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Hear infinity

March 26th, 2018

Clara Venice plays the theremin in front of an audience against a neon spiral backdrop.

Image courtesy of the artist.

The AGO is celebrating artists who create their own immersive worlds. Under the theme “In Living Colours,” our April 5 First Thursday is inspired by Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors and Kusama’s incredible ability to submerge her viewers into her artistic vision. Headliner Clara Venice is a Toronto-based musician who’s best known for playing the theremin, an electronic musical instrument whose eerie soundwaves can transport you into another world.

Like Kusama, Clara is a fan of repetitive imagery. The musician makes her live performance unique by projecting videos of herself playing various instruments behind her on stage (forming her own virtual backing band).

We spoke to Clara about why the theremin is so misunderstood, and why she’s so excited to be a part of First Thursday.

AGO: Why do you love the theremin?
The theremin, although obscure, is one of the most magical instruments ever invented. It is the only instrument one plays without touching it.

AGO: You’ve been vocal about the importance of the theremin in music history. What misconceptions do people have about the theremin?
Clara: One big misconception is that a theremin is used in The Beach Boys’ song, “Good Vibrations.” In fact, they used a different instrument to imitate a theremin. On the other hand, there are films which feature a theremin that no one mentions. For example, in The Ten Commandments, every time a plague is introduced, you can hear a theremin.

But the biggest misconception about the theremin is that all you have to do is wave your hands around it and melodies automatically come out, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The theremin is a very challenging instrument to play.

Clara Venice performs the theremin in front of a screen that displays pre-recorded videos of Clara playing different instruments.

Clara Venice performs the theremin in front of a screen that displays pre-recorded videos of herself playing different instruments. Image courtesy of the artist.

AGO: What’s your vision for your concert performances?
Clara: At my concerts, audiences hear a mix of new and familiar sounds. You hear the unique sounds of the theremin that I play live in addition to pre-recorded instruments, such as the electric violin and the electric guitar. It was a challenge to convey that mix to a live audience, so now when I perform live, I’m accompanied by four virtual bandmate clones– videos of myself playing different instruments that are projected onto the stage with me.

AGO: What interests you about performing at AGO First Thursday?
Clara: I’ve seen so many incredible performances at AGO First Thursdays – most recently Peaches. To be a part of that continuum is an honour for me. What makes this particular First Thursday even more special is that it coincides with the Yayoi Kusama exhibition and she is one of my muses. Her entire oeuvre, from her polka dots to her poetry to her pink wig, is pure perfection. And for me, what better symbol of an Infinity Mirror than an audience of music lovers reflecting the pure soundwaves of a theremin?

Never heard a theremin before? Check out this video of Clara showing some Toronto Blue Jays pride with “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”


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