09 February 2006

Featured Poet: Robert Archambeau

Robert Archambeau is a poet and professor who resides in Highland Park, Illinois, north of Chicago. His first full-length collection of poems, Home and Variations, was published by Salt in 2004. Wild Honey Press also published two chapbooks: Citation Suite, poems, and Another Ireland, an essay on experimental Irish poetry, in 1997. Robert teaches at Lake Forest College and is the mastermind behind Samizdat Blog.

Léon Theremin

Called Léon, a Leonardo
Léon Theremin, 1896-1993
St. Petersburg and Paris, New York and Butyrka

Called Léon, a Leonardo: wireless, his métier,
Called Léon, not Lev Sergeyevich, not Termen in gay Paris.

The sharashka Leonardo, without the Medici,
Without a Ferdinando, but once this: RCA.

*Or stop, and try another way. From the beginning—

So came the Revolution,
his dreams were more than méchanique:

See, they play like Russian peasants with clumsy saws and tree-trunks,
They scrape their deadwood violins.

So came the Revolution (his patrón). And he'd explain:
See the conductor. You'll play like that.

The conductor simply moves his hands.

*Moscow, the great conductor plays:

I brought my apparatus and set it up in his large office in the Kremlin. He was not yet there because he was in a meeting. I waited with Fotiva, his secretary, who was a good pianist, a graduate of the conservatory. She said that a little piano would be brought into the office, and that she would accompany me on the music that I would play. So we prepared, and about an hour and a half later Vladimir Ilyich Lenin came with those people with whom he had been in conference in the Kremlin. He was very gracious; I was very pleased to meet him, and then I showed him the signaling system of my instrument, which I played by moving my hands in the air, and which was called at that time the Thereminvox. I played. Then they applauded, even Vladimir Ilyich, who had been watching very attentively. I'd played Glinka's "Skylark", which he loved very much, and Vladimir Ilyich said, after all this applause, that I should show him, and he would try to play it himself. He stood up, moved to the instrument, stretched his hands out, left and right: right to the pitch and left to the volume. I took his hands from behind and helped him. He started to play "Skylark." He had a very good ear…

*And then.

Paris, Varèse: He's Theremin, and plays
The Thereminovox. Was Terminvoska at the Institute, and then

The Heterophonic Box. But now, for all of vrai Paris,
for tout le monde de la rive gauche, he'd play.

There were no handles and no keyboard.
He waved his hands. Like that.

Conductor to the future,

And no patrón.

*And stop. Digress at Europe's wonder,

D.E. Ravalico, Prodigi e Misteri delle Radio-Onde, Bompiani, Milano, 1934:

A small metal rod protrudes from the top of the music stand, from which there is another metal coil extending on the side. On the music stand itself, which is connected to the power supply for illumination, rests the music score. The conductor moves near and, having set off a switch, begins to wave his arms, as if conducting. Immediately, sounds begin flowing out from a speaker pointed in the direction of the audience. I certainly hope that the reader doesn’t think, even for a minute, that I would let any farfetched fantasies flow from my pen. It’s actually the invention, realized very practically, of a Russian technician, Léon Theremin. He lives in America…


In New York, he sees the future, Americain, he'd make it real:
A wireless orchestra plays Carnegie Hall.

A studio at RCA, the Rhythmicon, its bells.
In New York, they see him working. They see they'd make it sell.

He works, they pay,
his new patróns. Einstein comes to see.

Elsewhere, a conductor simply moves his hands.

*Moscow to Siberia, Termen from Theremin, returned.

Arrived, the locomotive paws the track,
Deep-chested, bellowing. Its whistle plays

No “Skylark,”
And Termin's back from old New York —

Not by his choice.
(A New York night, the KGB,

they take him by the hands.
Like that).

The train conductor slams the boxcar door
And waves them off.

No one guides his burly hands,
And this conductor's dreams are méchanique.


So came Butyrka, where the future's built
From souls of broken men. And then

For coal, so came Kolyma, sent there, with Tupolev.
A great conductor squats in Moscow,

Orders gulags,
Orders praise.

So came the inner exile.
The great conductor’d guide his hands —

This steel patrón,
this Kremlin mountaineer —

And move them, left and right.
He made a very good ear:

A bug of this nature was embedded in a wooden plaque,
Given by schoolchildren to the American ambassador,

Where it hung in his office until detected, decades on.

*And decades on.

Once he'd dreamed a future, dreamed avant,
A wireless orchestra played Carnegie Hall.

He hadn't dreamed in years.
They'd let me leave, and use a room.

The university. The officials did not consider music
A science, and everything was dismantled.

Dismantled, he. And decades on.
The great conductors laid the old thing down.

He dreamed no future, no more dreamed avant.

*And stop.

They take his hands.
They guide him to the podium

They help him stand.

After the end, and California, 1991. No conductor
Planned this future (Americans: they saw and made it sell).

He is very gracious. They are very pleased.
He smiles from beyond his dream. Like that.

*Or try another way—

Called Léon, a Leondardo: wireless, his métier,
Called Léon, not Lev Sergeyevich, not Termen in gay Paris.
The sharashka Leonardo, without the Medici,
Without a Ferdinando, but once this: RCA.

Copyright © 2006 Robert Archambeau and Seven Corners