Plug-in Review—Super Spook Keys by Simple Media

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     The sound of the theremin has a distinct “eerie” sound to it that is very distinctive and was used widely in science fiction movies and television of the 1950’s and early 60’s. Note—even though Star Trek’s theme music sounds as though it incorporates a theremin, it’s actually the human voice of a virtuoso opera singer that you’re hearing.  The unique sound primarily comes from the fact that the instrument is micro-tonally chromatic. Sweeping your hand in towards the pitch antenna will produce every tone from low to high and by slightly wavering the hand that controls pitch, one can effect vibrato while doing the same with the volume controlling hand will induce tremolo. Click here for a video demonstration

 

     The cousin of the theremin, the Ondes Martenot, is basically a theremin with keys. It also has a separate volume control as well as different wave forms that can be used to alter the tone. In addition, it also includes a strip in front of the keys that is played by moving a hand (wearing a metal ring) along the strip. This method for playing produces tones that can be virtually like a theremin with the exception that exact notes can be played. Another interesting feature on the Ondes Martenot is that the keys move laterally to induce vibrato. The volume control and wave form controls are located in a drawer on the left side of the instrument below the keyboard. Tones from percussive to staccato to legato can be produced by “playing” the volume (amplitude control). The amplification system incorporates 4 different speaker systems (“diffusers”) - a regular speaker, a speaker that is enclosed in a box that has strings chromatically tuned to effect sympathetic vibration, an enclosure that uses a gong as a diaphragm and another enclose that has a regular speaker along with a primitive type of spring reverb. One can control the amount of signal going to each “diffuser”.  Click here for a demonstration video

 

     Super Spook Keys incorporates all of the features of a theremin, including the ability to play the theremin with your mouse and many of the Ondes Martenot features. Using a joystick The only drawback is that you can only choose one type of wave form at a time but this could be worked around by copying midi tracks and having multiple instances of the plug-in playing at one time. Automation is something that is very useful when using this plug-in as I don’t know of anyone that has enough hands to twist all the knobs one would need to convincingly reproduce a Ondes Martenot performance. It does include a spring option so you can emulate two of the 4 “diffusers” without addition effects. Using a ring modulator should come close to the gong enclosure. The fourth and last “diffuser” can be emulated but it would take a little bit of work to set up a guitar to sympathetically vibrate. It’s not like you’re ever going to get your hands on a real one since they are not being built any more and the one company that was making reproductions is defunct.

 

    This is definitely a challenging plug-in to get the most out of but the results are unique. There’s a good chance you will spend hours and hours figuring out what kinds of tones you can get out of it and where you can use them.

 

Next month—4fpiano—an acoustic piano plug-in

     The plug-in review this month is a modeled theremin plug-in and once again, we get to learn a little history about the instrument that’s being modeled as well as another that Super Spook Keys does a pretty good job of imitating, the Ondes Martenot.

     

      Leon Theremin, a Russian national, invented the instrument that bears his name in 1919. It is the only instrument that is played by not touching it. The mechanism consists of two antennas, one for pitch and one for volume. Two oscillating radio frequency generators are what generate the tones The closer your hands get to the antennas the higher the pitch and volume, respectively and vice versa. This allows for extremely expressive and dynamic musicianship,

Click on picture for full size