There aren’t many bands that could go from playing 16th century funerary music at Laurel Hill Cemetery to opening for Pope Francis on the Ben Franklin Parkway to backing up the Lady in the Radiator from David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” — all within the span of one week. But the Divine Hand Ensemble is no normal band, chiefly thanks to the bizarre instrument that is its main focus.
Founder Mano Divina is a virtuoso of the theremin, an early electronic instrument played without being touched. Invented by Russian emigre Leon Theremin in 1920 as a classical instrument, it became famous in the 1950s for providing the eerie sound effects for sci-fi and horror films, including “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound.” It also provides the ethereal tones on the Beach Boys hit “Good Vibrations.”
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“Half the material we do celebrates the unique history of the theremin’s place in horror and science fiction movies,” Divina says, “and the other half is to show people its original intention as a serious classical instrument. I love the sci-fi history, even when it was just used to make a spaceship take off in a ‘Scooby-Doo’ episode. After a couple decades, most people weren’t skilled enough to play Beethoven and Mozart on it, so if it wasn’t for those sound effects I don’t think the theremin would have made it over the hump into the 21st century.”
On Saturday, the stranger aspects of the theremin will come to the fore as Divine Hand, in which Divina is joined by an eight-piece string ensemble, will perform a program of sci-fi and horror themes as part of PhilaMOCA’s annual Eraserhood Forever event. The evening’s highlight will come when Laurel Near, the actress who played the chipmunk-cheeked Lady in the Radiator, will join the ensemble to perform “In Heaven” from the film’s soundtrack — a tune she originally lip-synced to vocals sung by composer Peter Ivers.
This year’s Eraserhood Forever, which honors the neighborhood’s role in inspiring Lynch’s nightmarish debut feature, will also feature gothic Americana band Northern Arms, Brooklyn-based occult performance art group “a place both wonderful and strange,” and Lynch-themed burlesque and DJ sets.
Playing for the pope
Divine Hand’s performance follows a high-profile gig playing the Parkway prior to last Sunday’s Papal Mass. Divina calls the contrast “a true testament to what makes this group so special. We can perform religious and sacred music for the Pope and then do weird, unusual, quirky music for David Lynch, again without changing our repertoire or our look or our name.”
Eraserhood Forever 2015
Oct. 3, 8 p.m.
531 N. 12th St.