Clara Rockmore: A Case Report, or a Special Value Account, of her Sibylline Clearness


by Shane Jesse Christmass

Take one look at Clara Rockmore, what do you see?

Massive piled-upon Beehive,
frail hands, but it is the eyes,
and the eyes are fixed upon one predetermined point in the universe,
a single ligature, like a somnambulist cheating in someone’s dressing room, like a mental patient possession a vatic faculty that they never knew they had.

The theremin, in particular the masterful way that Rockmore played it, feels like everlasting pain. Because here’s the rub, take another look at her, not only do certain portions of her brain look possessed, but there is something truly psychic, second-sighted, gifted — but not the sort of gifts that  mere humans wax as talent — gifted whereby gifted means something that’s beyond sheer, paltry human knowledge.

While it’s comforting to glance at the liked-effects of how Rockmore looks, her appearance (kind of like the dowdy Tangina character in Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist), it is the startled way her music sounds that’s most important, the melodies appear as supernatural manners, natural fine-tune organisms of our mind, thought-transference sparkling along from the electricity contained within the theremin.

Carnies with circus-craft (which is perhaps an occult power, more likely an outlying relative of witchcraft), usually had operators with small-corked prosthetics for limbs, who would con punters into a scam that could not maintain any distinction between magnetism and hypnotism. It was hoopla. Clara Rockmore does not do this. Her music, classical in its origin, but outer space in its content, has an anesthetised influence of mesmerism. She is a forerunner to the oracular responses of Psychedelic music of the 1960s, or the time-coded sluggishness of the Prog-Rock of the 1970s, however there are more dreams or portents in her hand than in any of those pill-induced genres.

I am unaware how successful Rockmore was in her lifetime. I cannot imagine it being so, but her music can be readily found these days, so there does not seem to be any amount of professional ostracism toward her. What stage tricks did she possess? A penchant for mothballed and drab dresses? However, the mind and actions of a seer do not need stage tricks to keep them apart from any original pack. Her clairvoyant powers were tested by hundreds of excellent observers. She was a child prodigy therefore from Lithuania, admitted at age five to the Imperial Conservatory of Saint Petersburg. Clara Rockmore possessed perfect pitch, she started out playing the violin, perhaps other stringed instruments, but mainly the violin, however malnutrition and bone disease forced her to stop. What seraphic influence intervened to place firm pressure on her orbits and ordinary sleep to push her toward Leon Theremin? Was it her personal element: the mesmeric brain, something mystical in her Ovarian regions, the equal temperament of her tuning, the precise, rapid movement of her hands.

Light a lamp, then listen to her perform Vocalise by Sergei Vasilyevich, again, what is she giving us here, trasnmundanity, orphic-powers from a hypnotiser, serpent eyes all alert, sound flashes certainly paralyzing birds, supernormal mysteries. It is the blessing she possesses to stump us out of our deep trance with the miserable world, a surgery she suggests to snap us out of lethargy … so we can become percipients in celestial circumstance.

Clara Rockmore isn’t some sideshow fakir
she’s the beginning and the end of songbirds
a broken bottle turned towards all
the closing felt that dilates the pupils
for the sake of eternal clearness…

About the Author:

Shane Jesse Christmass is a Perth-born, Melbourne-based writer. He edits the journal Queen Vic Knives. He’s also a member of the band Mattress Grave. He firmly belives that the future of the word, the novel, will be in synthetic telepathy. Most of his writing is archived here.