Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Filtering by Tag: november 2014

Us Conductors

Sometimes you'll have a weird convergence that almost forces you to read a book. One day, you catch a random tweet about a novel about Leon Theremin. The next, your dad is emailing you about a novel about Leon Theremin that just won an award. And so on. So you decide to buy the book and read it at the next opportunity. Fortunately, you weren't disappointed by the novel.

Us Conductors is a fictionalized account of Leon Theremin's life. Creator of the Theremin, he also ended up creating a lot of other useful technological devices, including one called The Thing, which bugged the US Embassy and remained undetected. He was also treated as a dissident and spent time in Russian work camps. Here, his life is told in a first person account, going between flashback episodes and letters to his former lover Clara Rockmore.

It's not exactly a thrilling novel, and there were times when I felt that it dragged on a little too long, but it was interesting and full of great writing. And while a lot of the events were fictionalized, there is a strong basis in truth and actual history; the biography of Theremin that was the basis for a lot of this information is now on my reading list.

Here Is The Way You Play a Theremin:

You turn it on. Then you wait.

You wait for several reasons. You wait to give the tubes the chance to warm, like creatures taking their first breaths. You wait in order to heighten the audience's suspense. And, finally, you wait to magnify your own anticipation. It is a thrill and a terror. You stand before a cabinet and two antennas and immediately the space itself is activated, the room is charged, the atmosphere is alive. What was potential is potent. You imagine sparks, embers, tiny lightning flecks balanced in the vacant air.


You raise your hands.

Raise the right hand first, toward the pitch antenna, and you will hear it: DZEEEEOOOoo, a shocked electric coo, steadying into a long hymn. Raise the left hand, toward the volume antenna, and you will quiet it.

Move your hands again, and the device will sing.

My theremin is a musical instrument, an instrument of the air. Its two antennas emerge from a closed wooden box. The pitch antenna is tall and black, noble. The closer your right hand gets, the higher the theremin's tone. The second antenna controls volume. It is bent, looped, gold, and horizontal. The closer you bring your left hand, the softer the instrument's song. The farther away, the louder it becomes. But always you are standing with your hands in the air, like a conductor. That is the secret of the theremin, after all: your body is a conductor.

-Sean Michaels, Us Conductors, pp. 26-7.

I Finally Did It

Well, I finally read The Great Gatsby. Yes, I was one of those who somehow made it out of high school and undergrad without having to read it for an English class. And, though I consider myself an avid reader, this one never came across my path - especially weird when you consider that it's one of my dad's favorite novels and he reads it every year. I never even read it amidst all the hype of the recent Leo movie. Not only did I make it 33 years without reading The Great Gatsby, I also made it this long without really knowing anything about the book, other than it was set in the 1920s, had something to do with the excesses of that time period, and that there was a green light.

But, I finally did it. And I enjoyed it!

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

Some people say that it's an overrated book; some people say that it's one of the best books of the 20th century. I think I'm somewhere in-between, but I do think it's a very superb book. I'm looking forward to reading Maureen Corrigan's book in the near future.

Sometimes I really mark up a book when I read it; with nonfiction, it's typically because there's something important to note, or I have a note to write in the margins. With nonfiction, it's because there's a good quote or, as was frequently the case with The Great Gatsby, it was because I loved the sound of the writing so much.

It baffles me that this book was not popular when it was first published; that Fitzgerald died thinking it was a flop, a failure. This isn't because the book is so widely read today, but because it was such a good book. Did people in the 1920s not want to read a critique of high society? Did the people in the 1930s not want to read about the excesses that helped lead to the Great Depression? I'm not sure; but if I could go back in time, I would want to make sure that Fitzgerald knew he wrote a superb novel, and one that seems to be standing the test of time very well.

There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy, and the tired.

I'm not sure what else I can say about this book that hasn't already been said. It was a great tragic novel. How the movies and opera work, I'm not sure (but I am more curious now to check them out). I'm sure that my dad is happy with me, and that somewhere my mom's dad - who was an English professor - is also smiling because I finally read one of the Great American Novels.

‘Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.’

An "Absolutely True Diary"

Every book is a mystery. And if you read all the books ever written, it’s like you’ve read one giant mystery. And no matter how much you learn, you just keep on learning there is so much more you need to learn.

I've been wanting to read Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for quite a while; I finally bought it last week in Spokane, at Auntie's Bookstore, and promptly dove into reading it. (The big display for Alexie's books, him being a local author, likely helped drive my impulse to buy it this week.)

It might be a "young adult" novel, but as far as I'm concerned, it is a story worth reading by anyone of any age. It's a first-person account of a teenage boy who lives on the Spokane Indian reservation who jumps as the chance to "escape" by going to school in a small white town, about 20 miles away.

Through his witty and geeky manner of speech - that drips with self-deprivation - as well as his drawings and sketches (drawn by Ellen Forney), we learn a lot about what life is like on an Indian reservation and what it's like to live in poverty:

"We reservation Indians don't get to realize our dreams. We don't get those chances. Or choices. We're just poor. That's all we are ... Poverty doesn't give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor."

We journey with Junior over the course of the school year, as he fights with his best friend, tries to fit in with the white culture, and other tribulations of his year. Yet, through the entire story, Junior never gets too depressed. He never seems to lose sight of his goals or dreams, and he still has a grasp on reality, too.

The book is full of aphorisms worth noting:

"If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing."
"I used to think the world was broken down by tribes. By black and white. By Indian and white. But I know that isn't true. The world is only broken into two tribes: The people who are assholes and the people who are not."
"Life is a constant struggle between being an individual and being a member of the community."

A great - and pretty quick - read. Perfect for when you're home over the holidays.

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