A veteran of Vancouver’s music scene is releasing his first solo album showcasing a futuristic instrument from 100 years ago.
Stephen Hamm said he has always been fascinated by the theremin, an early electronic instrument that emits sound when the player waves their hands through electrical fields generated by two antennas. The device was invented by Russian engineer and cellist Leon Theremin in 1920.
“There’s the nerd side of me that’s like, ‘This is a cool, sci-fi kind of thing, you hear it in old B-movies and whatnot,’ and the there’s … always been a bit of a classical, formal side to me and I’ve always wanted to explore that a bit more,” Hamm said. “And, oddly enough, the theremin kind of is that instrument.”
Hamm bought a theremin about five years ago and “mucked around with it” unsuccessfully. Although he incorporated it into his one-man-band act, it wasn’t until he studied under German theremin virtuoso Carolina Eyck two years ago that he started to learn how to play the device properly.
“That’s when it went from kind of stabbing in the air to, ‘OK, here’s a technique where I can play notes on this thing and how I can get the real nuance out of the instrument,’” he said.
Over the last year Hamm’s been putting those lessons to work putting together his new album, Theremin Man, released this week. While he’s collaborated a lot and worked on other people’s projects over the past few decades, he’s always wanted to make his own album.
“It’s my debut solo album 30 years into a career,” he said.
Hamm is now taking the record on the road, with a performance at the White Room in Nanaimo on Nov. 15. He said “half the fun” of playing the theremin is introducing it to people for the first time.
“There was a ton of things I wanted to do on this album, like write lyrics, which is not a thing I’ve really done before, so I took a stab at that,” he said. “I wanted to show off my abilities on the theremin, where I am in that journey, and it also kind of beckons to the psychedelic, sci-fi kind of stuff that I really dig as well. It was a bit of an exploration.”
WHAT’S ON … Stephen Hamm performs at the White Room, 4 Church St., on Friday, Nov. 15 at 8 p.m. Tickets $10 at the door.