Armen Ra

Armen Ra: Multidisciplinary Artist, Master of Theremin


YEREVAN / NEW YORK CITY – Armen Ra (Hovanesian, born 1969, in Tehran) has engaged in various professions throughout his life: jewelry designer, performance artist, theremin player, production designer, director, composer and performer. He has performed and recorded with various bands and on many projects. His debut solo CD “Plays the Theremin” (Bowl & Fork Records, 2010) showcases many classical Armenian laments and folk songs. In 2015, he released “Theremin Classique,” a collection of European arias. Armen plays on the debut album of Sharon Needles, for Aurelio Voltaire’s album “Raised by Bats” (2014); he was featured on Selena Gomez’s Revival on the track “Me and My Girls,” on Gwen Stefani’s album on the track “Naughty” (both in 2016), on track 11 “Supernatural” of BØRNS’ Blue Madonna. He has a cameo appearance in the film “Party Monster” and in “Tomorrow Always Comes” (2006). Armen’s recording of Dle Yaman was used for the video of designer Michael Schmidt’s 3-D gown in 2015.

He composed music for the films “Connect” (2010) and “Hara Kiri” (2016), was production designer for the film “Excision” (2012).

He made also promotional videos for electropop artist BØRNS, titled “The Search for the Lost Sounds” and “The Faded Heart Sessions,” Derek Sherinian’s Album “The Pheonix” (2020) and the “Vortex” (2022) to mention few.

He has performed all over the US and Europe at High end private events and concerts at MOMA NYC, Lincoln Center, Disney Concert Hall LA, Villa Petriolo Florence, Musé Rodin Paris for The Dior Haute Couture ball, the Broad Museum, and countless private events throughout the world.

Hailed as one of the best thereminists in the world, and the highest paid theremin artist in history, among his theremin CDs are: “Theremin Amerique, the American songbook,” “Theremin Christmas,” “Theremin Discmorphia,” “Sacred Meditation,” which consists of several Armenian divine liturgy pieces, and the single Cold Song by Purcell.

Dear Armen, you are from an artistic family. Your grandmother Arax Makarian was the first makeup artist in Iran, whose book of memoirs I have read with pleasure. I am friends with your mother, pianist Ruzanna Makarian-Hovanesian and your aunt, soloist of Iranian opera Shake Makarian, as well as your sister Armineh Hovanesian, who is engaged in artistic photography. No wonder you possess so many artistic skills. However, how do you characterize yourself?

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I would say I characterize myself as a multidisciplinary artist. I have always been involved in the creative arts. My family background and their support have created a stable foundation for me as an artist.

Is your stage name Armen Ra connected to the Egyptian deity Amon Ra?

Yes. However, it was given to me by my first metaphysical teacher.

For the first time I have read about you as a performance artist with a long exotic name. How is that scene now and do you continue your performances?

I was fortunate to be welcomed by the downtown off Broadway performance scene in New York City in the 1980s. During this time, I had the opportunity to be free and participate in various kinds of plays and shows at theaters such as “La Mama,” “etc…,” “PS 122,” “Dixon Place” and “Threadwaxing Space.” It gave me the opportunity to step out of my own character, have fun and learn the art of performance. During that time, I also worked as a model and in nightclubs. Being paid to be beautiful was quite the contrast to being bullied and harassed for it. It gave me confidence, yet was not fulfilling in the long run. I wanted to be a fine artist, and so I became one.

Armen Ra in Armenia

It is great you also perform Armenian music on an unusual and rare instrument like the theremin! By the way, do you know that the theremin’s inventor Lev Termen’s relative Alfred Termen was the Russian governor of Van in 1915-1916 and was very close to Armenian people?

Topics: film, Music, Theremin
People: Armen Ra

Yes, I did know that! And it seems many roads lead back to Armenia… I know the Termen family and his grandchildren who also play the theremin have been very kind to me and have always supported my works. I have also played for them via the Internet and have done interviews for their website. I am the first theremin artist to play classical Armenian music on the instrument, and I am glad to have introduced our music to many people who otherwise would not have been exposed to it.

And your roads led you to Armenia for the first time only this year.

Yes, I went to Armenia this year for the first time. It was a great experience and I was thrilled to see the ancient monuments and churches. My favorite, however, was the Temple of Garni; it felt like a return, as though I had been there before.

What would you like to see changed in Armenian society?

I would like to see Armenia’s society evolve and free themselves from hatred and prejudice. It’s poison, and holds the country back from advancing.

How do you succeed to maintain your young appearance after 50?

I am a powerful sorcerer… that being said I have never had any treatments of any kind. I would say genetics and good fortune.

I have watched the award-winning documentary titled “When My Sorrow Died: The Legend of Armen Ra and the Theremin.” Will you reveal that legend?

The “legend” lives in the minds of others. That documentary did not even cover a third of my life experiences. I am constantly urged to write a book about my whole life story, and I might, however every time it is mentioned, I think of a quote by Orson Wells: “I am against posterity on principle, I think it’s almost as vulgar as ‘success.’”

Yes, your life odyssey also will be interesting to read! 

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