By Molly Daly
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A documentary about a local, unique chamber ensemble will premiere Tuesday night as part of the Cinedelphia Film Festival. The Divine Hand Ensemble’s lead singer is an electronic instrument you’ve probably heard, but never seen.
The theremin’s been around for more than 90 years. The Beach Boys used one. So did old sci-fi movies. But at the hands of Mano Divina, the theremin sounds sublime.
“It still remains the only instrument in the world that you play without touching or looking at anything. You are literally vibrating air molecules with your hand to resonate certain frequencies that match or correspond to musical notes. It looks much easier than it actually is,” Divina said.
Two antennas — a loop controls volume, an upright one, pitch — sense the minute motions of the player’s hands. But that’s not all they sense:
“Everything affects how I play. If there’s a thing that has a capacitance (the ability to store an electric charge) — let’s say, a house fly: if he comes into my field, his teeny tiny little capacitance affects my playing. So sensitive is the theremin,” says Divina,”that by inhaling, the carriage of your body lifts a little bit, and you will go sharp on your note. And by exhaling, the carriage of your body drops a little bit, and you will go flat. ”
The 10 piece Divine Hand Ensemble specializes in an eclectic mix of classics by Handel, Bach, and Mozart — with a dash of the modern:
“My purpose for the Divine Hand Ensemble is to pick beautiful music, whether it was written in the 21st century, or in the 1500s, it didn’t matter to me. If it was a powerful and moving piece of music, I wanted to perform it. So one hand, we do your standard classical repertoire — we do Handel, we do Bach, we do Mozart, we do Beethoven. On the other hand, we take a lot of contemporary music, and arrange it to fit side by side with the Mozart and the Beethoven. We cover Rush, we cover Queen, we cover The Specials’ Ghost Town. We try to play a little something for everyone, but make it all sound like classical music.”
After the screening, The Divine Hand Ensemble will perform fan favorites, and some new work.
“We have just written and completed the first steam punk symphony.”
The screening, held at PhilaMOCA at 531 North 12th Street, starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10.