Rob Schwimmer & “The Best Playing Of An Electronic Instrument Maybe Ever”

This video, via synthesist Anthony Marinelli, captures a live performance by Rob Schwimmer at Superbooth 2024 of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time.

Schwimmer is a virtuoso keyboardist and thereminist, and as he demonstrates here, he’s one of the leading performers on the Haken Continuum, considered by many to be the most expressive electronic instrument ever made. The Continuum gives you precise continuous control over pitch, volume and timbre, with independent polyphonic control.

Schwimmer has arranged the fifth movement of the Quartet for Continuum, showcasing both the capabilities of the instrument and the beauty of Messiaen’s composition.

Here’s what Marinelli has to say about the video:

“I walked into the Haken Audio bungalow at Superbooth ’24 and heard maybe the best playing on an electronic instrument I have ever heard. Rob Schwimmer’s performance of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” (arr. for Six Ondes Martenot) performed on a Haken Continuum truly amazed and inspired me.

I’m so happy to show all of you how far expressive synthesis has come along. This level of expression, until recently, was never possible with electronic instruments.

I can’t wait to see how today’s revolution to create expressive musical instruments will effect music in the future!”

16 thoughts on “Rob Schwimmer & “The Best Playing Of An Electronic Instrument Maybe Ever”

  1. I think it will be better to save this kind of statement to a play of something that doesn’t only try to mimic acoustic instrument.
    And Less talking (its more than half of the video)

    1. Marinelli is right, though – this is fantastic and the level of expression possible with some of today’s electronic instruments is amazing.

      1. Exactly.

        There are lots of electronic music performances that I love. But what Rob is doing here is world-class and he’s performing at the level of world-class classical artists. And that’s pretty rare.

        I’d put what Carolina Eyck and Grégoire Blanc do on theremin right up there. The connecting thread is that all these musicians are theremin players with a classical music background. That reflects the fact that you have to have a great ear to play the theremin well, and have chops to do classical music.

  2. Excellent playing, Rob! That kind of virtuosity needs to be seen/heard more often, if MPE is going to go mainstream. Even as a synth player, I’m still wrestling with how this totally straddles the line between electronic sounds and acoustic movement. I’m getting there bit by bit. I suspect a time is coming when it’ll be common for people to have at least one MPE controller for up-front soloing like this, or unique effects.

  3. I happened to walk into the bungalow towards the very end of the final day of Superbooth by chance, and he was playing a performance. It was one of the most unexpected and intense performances ever. I felt like I was lifted from the ground. I hadn’t heard of the man before, but I’m glad to know other people recognized it as well! Just had to say it!

  4. This level of expression, until recently, was never possible with electronic instruments.

    Nitpick: unless you’re playing semantic games about exactly what an “electronic instrument” is, surely this level was possible before with the Ondes… y’know, that the piece was written for.

    1. The fact that the Continuum offers polyphonic control over volume, pitch and timbre at a very fine level does make it more capable that the Ondes, and I’d argue every earlier electronic instrument.

  5. Gorgeous. My father, a church organist, tackled a few Messiaen pieces. They broke all the rules of harmony, and revealed a strange beauty, especially for equally tempered instruments.

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