In 1966, "Good
Vibrations" by the Beach Boys hit #1 on the music charts, wowing listeners
worldwide with its distinctive electronic sweeps and trills never before
heard in pop music.
For years listeners have asked "What is that sound?" Was it a theremin? No, it was not a theremin. Then what was it? Thanks to David Miller, now we know.
To hear a Public Radio story by David Brown, click here, then scroll down to the "download this sound" button.
Brian Wilson comes to Austin!
Other Tannerin Information
I quickly return emails to those
who properly identify themselves.
I was thrilled to learn that Brian Wilson was bringing his "Pet Sounds Live" tour to Austin, because I would finally get to meet Darian Sahanaja (Brian's music director) who actually commissioned the instrument I built. I hoped to meet Brian!
Darian contacted me ahead of time requesting a refurbishing of the instrument. I took the whole day off from work and met Darian at his hotel. Darian introduced me to some of the musicians, particularly Probyn Gregory, who is the one who actually plays the instrument. We made arrangements for me to show up at the 3:00 sound check with the refurbished instrument. I took it to my workshop and got to work.
The circuitry was completely redesigned to fix some stability problems. My job was to replace the tone production module and the job was going well. Around 1:00 I was about to put the instrument back together when I broke the main linkage that connects the slide to the pitch module. I was both horrified and gratified, horrified because this was a several hour job to repair, gratified because it had weakened and would have broken in another city if I'd not broken it here. The repair caused a two hour delay, and I arrived at the sound check at 5:00 instead of the agreed 3:00.
I expected to find some disappointed and nervous musicians. Instead I got treated like royalty. I cannot say enough about how warm and respectful Brian's and Darian's musicians are. ("You're Tom Polk? Hey, everyone, here's the man!" ) They were glad to have the instrument back, put it on-stage, and marched me backstage where they laminated an "all pass" badge, complete with my photograph. I got to finish hearing a preview of the show at sound check, then Darian invited me to eat BBQ with Brian and the crew.
There were wonderful conversations with Darian, Probyn Gregory (who plays the instrument), Paul Mertens (formerly of Poi Dog Pondering, and who did much of the orchestration), David Leaf (Brian's biographer), and even Brian's wife, Melinda. We talked about children and fun stuff. Then Darian asked me if I'd like to meet Brian. Of course you know the answer. Darian led me to a small room in a kind of basement of The Backyard, where I heard some piano riffs floating down the hall. When he opened the door, there was Brian, doing his thing, working something out on an old upright piano. Darian introduced me to Brian, took our picture, and Brian said some very kind words about the instrument. I was in heaven!
Then I met my wife and daughter to enjoy the show. After the show, we went backstage where there were tables of snacks set up for the musicians and guests. I was particularly impressed with Taylor Mills taking the time to talk to my teenager, making her instantly comfortable in what could have been an intimidating setting. My family got to meet Brian, too.
The experience was repeated almost exactly in October 2004, when Brian brought his "Smile" tour again to The Backyard. Again, we were treated like royalty. This time my brother, who first introduced me to the Beach Boys, got to meet Brian. What an experience. And this time my younger daughter got to come. She fell in love with Scott Bennett, "the good looking one," who made her day by giving her a hug. These are good people.
This time I didn't need to refurbish the instrument. It continues to work well, and has stood the test of time. I feel gratified by it all.
Many thanks to Darian for crediting me on the program and CD.
Stanberry & Associates has operated as a real estate brokerage firm licensed in the State of Texas since 1985.
Tom Polk is a real estate broker licensed in the State of Texas.
Counter added July 28, 1999
| The instrument
used to produce the "woo-woo" sound in the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations"
is similar to a theremin only in that it is electronic and it outputs a
continuously variable pitch. The actual instrument used in "Good
Vibrations" was a Heathkit tube-type audio oscillator coupled to a mechanical
action that allowed the player to mark notes along a ruler-type scale where
notes could be located quickly and precisely. For live performance,
this configuration outperforms a Theremin probably 10-1. The one
and only original instrument disappeared in the late 60s, donated to oblivion
(a hospital, actually, for audiology work!) due to the advent of more flexible
and configurable synthesizers.
30 years passed, then fate happened. Pausing for a while at the intersection of Nostalgia and Internet, I found myself being commissioned to build a modern version of Tanner's instrument for Brian Wilson's 1999 "Pet Sounds" tour. My instrument has held up well and continues to be played on Brian's "Smile" tour. The instrument is called either a slide theremin or a Tannerin, respectfully named after its originator, Paul Tanner.
A few months ago, the Broadway Production of the musical “Good Vibrations” contacted me, wanting a couple of authentic slide theremins for their show at the old and classy Eugene O'Neill Theater. I built them as fast as I could (they look like twin sisters with slight differences) and shipped them off. Little did I know that my daughter's high school band would be performing in Carnegie Hall not too long after the opening of the show.
So in late March I made the trip to NYC with my daughter and her 200 classmates. We decided to go see Good Vibrations. David Holcenberg, the musical director of the show, was gracious enough to get tickets for us. In short, GOOD VIBRATIONS IS FABULOUS.
It puzzles me that some snooty NYC reviewers panned the show. All I can figure is that these writers must be way out of step with theater-goers, or they must have some agenda. Boy, were they wrong! The theater was PACKED, standing room only. Thirty of the the best of Brian's and the Beach Boys' songs crammed into two acts, crowds singing and clapping, ovations after almost every song. I confess, my mind wandered during the dark “Phantom of the Opera”, but not at “Good Vibrations.” My eyes and ears were riveted. It’s a simple story (apparently critics can't handle that), but just perfect for promoting the MUSIC, which was crystal clear, brilliantly arranged and performed, faithful to Brian's vision. I know why some fans see it over and over.
During intermission, I found the stage manager, introduced myself, and asked him what the chances were of meeting the musicians so I could check on how the instruments were working out for them. He cordially told me he'd see what he could do, and suggested that I check with him after the show.
We had excellent seats near the front. At intermission's end, I struck up a conversation with the couple sitting by me, asking them what compelled them to see this particular show. Turns out they were childhood friends of the writer, Richard Dresser. They'd had dinner with him earlier that evening. When they learned of my connection, they insisted on introducing me to Richard. So after the show, I met him, and he very graciously told me how much the slide theremin adds to the production and how much he appreciates it.
I asked him if my daughter and I could talk to the musicians. He replied, “Of course!” and led us backstage. Backstage was really downstairs. Very cramped downstairs. Richard introduced me to Henry Aranson, who plays the instrument. Henry was already expecting us and gladly told me all about his experiences with the instrument, how it was perfect, except for the bottom plate warping a bit (dadburn particle board!) He likes the slide action, and he keeps the second instrument only as a backup.
I was intrigued that the keyboards (and slide theremin) were in one cramped room, the guitars and drums in another (actually staying on a lift that brought them up to stage level), and the saxophone player in his own little room with the door shut, all connected by audio and video terminals. Then I recalled, upon leaving the stage area, I noticed a couple of video monitors on the front face of the balcony. In the monitors, I had seen gray-haired woman playing a keyboard and conducting the closing sequence Paul Schaeffer style. I saw her cut off the band, close her music folder, get up and leave, oblivious to any audience that could turn around and see what was going on. I then realized that that’s how the stage performers get their cues. Nifty.
My teenaged daughter had other plans. She proceeded to get the autograph of the lovely Amanda Kloots (Bikini Girl) for her boyfriend, who had seen Ms. Kloots in costume on a poster and thinks she’s hot.
What a thrilling
end to the evening! Amanda was very sweet and appreciative.
Stunning beauty, too, absolutely radiant during the show.