Gear Talks: The Night Terrors

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Gear Talks: The Night Terrors

The Night Terrors
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

What do Naarm's Night Terrors and theremins have in common? They've both been consistently involved in producing amazing music on the fringes for quite some time!

The Night Terrors’ new album HYPNOTICA – Composition for Theremin and Electronic Music Synthesizer is out today and it’s a body of work using the theremin as a focal point. While not always explicitly a lead instrument, the theremin offers its own unique tone to the timbre of the record as a whole.

Ahead of the release of HYPNOTICA, we spoke to Miles Brown of The Night Terrors about his use of the theremin, his production and songwriting process, and how the album came to be.

Thanks for taking the time, Miles! How were you introduced to the theremin?

Thanks for having me! I was introduced to the theremin by my Dad who was an electrical engineer. I was getting into analogue synth music via bands like The Rentals and was chatting to him about Moog synths. Dad loved prog rock and bands like The Cars, Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra, so we were talking about Rick Wakeman and Jan Hammer using Moogs. He mentioned that the synth was developed via Bob Moog’s early experience building a theremin which was the first ever electronic instrument and unique in that it was played without being touched. I was super intrigued so we looked it up on the internet (early days as this was 1996) and as soon as I heard the ethereal ghostly tone of the theremin, I was hooked. We built a theremin together as a project from plans Dad had in an old science magazine, and I started using the theremin as a noise machine in my grunge rock band. Things kind of spiralled upwards from there. After many years of teaching myself, I eventually travelled to Europe to learn from classical theremin virtuosa Lydia Kavina (granddaughter of the inventor Lev Theremin’s first cousin, who learnt from Theremin himself). Lydia played theremin on the soundtracks for Tim Burton films such as Ed Wood and Mars Attacks! and has worked with the awesome Russian horror surf band Messer Chups, so this kind of spooky stuff has been highly influential for me as well. The Night Terrors really developed from the melting pot of all these influences.

Have you got any theremin heroes or people that’ve influenced your use of it?

Clara Rockmore is the grand goddess of the theremin and it was her classical playing on that early internet search that compelled me to pursue the theremin as my musical calling. Clara was a child prodigy classical violinist who was forced to retire from playing for medical reasons. She worked with the inventor of the instrument Lev Theremin to develop the musical capacities of the instrument, so she could continue her musical journey on the theremin instead. Clara was a virtuoso classical player, so they worked hard to ensure she could achieve the super high level of emotional sensitivity and dynamic precision of her previous musical activities. I’m very influenced by Clara’s beautiful, melancholy and emotionally powerful playing. I’m also in awe of contemporary theremin shredders such as Lydia Kavina, Carolina Eyck, Pamelia Stickney and Thorwald Jourgensen.

As the sound of the theremin so closely resembles the voice of a disembodied opera singer, my composing for the instrument is also influenced by vocalists from the gothic alterative world such as Lisa Gerard (Dead Can Dance), Kristy Thirsk (Rose Chronicles, Delerium) and Toni Halliday (Curve).

What does the album title Hypnotica mean?

The Night Terrors project is named after a sleep disorder, and we have always incorporated heavy sleep-related themes in our album and song titles. The word Hypnotica is the collective term for sleep-inducing downer drugs. As this album is a collection of dreamier, more ethereal pieces, we thought that title was appropriate. There’s also haunted hypnosis/trance possession/electronic communication with the dead vibe happening on this one. 

How was the theremin recorded for HYPNOTICA?

On this album I play the Moog Etherwave Pro theremin, which is the only classical grade theremin currently available. My theremin has been modified by theremin genius Thierry Frenkel in France to achieve an even greater level of dynamic sensitivity, which was crucial for this collection of more emotionally focused compositions. 

I recorded the theremin with a Schertler Jam 200 amplifier, a Line6 DL4 delay, a Surfy Industries spring reverb unit and a Meris Mercury7 digital reverb. The album was mixed by the legendary Tony Espie (The Avalanches, Cut Copy, Midnight Juggernauts), so Tony has sprinkled his unique mysterious magic into the signal chain as well.

How does writing for a Night Terrors song begin?

Most of this album was composed with my portable studio rig over in Berlin. I like to travel with a mini studio of essential instruments so I can set up anywhere and soak up inspiration form different places. I had actually travelled to Berlin planning to write some hectic goth industrial bangers for my solo theremin dance music project, but this melancholy ethereal stuff is the material that emerged when I got working over there. Sometimes you have to open the creative gateway and work with whatever decides to come through, even if it’s not what is expected! 

For these sessions I was working with the Moog Etherwave Pro theremin, Roland SH-101 mono synth, Oberheim Matrix 1000 poly synth and Elektron Analog Rytm MkII drum synth, tracking via Radial JDIs and RME interface into Ableton Live.

What will HYPNOTICA look like live? Will it be a band or tracks and the theremin or something else?

We are developing the live show for HYPNOTICA right now. The shows will be synth warrior Sarah Lim and myself with the addition of some special guest musicians, so we can also play the material from our previous records.

Thanks again! As a closer, have you got any funny stories you can share about the making of Hypnotica: Composition For Theremin And Electronic Music Synthesizer?

Early versions of some of the material on this album was performed as part of a super fun art installation / performance collaboration with Unconscious Collective and House of Vnholy, in churches between Launceston and Hobart across central Tasmania at part of the Dark MOFO festival. I played theremin and electronics, we had the incredible J.P. Shilo on church organ, and each church was transformed via immersive installations incorporating light, smell, sculptural interventions, dance, costumes and creepy performance. German industrial legends Alexander Hacke (Einstürzende Neubauten) and Danielle DePiccioto were also performing. 

Unfortunately, some members of the Tasmanian Christian community became concerned that there was something Satanic going on with these shows (there wasn’t) and lobbied against the use of the churches for fear of occult infiltration of their sacred spaces. Somehow, I became personally associated with these ideas, I guess maybe because the theremin and organ are so often used in horror movie soundtracks, and I look a bit like Nosferatu. There was a pretty hilarious exposé style video produced which suggested that I was part of a satanic coven involving Hilary Clinton and Marina Abramovic, and a few of the churches pulled out of the project. One very enthusiastic attendee even sprayed me with holy water to try to prevent me from entering the church at the Oatlands church. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t disappear in a puff of gothic smoke when the holy water hit me. Ironically, the music we played was actually quite sad and pretty, there was nothing disrespectful about the show, and when we performed the concerts some of the elderly parishioners (who had attended expecting to be offended) told us they loved the music and asked if they could buy a copy to take home. If any of those lovely people are reading this – here’s the record!

Keep up with The Night Terrors and pre order HYPNOTICA here.