Theremin Page

Charles D. Stein demonstrates at the Texas Centennial Exposition in Dallas, June 1936 (image courtesy: America's Shrine to Music Museum)

Websites: 120 Years of Electronic MusicNational Music MuseumTheremin Enthusiasts ClubTheremin VoxTheremin WorldVintage Synthesizers

Variations: Rhythmicon ◊ Terpistone ◊ Theremin Cello ◊ Keyboard Theremin

Wikipedia: The Thereminvox or Theremin is one of the earliest fully electronic musical instruments. Invented in 1919 by Russian Lev Sergeivitch Termen (later anglicized to Leon Theremin), the Thereminvox was an offshoot of government-sponsored research into proximity sensors. Consisting of a box with two radio antennae, the Theremin was unique in that it required no physical contact in order to produce music; instead, a performer could control both the pitch and volume of the sound simply by moving his or her hands in the air.
Based on the principle of heterodyning oscillators, the Thereminvox generates an audio signal by combining two different, but very high frequency radio signals. The capacitance of the human body close to the antennas causes pitch changes in the audio signal, in much the same way that a person moving about a room can affect television reception. By changing the position of the hands with regard to one antenna, a performer can control the pitch of the output signal. Similarly, the amplitude of the signal can be affected by altering the hand's proximity to the other antenna. A careful combination of movements can lead to surprisingly complex performances.
Leon Theremin's invention of the Thereminvox was followed closely by the outbreak of civil war in Russia. After a lengthy tour of Europe, during which time he demonstrated his invention to packed houses, Theremin found his way to America, where he patented his invention in 1929. Subsequently, Theremin granted commercial production rights to RCA.

(excerpt from Theramin World) : "The Theremin was invented in 1919 by a Russian physicist named Lev Termen (his name was later changed to Leon Theremin). Today, this marvelous instrument is once again in the musical spotlight. Besides looking like no other instrument, the theremin is unique in that it is played without being touched. Two antennas protrude from the theremin - one controlling pitch, and the other controlling volume. As a hand approaches the vertical antenna, the pitch gets higher. Approaching the horizontal antenna makes the volume softer. Because there is no physical contact with the instrument, playing the theremin requires precise skill and perfect pitch.

In the early 1920's, Leon Theremin came to the United States to promote his invention. He was given a studio to work in, and he trained several musicians to help bring the theremin into the public eye. Then, in 1938, Leon Theremin was taken back to the Soviet Union by force, leaving behind his studio, friends, business, and his wife. After a stay in a prison camp, Leon Theremin reportedly worked for the KGB designing among other things, the "bug" and methods for cleaning up noisy audio recordings.

The Theremin in Music & Film Originally, the theremin was intended to replace entire orchestras with its "music from the ether." While that never quite happened, it has been used in many recordings over the years. During the 60's and 70's, bands such as Lothar and the Hand People, the Bonzo Doo Dah Dog Band, and Led Zeppelin brought the theremin into the public eye for a short time. Then, the theremin slipped back into obscurity until the recent revival of the 1990s. Today, lots of bands use theremins, though few in a musical context. The spooky sound of the theremin was used in several movie soundtracks during the 1950's and 1960's. It provided background mood music for such sci-fi classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still and It Came From Outer Space, as well as thrillers such as Spellbound and The Lost Weekend.

In 1993, Steven M. Martin produced a documentary entitled Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. This incredible film provides an in-depth look into the history of the instrument and its inventor. The film features rare footage and interviews with music industry legends such as Robert Moog, Todd Rundgren, and Brian Wilson as well as Prof. Leon Theremin himself!

A Star Is Born One of Prof. Theremin's original students was a Russian-born musical prodigy named Clara Rockmore. By age 5, Clara was already an accomplished violinist. But then a problem with her hands forced her to give up the violin in favor of the theremin. Clara went on to become the world's best thereminist, developing a unique method of "aereal fingering" to play the theremin with unparalleled precision. You can hear Clara perform on the album, The Art of the Theremin, accompanied on piano by her sister, Nadia Reisenberg.

A Family Tree of Theremins In the late 1920's, RCA produced approximately 500 theremins, manufactured by General Electric and Westinghouse. Today, it is estimated that only half of these still exist. An effort is underway to track down the remaining models. You can read more about these theremins in the RCA Theremin Registry. Electronic music pioneer Robert Moog built theremins long before he built synthesizers. In the 1960's, he produced such models as the wedge-shaped Vanguard theremin and the shoebox shaped Moog Melodia theremin. Today, his company Big Briar, Inc. produces the popular Etherwave and Ethervox MIDI theremins. Other popular models today include PAiA's Theremax and Wavefront's Cabinet and Travel-Case theremins.

Just the beginning... Read on to learn more about building theremins, see pictures of theremins, see which bands use theremins, and more! We hope you enjoy this website. If you have any questions or new material to submit to the website, please don't hesitate to contact us."

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