last February): the story of Pat Clancy, the first thereminist to introduce me to the instrument.  I told Lydia this, making a broader point about the difficulty of learning the instrument.  Clancy, I told her, picked up the theramin in his high school – he learned from an older player, but he couldn’t take lessons from an expert.  I shared his story: that he more or less taught himself, learned the “Feather Theme” from Forrest Gump, and carried a love for the instrument into college, where we met.

“Excuse me, what was the name of this gentleman?” she asked me.

“Patrick.  Pat Clancy.”

I told her I wasn’t sure if Pat still intended to advance his studies: he gave his theremin to Thomas Banchich, scholar of the ancient Greeks and enthusiast of many things wonderful and weird – like the theremin.

One understands why we had to cut this from the published interview – but Kavina was interested in Clancy’s tale; it’s part of the bigger story. I only hope she jotted down his name.

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The Skinny – Reviews and Cultural Commentary

Independent, in-the-know, on the edge – journalism with panache and velocity.  The Skinny is a monthly culture mag serving Scotland and Northern England, covering the music and arts scenes in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Aberdeen, and Dundee.  I started contributing in June – you can find all my articles and reviews for The Skinny here.

Interviews and Features

Living Abroad in Edinburgh: An Ex-Pat Guide

WOMPS

C Duncan

Lydia Kavina (theremin virtuosa)

Live Reviews

SxSW 2016

The Edinburgh Festivals – August 2015 (The Black Sorrows, James Brown Is Annie, Japan Marvelous Drummers, The Sun Ra Arkestra, Antonio Forcione and Adriano Adewale, The Waterboys)

Positivus (Latvia) 17-19 July 2015 (featuring Placebo, Kasabian, St. Vincent, Warpaint, Jungle, Basement Jaxxx, Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters)

T in the Park ,10-12 July 2015

Friday, featuring: The Cribs, Jessie Ware, Hozier, Model Aeroplanes, Kasabian

Saturday, featuring: The LaFontaines, Stillhound, Charli XCX, Enter Shikari, Vukovi, St. Vincent

Sunday, featuring: Admiral Fallow, Idlewild, Alabama Shakes, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds

FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks) – Glasgow School of Art, 16 June 2015

Earl Sweatshirt – Glasgow O2 ABC, 8 June 2015

Album Reviews

From 2019:

Cage The Elephant – Social Cues

From 2018:

Gorillaz – The Now Now

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

Yonatan Gat – Universalists

Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart – Black Coffee

From 2017:

Benjamin Clementine – I Tell A Fly

Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

BadBadNotGood – Late Night Tales

Beach Fossils – Somersault

Gorillaz – Humanz

From 2016:

The Last Shadow Puppets – The Dream Synopsis EP

Warpaint – Heads Up

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

WOMPS – Our Fertile Forever

The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything That You’ve Come To Expect

Lake Street Dive – Side Pony

From August 2015:

Dr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr. Dre

From July 2015:

Albert Hammond, Jr. – Momentary Masters

Ghostface Killah – Adrian Younge presents: Twelve Reasons to Die II

Gunship – Gunship

C Duncan – Architect

Admiral Fallow – Tiny Rewards

Every Starbucks in Edinburgh (A Celestial Cartography)

I should start by apologizing to my friend and frequent traveling partner, Steve Coffed.  I used to give him grief every time he suggested going into a Starbucks, anywhere in the world.  The coffee, I said, is inconsistent from city to city – and nothing to write home about even at its best.  The atmosphere can be sterile, the clientele often a mix of high schoolers, bluetoothing businessmen, and the unfriendly type of medical student.  But shortly after I came to Edinburgh (a city awash in espresso, with enough comfy unpretentious top-notch java joints to give anyone a caffeine headache), something changed: basically, my parents sent me Starbucks gift cards.

What can we send our poor starving postgrad son? they thought, Our son drinking pint after pint of Tennent’s Lager, because it’s only £2.50?  Money?  No, that would send the wrong message, he’ll think he can come home and move right back in … So they settled on Starbucks gift cards, and I settled back into a comfortable middle class lifestyle – at least, that’s what it feels like every time I pass beneath that fish-woman’s spreading tails to wait for a cup with my name on it, or whatever variation of a loosely A-sounding name these Scots come up with, from “Owen” to “Hadrian’s Wall.”  I started to take my Starbucks breaks further afield from the university, trying to see if the world’s biggest and best-known coffee chain could produce any significant change in atmosphere.  A project began to take shape: I would visit and review each Starbucks from New Town to Newington, and share my findings with the world.  [Nota: I’m not the first with this obsession.  See the folks at Every Single Seattle Starbucks.]  I found out that the Starbucks locations scattered across Edinburgh do vary, if sometimes subtly, in atmosphere and clientele – even while some franchises in Edinburgh are within a Frisbee-toss of one another- and even more interesting, my Starbucks survey soon turned into a new way of mapping this strange and diverse city: A Celestial Cartography of Corporate Coffee.  Even if I can offer nothing more than tips on hidden views, rush hours to avoid, and, of course, musings on jams and jellies, I hope something in what follows is of some small value.

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25 Years of Art and Not-Art in Scotland: A Trip to Modern One and Modern Two

Art, at its best, is a kind of uncontrolled yet disciplined Yelp, made by one of us who, because of the brain he was born with and the experiences he has had and the training he has received, is able to emit a Yelp that contains all of the joys, miseries, and contradictions of life as it is actually lived.  That Yelp, which is not a logical sound, does good for all of us.
-George Saunders, “The United States of Huck”

Done with my final papers, done with the last draft of my novel, done with funding applications and travel plans – done with, it seemed, life, at least until I was to touch the tarmac at the Buffalo Niagara Airport – I sat propped up in my bed Saturday night, swilling the last of a £10 bottle of juniper, and letting Henry Adams lull me into an uneasy sleep with his musings on American life at the close of the nineteenth century.  There was nothing profound in the realization that I had to brave the cold, throw myself back out into the city and squeeze what I could from it in my last five days here – or else grow quietly mad (and fat) in my flat.  One Edinburgh “attraction” stood out on my list of yet-to-dos: the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.

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Edinburgh’s Christmas (or, how I finally found out what a ‘Hot Toddy’ actually means)

Edinburgh is a multicultural city, a cosmopolis, one of the great European capitols.  I often pause around three o’clock on a clear day to catch the sun paint the minaret of the Central Mosque across Potterrow from George Square in brilliant amber and warm beige (and later, I might head to their kitchen for £5 curry).  Friends have reported spending time at a Zen Buddhist priory by the beach at Portobello; and to walk down Princes Street is to hear the pleasant discord of Scots slang canting off rapid Mandarin babble, peppered with Americanisms, colored by the sound of a Zulu choir, and a man playing the sitar (on Sundays) or devilish blues git-fiddle picking (on Fridays).  I compare this with my hometown, Buffalo, home to an overwhelming German-Irish-Italian majority, a vast contingent of African American Protestants, and defined by the family names of its early German and English high-church worshipers.  Buffalo has an old and established Jewish population, of course, and a growing Muslim population – but we don’t yet have Edinburgh’s cosmopolitan culture, nor will we ever have Edinburgh’s history of atheist, deist, or free-thinker thought, dating back to the Scottish Enlightenment.  But in Buffalo, even nominally Christian organizations carefully craft inoffensive ‘holiday’ communications, while the bastions of capitalism swelling to their greatest annual girth proudly plop Santas in the hearts of their consumption-temples, without ever using the word “Christmas.”

As an American, then, I was surprised to find, on Edinburgh’s commercial artery of Princes Street, spotlit signs heralding the all-encompassing “Edinburgh’s Christmas.”  The University long ago established Edinburgh as one of the capitols of the secular world (if not yet the capitol of an independent country) but secular or no, the one thing a Scot’s Scot will never be is PC.  Scots cherish their Christmas traditions (one of which is the hot apple toddy – more on that later).  More importantly: absolutely everyone is invited to their party.

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