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Thereminist Kip Rosser Returns to Hands-on Radio History

Saturday, April 23, 2005
10 a.m. 4 p.m.

Sponsored by . . .
The David Sarnoff Library
and the New Jersey Antique Radio Club

While 2004 marked the iPod Christmas, 75 years ago Americans had to have a theremin for the holidays-or so David Sarnoff and RCA hoped. If you haven't heard this hands-off electronic musical instrument, the David Sarnoff Library and Kip Rosser offer a rare opportunity to learn and hear more on Saturday, April 23rd, during the Library's open house and radio repair clinic. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Library's open house promises something for all ages and all kinds of electronically curious visitors. Co-sponsored by the New Jersey Antique Radio Club, the event will take place in Sarnoff Corporation's Auditorium and at the David Sarnoff Library, 201 Washington Road, Princeton, NJ.

Imagine a person standing in front of a simple wooden box, plugged into the wall. Then, using only a series of hand movements in the empty air, he or she begins to fill the room with music. It sounds like a violin-or is it a cello? Or is it a woman singing? The sight of this method of creating music is just as bizarre and magical as it was in the fall of 1929 when the RCA Victor Company in Camden rolled out the commercial version of Leon Theremin's curious device. It remains the only musical instrument ever invented that is played without being touched. Over 75 years, the theremin has enjoyed technological improvements, changes in appearance, and surges in popularity. It remains legendary for its use in science fiction movies, certain pop songs, and as an inspiration for Robert Moog, who invented the synthesizer that triggered the explosion in electronic music in the 1960s and 1970s. Rosser will play throughout the day in the Library and speak and perform in the Auditorium at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Rosser, of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, refers to his early musical background from childhood through high school as "the years when I never practiced the piano and the clarinet." He recalls being possessed of a bad attitude, lazy eyes for sight-reading music, and an uncommonly good ear. It's his ear and sense of perfect pitch that now make him an accomplished thereminist.

For over six years, while working as a graphic artist, playwright, and director, Rosser has practiced this challenging machine, and it has now become a passion. When learning a new piece, particularly classical music, Rosser spends weeks studying the score, making sure his playing is accurate. But in the final analysis, he relies most upon muscle memory, perfect pitch, and his conviction that the instrument can be truly expressive.

"Everyone says the theremin is incredibly difficult to play," says Rosser. "Well, so's the violin. If you have an ear and you practice, you will improve."

Last year Rosser played an acclaimed two-hour concert at Trenton's Mill Hill Playhouse as part of Passage Theatre's Solo Flights series. More recently in January he joined two other musicians for Every Song Ever Written, an evening of jazz at Manhattan's famed Cornelia Street Café.

With his formal training in theatre, Rosser's appearances turn into unique combinations of genre-hopping music (from classical to jazz to pop and back again), stories, performance art, and audience participation. At the Library, Rosser will play on one of Robert Moog's limited-edition, 50th anniversary digital theremins.

If you haven't got a theremin but wonder where to get your own classic family heirloom repaired, the Radio Club offers a free clinic. Puzzling over the value, condition, or future of your old RCA Victor, Philco, Zenith, or other antique radio from your attic, basement, or garage? Call (609) 734-2636 with the brand and model number to make an appointment on the hour for one-on-one attention. Many radios can be fixed in less than 60 minutes, and the Club's experts will do it for free!

In addition, you and your children can try your hands with Al Klase's interactive demonstrations of "Radio from A-Z." See or feel for yourself the natural electric and magnetic phenomena that make our wireless world possible.

The Library will also offer its exhibits of classic consumer electronics guaranteed to warm the hearts of any baby boomer as well as analog enthusiasts of all ages. Remember 45s? In one exhibit you can trip back to the Fifties and Sixties and see the world's first 45-rpm record. The iPod of its generation, a working 45 record changer will play some of the music you want, when you want it.

How about your first portable radio? Also on display is one of the world's first five transistor radios, designed and built at the David Sarnoff Research Center in 1952. The Larry Boyer collection will show you just how much battery-powered radios have changed since RCA's first model in 1922. Smaller, cheaper, and sometimes better has been a trend in consumer electronics for longer than you think.

Hey, where's the remote? Lots of knobs, only three channels, and small screens-once upon a time you had to work to be a couch potato. You can see yourself in living black and white through a 1951 TV camera on RCA's "million-proofed" 1948 set, and watch Mary Martin fly through the air in the classic color Peter Pan musical of 1960 on a rare working model of RCA's first color set, the CT100, which celebrated its golden anniversary in 2004.

The David Sarnoff Library is located at 201 Washington Road, east of Route 1, or at the end of Fisher Place off Route 1, just north of the Washington Road traffic circle. For more information call 609-734-2636, or check here for directions.

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