A composed woman stands like a statue on stage, draped in a yukata and fitted with a tubular, over-sized headdress, cushioned against her head. She floats her hands above a black metal box emitting eerie, yet melodic, sounds without her ever touching it. To her left are two men dressed in tight, white lycra bodysuits, one with a towering salmon sashimi tied to his back and the other with an omelet pillow. A human sushi dance unfolds between the nigiri men and a monstrous, evil-eyed dragonhead, orchestrated by the captivating woman and her black box.
The black box, a musical instrument called a theremin, was the world’s first electronic instrument invented almost 100 years ago. Theremin players create and manipulate sound by placing their hands next to two metal antennas and making subtle hand movements to control pitch and volume.
The theremin’s ethereal sound is most commonly heard in sci-fi movies, but also in music genres such as classical, rock and pop. Classics such as The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations”, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and songs by The Rolling Stones, Sufjan Stevens and Wolf Parade all feature theremin sounds.
The intriguing sushi theremin live show happened here in Tokyo at The All Japan Theremin Festival. This sold-out event was held in September across three intimate and unique venues in Kichijoji, and did not disappoint. A magical music ride, as diverse and beautiful as they come, transported the crowd, evoking moments of deep nostalgia to utter bliss and dance-your-pants-off vibes.
Ms Sae Sato, member of music unit The Putins and manager of the Theremin University organized the event. “This year marks the University’s 10th year of operation and we decided to celebrate by inviting famous Japanese pop groups and renowned Japanese theremin players to create an event showcasing musical diversity with a cross cultural feel,” Sae commented.
Sae’s mentor, the forefather of theremin playing in Japan, Masami Takeuchi, mesmerized the crowd with his skilful performance as he led his entourage through a succession of eloquent melodies. After relocating to Russia in 1993 to study the theremin, Masami returned and subsequently taught and inspired hundreds of students across Japan.
Theremin popularity is soaring in Japan, partly due to the release of the documentary “Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey” in the 2000s. Many great theremin players have emerged since, several of which played at the festival. Some of Sae’s favorites include, “Masami Takeuchi, Koichiro Aida, Kuritez, Kanako Hamada and Saori Kojima.”
Other performances of the night included the dazzling Yoshizawa Kayoko, who produced a quirky, fun set. One stand-out song “Anata ga suki” got the crowd jumping. Also Fujioka Minami & The Moronzu, a three-piece band from Koenji, lured fans in with their melodic tunes and cool folk-pop-rock vibe.
Highlight of the night was the entertaining performance from Sae’s band, The Putins. Sae led the modern hyper-pop act with sweet vocals and expert theremin playing, whilst the fore-mentioned sushi men climbed into the moveable dragon mouth and danced around stage. Their art was beautiful to watch, and most of all inspiring and fun.
For beginner thereminists out there, Sae recommends starting with the Matoryomin, a pitch-only theremin that is easier to play. Shaped like a beautiful matryoshka (Russian doll), it was developed by Masami Takeuchi himself.
For more information contact The Theremin University.
To view the magical Sushi Theremin song by The Putins, have a look here.