Fact/Figures on the Theremin ~ assembled by shueh-li ong
1) I have in my studio the Moog Etherwave and EPro (1st gen). My volume antennas are inverted; meaning the closer I get to the antenna, the louder the sound, as you would reaching for fire (it’s hottest when you are closet). I 1st played the theremin publicly as part of my electronic opera ‘Metal and Music’ in 1999. Despite years of practice, and development of my own repertoire of articulation and phrasing/expression, I am still a humble student of it. I wouldn’t say it was the hardest instrument to learn how to play. But it is surely like no other to learn and to play! Musical excepts from my 4 CDs at Shuehli.com
The theremin is …
a spatially-controlled musical instrument invented by Russian Scientist, Leon Theremin around the 1920’s. It is played by waving both hands, while remaining absolutely still, in front of the 2 antennae. The RH controls pitch while the LH, volume.
The Inventor of the Theremin alive?
It was Steven Martin who discovered Leon Theremin, still alive in Russia, while conducting research for his documentary. Leon Theremin, whose Russian name was Lev Sergeivich Termen, had immigrated to the United States in the late 1920s to promote his invention. In 1928, at age 31, he became New York’s celebrated Professor Leon Theremin. About a decade after his arrival, he mysteriously disappeared, and was presumed dead. In 1991, Director Martin brought Leon Theremin to the United States to make his documentary, which includes a scene in which Mr. Theremin recounts his kidnapping by Russian agents so that his technical expertise could be availed by the Communist government during the Cold War. Ironically, Theremin personally demonstrated his invention to appreciative Soviet Dictator Lenin just prior to his immigration to the United States.
The theremin heard
The theremin has been featured in a diversity of performances ranging in genre from Led Zeppelin’ s “Whole Lotta Love” and “The Song Remains The Same” in which Jimmy Page puts on a most spectacular display of theremin manipulation on a version without the volume control antennae, to Alfred Hitchcock’s film score for “Spellbound”; by composer Bernard Herrmann in “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, and in modern compositions such as Jorge Antunes “Mixolydia”, among numerous others. Pink Floyd has the theremin on the middle part of Echoes “Meddle” (according to thereminworld.com’s directory of other bands who use the theremin).
The Electro-theremin: a mechanical controller of sine waves
Contrary to popular belief, the theremin was not used by the Beach Boys in their composition, “Good Vibrations”, written by Brian Wilson. It was in fact the “Electro-theremin” or Tannerin, also known as Paul’s (Tanner who played the now famous line on “Good Vibrations”) Box. Made by actor and electronics enthusiast Bob Whitsell, the name “Electro-theremin” was given at the time of the recording session by the producers.
The Electro-theremin is not a proximity-controlled instrument like Leon’s theremin, but a mechanically controlled oscillator. This permitted the performer precise note control without sacrificing the characteristic glissando effect of the theremin. This was indeed the request Paul Tanner had for Bob Whitsell.
An excerpt from a review by Jon Pareles of the NY Times (Y2000), implicates the Tannerinin Brian Wilson’s recent solo tour “they took along many of the instruments Mr. Wilson used on Pet Sounds,… tannerin, the instrument actually used on Good Vibrations and I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times.”
The rectangular box-like instrument Mike Love played on earlier live versions of Good Vibrations was in fact the Moog ribbon controller, an instrument developed for the Beach Boys in the 1960’s for use in live performances
Blurb from The Art of theremin
NB. The Art of theremin is a recording of classical pieces performed by Clara and accompanied by Nadia.
… The theremin performer plays without the benefit of any tactile reference whatever. Unlike the violinist, who is in constant contact with the instrument’s fingerboard, … the thereminist feels no shape or force as she moves from one pitch to another. She is constantly moving her hands, listening to the resulting pitch changes, then “trimming” the precise position of her hands to home in on the desired pitch and volume. The process is one of continuous aural feedback. For this reason, placement of the theremin loudspeaker is extremely important… Ms. Rockmore uses a large open-backed speaker which she places behind and slightly above her head, pointing out toward her audience. With such an arrangement, she is able to hear the effect of her hand motions soon enough so that her audience is rarely, if ever, aware of the aural feedback corrections that she intuitively applies.
1) The theremin was also known as the aetherphone.
2) An article about faking the theremin is written by Sam Inglis: Handwaving Exercise: Reproducing theremin sounds using a synthesizer in: Sound on Sound Magazine (UK), p.162 – 164.
3) The Kurzweil 2500 offers its ribbon controller acting on pitch, as an alternative to a real theremin.
4) Another theremin personality of interest is Dr. Hoffman, who, in the early 1940’s was a chiropodist by day, thereminist by night. Look out for Doctor Hoffman in albums Music Out of the Moon, Perfume set to Music, Music for Peace of Mind and theremin piece This Room is My Castle of Quiet which I had the pleasure of listening to at Art’s. Dr Hoffman’s theremin “lounge” music was as you could say, diametrically opposite to Clara’s classical renditions!