by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Us Conductors, both covers

This week my first novel, Us Conductors, is officially published in the United States. (It came out in Canada in April.) I hope you'll read it, you out there, old friends and kindred spirits and trespassers who strayed onto this blog looking for a calm pistachio background. Us Conductors is published by Tin House Books, and you can order it via its website, or buy it in shops, or on iBooks or in kindletown, or you can come into my front garden now that summer has come and I will bring you mint tea and ice-cream and try to persuade you to buy it.

Us Conductors is a sort of love story about Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin, and Clara Rockmore, its greatest player. It's a novel about invention, memory, debt, airships, orchestras, Soviet spies, American ballerinas, Siberian taiga, electric singing, killer kung-fu, blue speakeasies, and responsibility. It's about lying faith and untrue true love.

You can read the recent Kirkus review here.

I started writing this book in 2009. Its working title was IN WHICH I WIN THE LOVE OF CLARA ROCKMORE, MY ONE TRUE LOVE, FINEST THEREMIN PLAYER THE WORLD WILL EVER KNOW. Part two begins with an epigraph, a Russian saying: "Twelve months of winter / The rest is summer." There are chapters about the 1929 Crash and the the day Lenin played the theremin. The chapter titles are taken from songs by artists like Kate Bush, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Mark Hollis. There are a few gramophones, but they don't say anything.

Besides' Clara Rockmore's theremin performance of Saint-Saëns' "The Swan", the track that most influenced Us Conductors is a piece of music by Tim Hecker:

Tim Hecker - "In the Fog II".

A song like smoke; like blur, like mist. Which seems like one shapeless thing but which is in fact variegated, comprised of interconnecting parts. All this furl of organ, rise of static. All this grey colour. If you are listening closely, you can not help but search through the sound - it's like a kind of thirst.

I recently wrote about this song, and others, for Largeheartedboy's "Book Notes" series (there's an accompanying Spotify playlist). As I said there:

Is this a melody we hear, or are we imagining it? Is this meaning or its opposite? Is Hecker sending a signal, making a message? He won't say.

All our lonely lives are this: can we feel the ones beside us, or have we made a mistake?

At the end of Us Conductors, Lev Sergeyvich Termen sits alone in Moscow, haunted, listening to magnetic tape. He is searching.

Please buy my book. Buy it for your father, for father's day; or for your mother, belatedly, for mother's day. And, if you're in the US, please come see me on my upcoming book tour. Initially, I'll be visiting Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC, Durham, Asheville and Atlanta. These are the initial dates, with West Coast appearances to be confirmed in a couple of weeks. At each of these stops I'll be reading from the book, signing first editions, and usually I'll have a local thereminist as guest star. They'll be special, and casual, and I'd love to meet you.


Elsewhere things:

  • I wrote more than 2,000 words for HTML Giant about a YouTube video with the cutest little girl in the world.

  • I was interviewed by Nardwuar, and also talked to the Hazlitt podcast about the book, warbled on a theremin.

  • Litreactor proposed that in the movie adaptation of Us Conductors, Termen be played by Jude Law. (I disagree.)

  • Said the Gramophone's better half, Dan Beirne, can still be seen zoiding up!!! at

Posted by Sean at June 12, 2014 12:01 PM

Congratulations! I look forward to reading it, sounds fab.

Posted by Michiel at June 12, 2014 6:20 PM

Congratulations! Tin House publishes wonderful books, so I'm looking forward to reading Us Conductors.

Posted by Jeff at June 14, 2014 6:48 AM

Congrats, Sean! Looking fwd to read the books! Cheers from, India!

Posted by nitesh at June 14, 2014 4:10 PM

Congratulations indeed. Wish I lived closer to your front garden; I'd definitely take you up on that offer. My friend and bandmate Gene is an excellent theremin player; sometimes, though, he plays the saw. From a festival we played at, here's a theremin/saw improvisation for you:

Posted by RPS at June 18, 2014 3:51 PM

Hi, Sean. I finished your book a few days ago, and I liked it very much. For all the ether surrounding him, Lev is visceral. He dances, he fights, he dance-fights, and he suffers, always with his entire body. I'm reminded of Hawthorne in a strange way. Anyway, what I found really fascinated is that as I was at work today (I work at a place called the Burger Stand in Lawrence, Kansas), a colleague of mine told me that if I had a few minutes to spare I should sneak outside, because, he said, a woman was playing the theremin and also something like a boombox. So, as you might imagine, I walked outside just after he mentioned this. I walked out the front door that faces Massachusetts Street (which happens to be the main street in downtown) to see an old woman with grey hair sitting on the bench sidewalk, with a cardboard sign that read PLAY FOR MONEY OR FOOD or something like that, waving her hands toward and away from a strange instrument that I had never seen before. It was the theremin! I stood a good distance away and watched. The box produced such a strange song, ill-fitting for a midwestern American town, I thought. It sang, it squealed, it zinged. And as I started to walk back in side, the entertainer who, before this moment, did not seem to notice me staring at her, looked plainly on me and smiled! I never noticed the boombox, I guess.

Posted by Blayze at July 5, 2014 9:46 PM

Congrats sean,I dont know if i came too late.

Posted by GWAYNE at April 4, 2018 11:04 AM

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about said the gramophone
This is a daily sampler of really good songs. All tracks are posted out of love. Please go out and buy the records.

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If you would like to say hello, find out our mailing addresses or invite us to shows, please get in touch:
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"And I shall watch the ferry-boats / and they'll get high on a bluer ocean / against tomorrow's sky / and I will never grow so old again."
about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

Site design and header typography by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet. The header graphic is randomized: this one is by Neale McDavitt-Van Fleet.
Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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