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Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Theremin is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without discernible physical contact from the player by inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928

Theremin Lydia Kavina plays "Clair de Lune"

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Ave Maria - BWV 846 (Bach-Gounod) played on the thereminvox & some other sounds

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The Theremin is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without discernible physical contact from the player by inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928

Theremin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Léon Theremin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lydia Kavina - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lydia Yevgenyevna Kavina (Лидия Евгеньевна Кавина; born 8 September 1967) is a Russian theremin player - Google Search
Electric cello - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:Bugged-great-seal-open.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:Etherwave Theremin Kit.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Terpsitone - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lydia Yevgenyevna Kavina Russian theremin player - Google Search
Lydia Kavina - Vocalise - YouTube
Lydia Kavina Music Videos
Theremin Lydia Kavina plays "Clair de Lune" - YouTube
Lydia Kavina - Vocalise - YouTube
Clara Rockmore plays Tchaikovsky "Berceuse" - YouTube
Theremin Virtuoso Pamelia Kurstin and Pianist Pete Drungle Live in Studio 360 - YouTube
Carolina Eyck plays Gabriel Fauré - YouTube
Nocturne in C# minor - Clara Rockmore - YouTube
Carolina Eyck plays Gabriel Fauré - YouTube
Ave Maria - BWV 846 (Bach-Gounod) played on the thereminvox & some other sounds - YouTube
Theremin Solo - YouTube
Build: Mini-Theremin in under a minute - YouTube
MIND-BLOWING Voice Distortion and Home Made Instruments - The Sounds of Science - Joe Genius - YouTube

Theremin - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

An Etherwave-Theremin, assembled from Robert Moog's kit: the loop antenna on the left controls the volume while the upright antenna controls the pitch
Electronic instrument
Hornbostel–Sachs classification 53
Inventor(s) Léon Theremin
Developed 1919

The theremin /ˈθɛrəmɪn/,[1] originally known as the ætherphone/etherphone, thereminophone[2] or termenvox/thereminvox is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without discernible physical contact from the player.

It is named after the westernized name of its Russian inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. The controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas which sense the position of the player's hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other, so it can be played without being touched. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

The theremin was used in movie soundtracks such as Miklós Rózsa's for Spellbound and The Lost Weekend and Bernard Herrmann's for The Day the Earth Stood Still and as the theme tune for the ITV drama Midsomer Murders. This has led to its association with a very eerie sound. Theremins are also used in concert music (especially avant-garde and 20th- and 21st-century new music) and in popular music genres such as rock. Psychedelic rock bands in particular, such as Hawkwind, have often used the theremin in their work.



The theremin was originally the product of Russian government-sponsored research into proximity sensors. The instrument was invented by a young Russian physicist named Lev Sergeevich Termen (known in the West as Léon Theremin) in October 1920[3][4] after the outbreak of the Russian civil war. After a lengthy tour of Europe, during which time he demonstrated his invention to packed houses, Theremin found his way to the United States, where he patented his invention in 1928 (US1661058). Subsequently, Theremin granted commercial production rights to RCA.

Although the RCA Thereminvox (released immediately following the Stock Market Crash of 1929), was not a commercial success, it fascinated audiences in America and abroad. Clara Rockmore, a well-known thereminist, toured to wide acclaim, performing a classical repertoire in concert halls around the United States, often sharing the bill with Paul Robeson.

During the 1930s Lucie Bigelow Rosen was also taken with the theremin and together with her husband Walter Bigelow Rosen provided both financial and artistic support to the development and popularisation of the instrument.[5][6]

In 1938, Theremin left the United States, though the circumstances related to his departure are in dispute. Many accounts claim he was taken from his New York City apartment by KGB agents,[7] taken back to the Soviet Union and made to work in a sharashka laboratory prison camp at Magadan, Siberia. He reappeared 30 years later. In his 2000 biography of the inventor, Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage, Albert Glinsky suggested the Russian had fled to escape crushing personal debts, and was then caught up in Stalin's political purges. In any case, Theremin did not return to the United States until 1991.[8]

The components of a modern Moog theremin, in kit form.

After a flurry of interest in America following the end of the Second World War, the theremin soon fell into disuse with serious musicians, mainly because newer electronic instruments were introduced that were easier to play. However, a niche interest in the theremin persisted, mostly among electronics enthusiasts and kit-building hobbyists. One of these electronics enthusiasts, Robert Moog, began building theremins in the 1950s, while he was a high-school student. Moog subsequently published a number of articles about building theremins, and sold theremin kits which were intended to be assembled by the customer. Moog credited what he learned from the experience as leading directly to his groundbreaking synthesizer, the Moog.

Since the release of the film Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey in 1994, the instrument has enjoyed a resurgence in interest and has become more widely used by contemporary musicians. Even though many theremin sounds can be approximated on many modern synthesizers, some musicians continue to appreciate the expressiveness, novelty and uniqueness of using an actual theremin. The film itself has garnered excellent reviews.[9]

Today Moog Music, Dan Burns of, Chuck Collins of[10] Wavefront Technologies, Kees Enkelaar[11] and Harrison Instruments manufacture performance-quality theremins. Theremin kit building remains popular with electronics buffs; kits are available from Moog Music, Theremaniacs, Harrison Instruments,[12] PAiA Electronics, and Jaycar. On the other end of the scale, many low-end Theremins, some of which have only pitch control, are offered online and offline, sometimes advertised as toys.

Operating principles

The theremin is rare among musical instruments in that it is played without physical contact. The musician stands in front of the instrument and moves his or her hands in the proximity of two metal antennas. The distance from one antenna determines frequency (pitch), and the distance from the other controls amplitude (volume). Most frequently, the right hand controls the pitch and the left controls the volume, although some performers reverse this arrangement. Some low-cost theremins use a conventional, knob operated volume control and have only the pitch antenna. While commonly called antennas, they are not used for receiving or broadcasting radio frequency, but act as plates in a capacitor.

The theremin uses the heterodyne principle to generate an audio signal. The instrument's pitch circuitry includes two radio frequency oscillators. One oscillator operates at a fixed frequency. The frequency of the other oscillator is controlled by the performer's distance from the pitch control antenna. The performer's hand acts as the grounded plate (the performer's body being the connection to ground) of a variable capacitor in an L-C (inductance-capacitance) circuit, which is part of the oscillator and determines its frequency. (Although the capacitance between the performer and the instrument is on the order of picofarads or even hundreds of femtofarads, the circuit design gives a useful frequency shift.) The difference between the frequencies of the two oscillators at each moment allows the creation of a difference tone in the audio frequency range, resulting in audio signals that are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.

To control volume, the performer's other hand acts as the grounded plate of another variable capacitor. In this case, the capacitor detunes another oscillator; that detuning is processed to change the attenuation in the amplifier circuit. The distance between the performer's hand and the volume control antenna determines the capacitance, which regulates the theremin's volume.[13]

Modern circuit designs often simplify this circuit and avoid the complexity of two heterodyne oscillators by having a single pitch oscillator, akin to the original theremin's volume circuit. This approach is usually less stable and cannot generate the low frequencies that a heterodyne oscillator can. Better designs (e.g. Moog, Theremax) may use two pairs of heterodyne oscillators, for both pitch and volume.[14]

Performance technique

Easy to learn but difficult to master, theremin performance presents two challenges: reliable control of the instrument's pitch with no guidance (no keys, valves, frets, or finger-board positions), and minimizing undesired portamento that is inherent in the instrument's continuously-variable-pitch design.[citation needed]

Pitch control is challenging because, like a violin or trombone, a theremin can generate tones of any pitch throughout its entire range, including those that lie between the conventional notes. And, unlike most other instruments, the theremin has no physical feedback (other than sound), like string tension or the tactile fingerboard for strings, or air column resistance in wind instruments. The player has to rely solely on what is heard, and can only correct a pitch when its volume is not at zero. (Some professional theremin models, including Moog Etherwave Pro, have a pitch-preview feature – i.e. an additional headphone output that allows the pitch to be monitored before the volume is changed.) In the case of some string instruments, the range is divided along the strings by use of length divisions (e.g., frets on a guitar). By contrast, in the case of the theremin, the entire range of pitches is controlled by the distance of the performer's hand or fingers from the pitch antenna in mid-air. Precise control of manual position coupled with an excellent sense of pitch is required, since the oscillator tuning tends to change slowly over time, resulting in changing positions for individual pitches.[citation needed]

Because some portamento is inevitable in theremin performance and because only the most experienced performers can reduce it to an inconspicuous level, the theremin repertoire of beginner/intermediate players is limited to compositions that were written to be performed legato, especially those for voice or continuously-variable-pitch instruments, and in which it is acceptable or even traditional to include some degree of portamento and glissando. Examples of works well suited for performance on the theremin include Massenet's Thaïs-Méditation[citation needed] (originally for violin), Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, and Saint-Saëns' Le cygne (The Swan) (originally for violoncello).

Using rapid and exact hand movements, however, highly skilled players can reduce undesired portamento and glissando to a level enabling them to play individual notes and even achieve staccato effects. Small and rapid movements of the hands can create tremolo or vibrato effects. Although pitch is governed primarily by the distance of the performer's hand to the pitch antenna, most precision thereminists augment their playing techniques with a system called "aerial fingering," largely devised by Clara Rockmore and subsequently adapted by Léon Theremin and his protégée, Lydia Kavina. It employs specific hand and finger positions to alter slightly the amount of capacitance relative to the pitch antenna to produce small changes in tone quickly and in a manner that can be reliably and quickly reproduced.

An alternate and controversial "hands on" technique is called "angling". In this method the pitch control hand is actually set on the top of the theremin, thus violating the "no touch" creed of traditionalists. The performer changes the angle of the hand and fingers to alter the pitch and repositions the hand if the pitch interval is too large for "angling". Touching the instrument damps the effect of extraneous movement on pitch. This permits the use of steady pitches without vibrato and without the performer's remaining perfectly still. An alternate to touching the instrument is to rest the elbow of the pitch arm on a tripod while standing, or the arm of a chair, or one's knees while seated in order to provide a steady reference point and pivot for the arm allowing for steady pitch play over the entire pitch range.

Equally important in theremin articulation is the use of the volume control antenna. Unlike touched instruments, where simply halting play or damping a resonator silences the instrument, the thereminist must "play the rests, as well as the notes", as Ms. Rockmore observes.[15] Although volume technique is less developed than pitch technique, some thereminists have worked to extend it, especially Pamelia Kurstin with her "walking bass" technique[16] and Rupert Chappelle.

Skilled players who overcome these challenges by a precisely controlled combination of movements can achieve complex and expressive performances, and thus realize a theremin's potential.

Some thereminists in the avant-garde openly rebel against developing any formalized technique, viewing it as imposing traditional limitations on an instrument that is inherently free form. These players choose to develop their own highly personalized techniques. Other avant-garde players use strict form and techniques other than aerial fingering. The question of the relative value of formal technique versus free form performances has been hotly debated among thereminists. Theremin artist Anthony Ptak uses antenna interference in live performance.

Recent versions of the theremin have been functionally updated: the Moog Ethervox, while functionally still a theremin, can also be used as a MIDI controller, and as such allows the artist to control any MIDI-compatible synthesizer with it, using the theremin's continuous pitch to drive modern synths.[17] The Harrison Instruments Model 302[18] Theremin uses symmetrical horizontal plates instead of a vertical rod and horizontal loop to control pitch and volume, with the volume increasing as the hand approaches the plate.


Concert music

Lydia Kavina, protégée of Léon Theremin and instructor to other thereminists.

Concert composers who have written for theremin include Bohuslav Martinů,[19] Percy Grainger,[19] Christian Wolff,[19] Joseph Schillinger,[19] Moritz Eggert,[20] Iraida Yusupova,[20] Jorge Antunes,[19] Vladimir Komarov,[19] Anis Fuleihan,[21][22] and Fazıl Say.[19]The biggest theremin concerto is Kalevi Aho's Concerto for Theremin and Chamber Orchestra "Eight Seasons" (2011), written for Carolina Eyck.

Maverick composer Percy Grainger chose to use ensembles of four or six theremins (in preference to a string quartet) for his two earliest experimental Free Music compositions (1935–37) because of the instrument's complete 'gliding' freedom of pitch.[23][24]

Musician Jean Michel Jarre used the instrument in his concerts Oxygen In Moscow and Space of Freedom[25] in Gdańsk, providing also a short history of Léon Theremin's life.

The five-piece Spaghetti Western Orchestra use a Theremin as a replacement for Edda Dell'Orso's vocals in their interpretation of Ennio Morricone's "Once Upon a Time in the West".[26]

Popular music

Theremins and theremin-like sounds started to be incorporated into popular music from the end of the 1940s (with a series of Samuel Hoffman/Harry Revel collaborations)[27] and this continued, with varying popularity, to the present.[28]

While The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" features an instrument that sounds much like a Theremin, in fact the sound is made by an instrument called the Tannerin.[29] Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin used a variation of the theremin (minus the loop) during performances of "Whole Lotta Love" and "No Quarter" throughout the performance history of Led Zeppelin, an extended multi-instrumental solo featuring theremin and bowed guitar in 1977, as well as the soundtrack for Death Wish II released in 1982. Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones also used the instrument on the group's 1967 albums "Between the Buttons" and "Their Satanic Majesties Request".[30]

Lothar and the Hand People, formed in Denver in 1965, used a Theremin (named "Lothar") onstage and on their LP.[31] The Lothars are a Boston-area band formed in early 1997 whose CDs have featured as many as four theremins played at once – a first for pop music.[32][33] Although credited with a "Thereman" [sic] on the "Mysterons" track from the album Dummy, Portishead actually used a monophonic synthesizer to achieve theremin-like effects, as confirmed by Adrian Utley, who is credited as playing the instrument; he has also created similar sounds on the songs "Half Day Closing", "Humming", "The Rip" and "Machine Gun".[34]

Film music

The Russian Dmitri Shostakovich was one of the first composers to include parts for the theremin in orchestral pieces, including a use in his score for the 1931 film Odna. While the theremin was not widely used in classical music performances, the instrument found great success in many motion pictures, notably, Spellbound, The Red House, The Lost Weekend (all three of which were written by Miklós Rózsa, the composer who pioneered the use of the instrument in Hollywood scores), The Spiral Staircase, Rocketship X-M, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing (From Another World), and The Ten Commandments (the 1956 DeMille film). The theremin is prominent in the score for the 1956 short film "A Short Vision"[35] which was aired on "The Ed Sullivan Show" the same year used by the Hungarian composer Matyas Seibel. More recent appearances in film scores include Monster House, Ed Wood and The Machinist[36] (both featuring Lydia Kavina). The DVDs for Ed Wood, Bartleby and The Day the Earth Stood Still and Spellbound (Criterion Collection) include short features on the theremin. Robby Virus, the founder and theremin player of the band Project:Pimento, was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Hellboy (2004).[37]

A theremin was not used for the soundtrack of Forbidden Planet, for which Louis and Bebe Barron built "disposable" oscillator circuits and a ring modulator to create the "electronic tonalities" for the film.[38][39]

Los Angeles-based thereminist Charles Richard Lester is featured on the soundtrack of Monster House[40] and has performed the US premiere of Gavriil Popov's 1932 score for Komsomol – Patron of Electrification with the L. A. Philharmonic and Esa-Pekka Salonen in 2007.[41]


  • Apart from a few episodes where an electronic organ or synthesizer was used, the theremin-like sound on the original Star Trek theme was actually provided by renowned studio soprano Loulie Jean Norman until her voice was removed in later seasons.[42] Soprano Elin Carlson sang part of the theme when CBS-Paramount TV remastered the program's title sequence in 2006.[43]
  • The British television series Midsomer Murders uses a theremin in its popular theme tune as well as frequently in underscore. The theremin part is played by Celia Sheen.[44]
  • In May 2007, the White Castle American hamburger restaurant chain introduced a television ad[45] featuring a theremin performance by musician Jon Bernhardt of the band The Lothars.[46]
  • In October 2008, comedian, musician and theremin enthusiast Bill Bailey played a theremin during his performance of Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, which has subsequently been televised. He has previously also written an article,[47] presented a radio show[48] and incorporated the theremin in some of his televised comedy tours.
  • In an episode of the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory entitled "The Bus Pants Utilization," the character Sheldon Cooper plays a theremin.[49]


  • The theremin is used as a literary device in "Constellations for Theremin" by Andrew Joron.[50]

Video games

Similar instruments

  • The Ondes-Martenot 1928, also uses the principle of heterodyning oscillators, but has a keyboard as well as a slide controller and is touched while playing.[53]
  • The Electro-Theremin (or Tannerin after Paul Tanner who played it in several productions including three tracks for The Beach Boys[54]), built by Bob Whitsell in the 1950s,[55] does not use heterodyning oscillators and has to be touched while playing, but it allows continuous variation of the frequency range and sounds similar to the theremin.
  • Trautonium, a monophonic electronic musical instrument by Friedrich Trautwein, invented in 1929
  • The Persephone, an analogue fingerboard synthesizer with CV and MIDI, inspired by the trautonium. The Persephone allows continuous variation of the frequency range from 1 to 10 octaves. The ribbon is pressure and position sensitive.
  • The Electronde, invented in 1929 by Martin Taubman, has an antenna for pitch control, a handheld switch for articulation and a foot pedal for volume control.[56]
  • The Syntheremin is an extension of the theremin.
  • The Croix Sonore (Sonorous Cross), is based on the theremin. It was developed by Russian composer Nicolas Obouchov in France, after he saw Lev Theremin demonstrate the theremin in 1924.
  • The terpsitone, also invented by Theremin, consisted of a platform fitted with space-controlling antennae, through and around which a dancer would control the musical performance. By most accounts, the instrument was nearly impossible to control. Of the three instruments built, only the last one, made in 1978 for Lydia Kavina, survives today.
  • The Z.Vex Effects Fuzz Probe, Wah Probe and Tremolo Probe, using a theremin to control said effects. The Fuzz Probe can be used as a theremin, as it can through feedback oscillation create tones of any pitch.
  • The Haken Continuum Fingerboard uses a continuous, flat playing surface along which the player slides his fingers to create the desired pitch and timbre values. Describable as "a continuous pitch controller that resembles a keyboard, but has no keys."
  • The MC-505 by Roland being able using the integrated D-Beam-sensor like a Theremin.
  • The Otamatone by the Cube Works company which is played by sliding the fingers up and down a stem to control a three-level pitch sound.
  • The Audiocubes by Percussa are light emitting smart blocks which have 4 sensors on each side (optical theremin). The sensors measure the distance to your hands to control an effect or sound.[57]
  • A musical saw, also called a singing saw, is the application of a hand saw as a musical instrument. The sound creates an ethereal tone, very similar to the theremin. The musical saw is classified as a friction idiophone with direct friction (131.22) under the Hornbostel-Sachs system of musical instrument classification.

See also


  1. ^ Theremin World
  2. ^ The London Mercury Vol.XVII No.99 1928
  3. ^ Glinsky, Albert (2000). Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. p. 26. ISBN 0-252-02582-2.
  4. ^ Léon Theremin playing his own instrument on YouTube
  5. ^ Glinsky pp.127–128
  6. ^ "The Theremin". Thereminvox. May 9, 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-13. "financially supported Léon Theremin's work"
  7. ^ Tell Me More, BBC, h2g2 project, Undated.Accessed:05-20-2008.
  8. ^ Glinsky pp.185–187, 329
  9. ^ MRQE – Movie Review Query Engine – Theremin, see also the rare 100% score at Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ Theremin Comparison Chart. Tom Farrel.
  11. ^ A review for the Enkelaar Theremin (and others). Tom Farrel.
  12. ^ "Harrison Instruments".
  13. ^ "RCA Theremin circuit diagram".
  14. ^ Vennard, Martin (1929-03-12). "BBC News - Leon Theremin: The man and the music machine". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  15. ^ Moog, Bob (2002-10-26). "Theremin Vox – In Clara's Words". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  16. ^ Pamelia Kurstin plays the Theremin. Kurstin shows the technique about 3 minutes into the video
  17. ^ Etherwave Theremins[dead link]
  18. ^ [1] The Harrison Instruments Model 302 Theremin
  19. ^ a b c d e f g "Lydia Kavina Music from the Ether". Mode Records. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  20. ^ a b "Barbara Buchholz / Lydia Kavina / Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin – Touch! Don't Touch! – Works For Theremin". Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  21. ^ "Anis Fuleihan (Composer, Arranger)". 2007-06-10. Retrieved 16 April 2010.
  22. ^ "Ionisation: Thomas Arne, Ludwig van Beethoven, Edward Elgar, Anis Fuleihan, Edgard Varese, Arturo Toscanini, Henry J. Wood, Jean Sibelius, Leopold Stokowski, Nicolas Slonimsky, Wilhelm Furtwängler, BBC Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, New York Symphony Orchestra, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Clara Rockmore: Music". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  23. ^ Gillies, Malcolm; Pear, David (2007–2011). 'Grainger, Percy'. In Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 2011-09-21.(subscription required)
  24. ^ Lewis, Thomas P (1991). A source guide to the music of Percy Grainger, chapter 4: Program notes. White Plains: Pro-Am Music Resources. ISBN 978-0-912483-56-6. Retrieved 2011-09-21.
  25. ^ ": Jean Michel Jarre Official Website :: Live-o-graphy :: Gdansk - 2005 :". 2009-05-20. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  26. ^ "BBC Proms Review: Spaghetti Western Orchestra". Retrieved 14 January 2012.
  27. ^ Music out of the Moon, Harry Revel, conducted by Les Baxter, Capitol Records Nr. T390, released 1947
  28. ^ "IEEEGHN: The Theremin". IEEE. 2008. Retrieved 2008-10.22.
  29. ^ Tom Polk (1999-07-28). "Theremin,Tannerin, electro-theremin,slide theremin,electrotheremin,electro theremin, theramin, Brian Wilson theremin, Good Vibrations Theremin, Pet Sounds Theremin". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  30. ^ A Simple Theremin Project. University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.
  31. ^ "". 2012-01-27. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  32. ^ Pomerantz, Dorothy (September 17, 1998). "The Lothars revive the spooky sounds of the theremin". Somerville Journal.
  33. ^ Glinsky p.341
  34. ^ "Interview with Adrian Utley on Soundonsound, June 1995". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  35. ^ "A Short Vision". youtube.
  36. ^ "Full cast and crew for Maquinista, El". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-09-01.
  37. ^ Hellboy cast list
  38. ^ "Forbidden Planet". MovieDiva. Retrieved 2006-08-16.
  39. ^ Notes about film soundtrack and CD, MovieGrooves-FP
  40. ^ imdb details for "Monster House"
  41. ^ "L. A. Philharmonic concert details". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  42. ^ Inside Star Trek The Real Story. Simon & Schuster. June 1997. pp. 351–352. ISBN 0-671-00974-5.
  43. ^ Elin Carlson's website, Undated. Accessed: 05-20-2008.
  44. ^ Maxwell, Francis (May 2005). "Hands off for gripping theremin concert in Barnes" (PDF). London Harmony: 6. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  45. ^ "White Castle Ad on YouTube". 2008-06-28. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  46. ^ Laban, Linda (May 7, 2007). "The geek who captured the Castle". The Boston Globe. pp. C4,C8.
  47. ^ Bill Bailey (2004-10-18). "Bill Bailey's Weird Science Guardian article, Oct 2004". Guardian. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  48. ^ "Good Vibrations: The Story of the Theremin, Oct 2004". 2004-10-21. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  49. ^ "Theremin Makes Cameo On Big Bang Theory, Jan 2011". 2011-01-08. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
  50. ^ "Constellations for Theremin," in Andrew Joron, Fathom (New York: Black Square Editions, 2003).
  51. ^ var authorId = "41858809" by Spence D. (2005-06-23). "IGN Interview". Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  52. ^ Conditt, Jessica (2012-03-08). "Ode to Joystick". GameDaily. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
  53. ^ Bloch, Thomas. "ONDES MARTENOT **** THOMAS BLOCH – the instrument : videos, pictures, works, facts...". Retrieved 11 March 2010.
  54. ^ "Tannerin 2004". Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  55. ^ "The Paul Tanner Electro-Theremin Page". Retrieved 2010-01-22.
  56. ^ Taubman demonstrates his Electronde. Stills and a downloadable video at British Pathe news archive. 1938-12-12.
  57. ^ "Create Optical Theremin using Percussa AudioCubes".


  • Rockmore, Clara (1998). Method for Theremin. Edited by David Miller & Jeffrey McFarland-Johnson. Made publicly available at Clara Rockmore Method for Theremin [pdf]
  • Eyck, Carolina (2006). The Art of Playing the Theremin. Berlin: SERVI Verlag. ISBN 3-933757-08-8.
  • Glinsky, Albert (2000). Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02582-2.

Film and video

  • Martin, Steven M. (Director) (1995). Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. (Film and DVD). Orion/MGM.
  • Lydia Kavina, Clara Rockmore (featuring), William Olsen (Director) (1995). Mastering the Theremin (Videotape (VHS) and DVD). Moog Music and Little Big Films.

External links

Go there...

Léon Theremin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Léon Theremin

Lew Termen demonstrating Termenvox, c. December 1927
Born 15 August 1896
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died 3 November 1993 (aged 97)
Moscow, Russia
Occupation engineer, physicist
Known for Theremin, The Thing

Lev Sergeyevich Termen; Russian: Ле́в Серге́евич Терме́н) (27 August [O.S. 15 August] 1896 – 3 November 1993 (Léon Theremin in America) was a Russian and Soviet inventor. He is most famous for his invention of the theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments, and the first to be mass produced. He is also the inventor of interlace, a technique of improving the picture quality of a video signal, widely used in video and television technology.[citation needed] His invention of "The Thing", an espionage tool, is considered a predecessor of RFID technology.[1]


Early life

Léon Theremin was born Lev Sergeyevich Termen in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire in 1896 into a family of French and German ancestry.[2] He had a sister named Helena.[3]

He started to be interested in electricity at the age of 7, and by 13 he was experimenting with high frequency circuits.[citation needed] In the seventh class of his high school before an audience of students and parents he demonstrated various optical effects using electricity.[4]

By the age of 17 he was in his last year of high school and at home he had his own laboratory for experimenting with high frequency circuits, optics and magnetic fields. His cousin, Kirill Fedorovich Nesturkh, then a young physicist, and a singer named Wagz invited him to attend the defense of the dissertation of professor Abram Fedorovich Ioffe. Physics lecturer Vladimir Konstantinovich Lebedinskiy had explained to Theremin the then interesting dispute over Ioffe's work on the electron. On 9 May 1913 Theremin and his cousin attended Ioffe's dissertation defense. Ioffe's subject was on the elementary photoelectric effect, the magnetic field of cathode rays and related investigations. In 1917 Theremin wrote that Ioffe talked of electrons, the photoelectric effect and magnetic fields as parts of an objective reality that surrounds us everyday, unlike others that talked more of somewhat abstract formula and symbols. Theremin wrote that he found this explanation revelatory and that it fit a scientific – not abstract – view of the world, different scales of magnitude, and matter.[3] From then on Theremin endeavoured to study the Microcosm, in the same way he had studied the Macrocosm with his hand-built telescope.[4] Later, Kyrill introduced Theremin to Ioffe as a young experimenter and physicist, and future student of the university.

Theremin recalled that while still in his last year of school, he had built a million-volt Tesla coil and noticed a strong glow associated with his attempts to ionise the air. He then wished to further investigate the effects using university resources. A chance meeting with Abram Fedorovich Ioffe led to a recommendation to see Karl Karlovich Baumgart, who was in charge of the physics laboratory equipment. Karl then reserved a room and equipment for Theremin's experiments. Abram Fedorovich suggested Theremin also look at methods of creating gas fluorescence under different conditions and of examining the resulting light's spectra. However, during these investigations Theremin was called up for World War I military service.[5]

World War I and Russian Civil War

Despite Theremin being only in his second academic year, the deanery of the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy recommended him to go to the Nikolayevska Military Engineering School in Petrograd (renamed from Saint Petersburg), which usually only accepted students in their fourth year. Theremin recalled Ioffe reassured him that the war would not last long and that military experience would be useful for scientific applications.[6]

Beginning his military service in 1916, Theremin finished the Military Engineering School in six months, progressed through the Graduate Electronic School for Officers, and attained the military radio-engineer diploma in the same year.[citation needed] In the course of the next three and a half years he oversaw the construction of a radio station in Saratov to connect the Volga area with Moscow, graduated from Petrograd University, became deputy leader of the new Military Radiotechnical Laboratory in Moscow, and finished as the broadcast supervisor of the radio transmitter at Tsarskoye Selo near Petrograd (then renamed Detskoye Selo).[6]

During the Russian civil war, in October 1919 White Army commander Nikolai Nikolayevich Yudenich advanced on Petrograd from the side of Detskoye Selo, apparently intending to capture the radio station to announce a victory over the Bolsheviks. Theremin and others evacuated the station, sending equipment east on rail cars. Theremin then detonated explosives to destroy the 120 meter-high antennae mast before traveling to Petrograd to set up an international listening station. There he also trained radio specialists but reported difficulties obtaining food and working with foreign experts who he described as narrow-minded pessimists.[7]

Theremin recalled that on an evening when his hopes of overcoming these obstructing experts reached a low ebb, Abram Fedorovich Ioffe telephoned him.[8] Ioffe asked Theremin to come to his newly founded Physical Technical Institute in Petrograd, and the next day he invited him to start work at developing measuring methods for high frequency electrical oscillations.[8]

Under Ioffe

The day after Ioffe's invitation, Theremin started at the institute. He worked in diverse fields: applying the Laue effect to the new field of X-ray analysis of crystals; using hypnosis to improve measurement-reading accuracy; working with Ivan Pavlov's laboratory; and using gas-filled lamps as measuring devices.[9] He built a high frequency oscillator to measure the dielectric constant of gases with high precision; Ioffe then urged him to look for other applications using this method, and shortly made the first motion detector for use as a "radio watchman".[note 1][10][11]

While adapting the dielectric device by adding circuitry to generate an audio tone, Theremin noticed the pitch changed when his hand moved around.[12] In October 1920[13] he first demonstrated this to Ioffe who called in other professors and students to hear.[14] Theremin recalled trying to find the notes for tunes he remembered from when he played the cello, such as the Swan by Saint-Saëns.[10][12] By November 1920 Theremin had given his first public concert with the instrument, now modified with a horizontal volume antenna replacing the earlier foot-operated volume control.[14][15] He named it the "etherphone";,[15] to be known as the Терменвокс (Termenvox) in the Soviet Union, as the Thereminvox in Germany,[16] and later as the "theremin" in the United States.

On 24 May 1924 Theremin married 20-year old Katia Pavlovna Konstantinova, and they lived together in his parents' apartment on Marat street.[17]

In 1925 Theremin went to Germany to sell both the radio watchman and Termenvox patents to the German firm Goldberg and Sons. According to Glinsky this was the Soviet's "decoy for capitalists" to obtain both Western profits from sales and technical knowledge.[18]

During this time Theremin was also working on a wireless television with 16 scan lines in 1925, improving to 32 scan lines and then 64 using interlacing in 1926, and he demonstrated moving, if blurry, images on 7 June 1927.[18]

United States

After being sent on a lengthy tour of Europe starting 1927 – including London, Paris and towns in Germany[14][19] – during which he demonstrated his invention to full audiences, Theremin found his way to the United States, arriving on 30 December 1927 with his first wife Katia.[20] He performed the theremin with the New York Philharmonic in 1928. He patented his invention in the United States in 1928[21][22] and subsequently granted commercial production rights to RCA.

Theremin set up a laboratory in New York in the 1930s, where he developed the theremin and experimented with other electronic musical instruments and other inventions. These included the Rhythmicon, commissioned by the American composer and theorist Henry Cowell.

In 1930, ten thereminists performed on stage at Carnegie Hall. Two years later, Theremin conducted the first-ever electronic orchestra, featuring the theremin and other electronic instruments including a "fingerboard" theremin which resembled a cello in use.

Theremin's mentors during this time were some of society's foremost scientists, composers, and musical theorists, including composer Joseph Schillinger and physicist (and amateur violinist) Albert Einstein.[clarification needed] At this time, Theremin worked closely with fellow Russian émigré and theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore.

Theremin was interested in a role for the theremin in dance music. He developed performance locations that could automatically react to dancers' movements with varied patterns of sound and light.

The Soviet consulate had apparently demanded he divorce Katia. Afterwards, while working with the American Negro Ballet Company, the inventor married a young African-American prima ballerina Lavinia Williams.[20] Their marriage caused shock and disapproval in his social circles, but the ostracized couple remained together.[23]

Return to the Soviet Union

Theremin abruptly returned to the Soviet Union in 1938. At the time, the reasons for his return were unclear; some claimed that he was simply homesick, while others believed that he had been kidnapped by Soviet officials. Beryl Campbell, one of Theremin's dancers, said his wife Lavinia "called to say that he had been kidnapped from his studio" and that "some Russians had come in" and that she felt that he was going to be spirited out of the country.[24]

Many years later, it was revealed that Theremin had returned to his native land due to tax and financial difficulties in the United States.[25] However, Theremin himself once told Bulat Galeyev that he decided to leave himself because he was anxious about the approaching war.[2] Shortly after he returned he was imprisoned in the Butyrka prison and later sent to work in the Kolyma gold mines. Although rumors of his execution were widely circulated and published, Theremin was, in fact, put to work in a sharashka (a secret laboratory in the Gulag camp system), together with Andrei Tupolev, Sergei Korolev, and other well-known scientists and engineers.[20] The Soviet Union rehabilitated him in 1956.


During his work at the sharashka, where he was put in charge of other workers, Theremin created the Buran eavesdropping system. A precursor to the modern laser microphone, it worked by using a low power infrared beam from a distance to detect the sound vibrations in the glass windows.[2][26] Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the secret police organization NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB), used the Buran device to spy on the British, French and US embassies in Moscow.[26] According to Galeyev, Beria also spied on Stalin; Theremin kept some of the tapes in his flat. In 1947, Theremin was awarded the Stalin prize for inventing this advance in Soviet espionage technology.

Theremin invented another listening device called The Thing. Disguised in a replica of the Great Seal of the United States carved in wood, in 1945 Soviet school children presented the concealed bug to U.S. Ambassador as a "gesture of friendship" to the USSR's World War II ally. It hung in the ambassador’s residential office in Moscow, and intercepted confidential conversations there during the first seven years of the Cold War, until it was accidentally discovered in 1952.[27]

Later life

After his "release" from the sharashka in 1947, Theremin volunteered to remain working with the KGB until 1966.[2] By 1947 Theremin had remarried, to Maria Guschina, his third wife, and they had two children: Lena and Natalia.[20]

After working for the KGB, Theremin worked at the Moscow Conservatory of Music[28] for 10 years where he taught and built theremins, electronic cellos and some terpsitones (another invention of Theremin).[24] There he was discovered by Harold Schonberg, the chief music critic of The New York Times, who was visiting the Conservatory. But when an article by his hand appeared,[29] the Conservatory's Managing Director declared that "electricity is not good for music; electricity is to be used for electrocution" and had his instruments removed from the Conservatory.[20] Further electronic music projects were banned, and Theremin was summarily dismissed.[30]

In the 1970s, Léon Theremin was a Professor of Physics at Moscow State University (Department of Acoustics) developing his invetions and supervising graduate students. During this perion he began training his nine-year-old grand-niece Lydia Kavina on the theremin. Kavina was to be Theremin's last protégé. Today, Kavina is considered one of the most advanced and famous thereminists in the world.

After 51 years in the Soviet Union Theremin started travelling, first visiting France in June 1989[2] and then the United States in 1991, each time accompanied by his daughter Natalia. Theremin was brought to New York by filmmaker Steven M. Martin where he was reunited with Clara Rockmore. He also made a demonstration concert at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague in early 1993[2] before dying in Moscow, Russia in 1993 at the age of 97.[31]

The feature-length documentary film, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey was released in 1993.

Some of Theremin's inventions

  • Theremin – the classic Theremin (1920)
  • Burglar alarm, or "Signalling Apparatus" which used the Theremin effect (1920s)
  • Electromechanical televisionNipkow disk with mirrors instead of slots (ca. 1925)
  • Terpsitone – platform that converts dance movements into tones (1932)
  • Theremin cello – an electronic cello with no strings and no bow, using a plastic fingerboard, a handle for volume and two knobs for sound shaping (ca. 1930)[32][33][34][35]
  • Keyboard theremin (ca. 1930), looking like a small piano, "with hornlike tones"[36]
  • Rhythmicon – world's first drum machine (1931)
  • The Buran eavesdropping device (1947 or earlier)
  • The Great Seal bug, also known as "The Thing" – one of the first passive covert listening devices; first used by the USSR for spying (1945 or earlier)

See also


  1. ^ Theremin recalled he made the dielectric device first followed by the radio alarm, although Glinsky (p. 23) writes Theremin made the alarm first and then the dielectric device.


  1. ^ Hacking Exposed Linux: Linux Security Secrets & Solutions (third ed.). McGraw-Hill Osborne Media. 2008. p. 298. ISBN 978-0-07-226257-5.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bulat M. Galeyev, LMJ 6.
  3. ^ a b "Termens Kindheit". Erinnerungen an A. F. Joffe (in German). Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  4. ^ a b L. S. Termen (1970). "Erstes Treffen mit A. F. Joffe". Erinnerungen an A. F. Joffe (in German). Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  5. ^ L. S. Termen (1970). "Erste Experimente am Physikalischen Institut bei Joffe". Erinnerungen an A. F. Joffe (in German). Retrieved 2009-03-21.
  6. ^ a b L. S. Termen (1970). "Der erste Weltkrieg". Erinnerungen an A. F. Joffe (in German). Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  7. ^ L. S. Termen (1970). "Die Evakuierung poop". Erinnerungen an A. F. Joffe (in German). Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  8. ^ a b L. S. Termen (1970). "Die Physikalisch Technische Hochschule unter der Leitung von Joffe". Erinnerungen an A. F. Joffe (in German). Retrieved 2009-04-25.
  9. ^ L. S. Termen (1970). "Erhöhung der Sinneswahrnehmung durch Hypnose". Erinnerungen an A. F. Joffe (in German). Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  10. ^ a b L. S. Termen (1970). "Die Erfindung des Theremins". Erinnerungen an A. F. Joffe (in German). Retrieved 2009-05-10.
  11. ^ Glinsky p. 41, "patent ... radio watchman and the Termenvox ... By December 8, 1924, Len had two German Empire patent applications pending".
  12. ^ a b Glinsky p. 24.
  13. ^ Glinsky p. 26; but Theremin in 1983 recalled it was September.
  14. ^ a b c Leon Theremin – a short memoir Lev Termen, 1983-01-12.
  15. ^ a b Glinsky p. 26.
  16. ^ Glinsky p. 53.
  17. ^ Glinsky p. 36.
  18. ^ a b Glinsky pp. 43–44.
  19. ^ Glinsky p. 340.
  20. ^ a b c d e Mattis 1989
  21. ^ Glinsky p. 346.
  22. ^ U.S. Patent 1,661,058.
  23. ^ Glinsky p. 177.
  24. ^ a b Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, written, directed and produced by Steven M. Martin. Orion/MGM, 1994: 26mins Beryl Campbell reports Lavinia's call; 50mins Lydia Kavina reports Stalin's award
  25. ^ Glinsky.
  26. ^ a b Glinsky p. 261.
  27. ^ George F. Kennan, Memoirs, 1950–1963, Volume II (Little, Brown & Co., 1972), pp. 155, 156.
  28. ^ Glinsky p. 341, "where Lev Sergeyevich had constructed musical instruments"
  29. ^ Schonberg, Harold C. (April 26, 1967). "Music: Leon Theremin; Inventor of Instrument Bearing His Name Is Interviewed in the Soviet Union" (non-free access). The New York Times. p. 40. Retrieved August 16, 2009. "Remember Leon Theremin, who used to play the theremin and was such a hit in the United States about 35 years back?"
  30. ^ Glinsky p. 310.
  31. ^ Jolly, James, general editor (January 1994). "Obituaries". Gramophone Magazine (Middlesex, UK: General Gramophone Publications Limited) 71 (848): 17. ISSN 0017-310X.
  32. ^ Peter Pringle. "The Rebirth of the Theremin Cello". Retrieved 2009-09-20.
  33. ^ "Theremin Cello". oddmusic. Retrieved 2009-09-20.
  34. ^ Bryan (publisher and demonstrator) (2007-06-10). Theremin Cello. Seattle: Bryan. Retrieved 2009-09-20. (demonstration playing of a theremincello)
  35. ^ Bryan (publisher and player) (2007-03-03). Theremin's cello meditation. Seattle: Bryan. Retrieved 2009-09-20. (slideshow including internal details of a theremincello replica)
  36. ^ "Radio Squeals turned to Music", Popular Science, June 1932, p. 51, available on


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Lydia Kavina

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Lydia Kavina
Background information
Born 8 September 1967 (age 45)
Origin Moscow, Russia
Instruments Theremin
Notable instruments

Lydia Yevgenyevna Kavina (Лидия Евгеньевна Кавина; born 8 September 1967) is a Russian theremin player, and is currently the leading performing musician on the instrument.

The grand-daughter of Léon Theremin's first cousin,[1] Kavina was born in Moscow and began studying the instrument under the direction of Theremin when she was nine years old. Five years later, she gave her first theremin concert, which marked the beginning of a musical career that has so far led to more than 1000 theatre, radio, and television performances around the world.

Kavina has appeared as a solo performer at such prestigious venues as the Bolshoi Zal (Great Hall) of the Moscow Conservatory, Moscow International Art Centre with National Philarmonic of Russia under Vladimir Spivakov and Bellevue Palace in Berlin, the residence of the German President. She has also performed at leading festivals, including Caramoor with the Orchestra St. Luke's, New York's Lincoln Center Festival, Holland Music Festival, Martinu Festival, Electronic Music Festival in Burge and Moscow “Avantgarde”.

Kavina performs most of the classical theremin repertoire, including popular works for theremin by Bohuslav Martinů, Joseph Schillinger, and Spellbound by Miklos Rozsa, as well as Equatorial by Edgard Varèse and the lesser known Testament by Nicolas Obouchov.

In addition to giving concerts, Kavina is a composer of music for theremin and teaches the instrument in Western Europe, Russia and the United States. Together with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, she played theremin for Howard Shore's soundtrack of the Oscar-winning film Ed Wood, as well as for eXistenZ (also by Shore) and The Machinist. Additionally, Kavina has recorded several compact discs and is the subject of an instructional video from the theremin manufacturer Moog Music. She was also featured in stage productions such as Alice and The Black Rider (both conceived and directed by Robert Wilson, with music by Tom Waits) at the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, and in collaboration with the Russian experimental surf band Messer Chups.

Lydia Kavina is an active promoter of new experimental music for the theremin. In collaboration with Barbara Buchholz and Kamerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, Kavina performed a number of concerts of contemporary works for theremin in Germany in 2005–2007 as part of the Touch! Don't Touch! – Music for Theremin project.

The most notable project of her recent career is her theremin solo in The Little Mermaid, a ballet by Lera Auerbach, choreographed by John Neumeier in Copenhagen New Opera Haus and Hamburg State Opera (2007).

Kavina has completed a number of her own compositions for theremin including a Concerto for Theremin and Symphony Orchestra, first performed by the Boston Modern Orchestra under the direction of Gil Rose.

Kavina holds a degree in composition from The Moscow Conservatory, where she also completed a postgraduate assistantship program.






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The Theremin is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without discernible physical contact from the player by inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928

Theremin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Léon Theremin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lydia Kavina - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lydia Yevgenyevna Kavina (Лидия Евгеньевна Кавина; born 8 September 1967) is a Russian theremin player - Google Search
Electric cello - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:Bugged-great-seal-open.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
File:Etherwave Theremin Kit.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Terpsitone - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lydia Yevgenyevna Kavina Russian theremin player - Google Search
Lydia Kavina - Vocalise - YouTube
Lydia Kavina Music Videos
Theremin Lydia Kavina plays "Clair de Lune" - YouTube
Lydia Kavina - Vocalise - YouTube
Clara Rockmore plays Tchaikovsky "Berceuse" - YouTube
Theremin Virtuoso Pamelia Kurstin and Pianist Pete Drungle Live in Studio 360 - YouTube
Carolina Eyck plays Gabriel Fauré - YouTube
Nocturne in C# minor - Clara Rockmore - YouTube
Carolina Eyck plays Gabriel Fauré - YouTube
Ave Maria - BWV 846 (Bach-Gounod) played on the thereminvox & some other sounds - YouTube
Theremin Solo - YouTube
Build: Mini-Theremin in under a minute - YouTube
MIND-BLOWING Voice Distortion and Home Made Instruments - The Sounds of Science - Joe Genius - YouTube

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