The Theremin might be the world’s strangest, weirdest musical instrument. You can see it, hear it, but you can’t touch it. That’s because there is no tangible contact between the player and the instrument. The eerie, otherworldly sound of the Theremin comes from two metal antennas that sense the proximity of the player’s hands.
When the player moves their hand towards one antenna, the pitch goes higher. When the thereminist moves their other hand toward the second antenna, they change the volume. But who invented this magic box? Let’s get to know more about this instrument and its brilliant inventor.
What is A Theremin?
A Theremin is a monophonic electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact. It was named after its inventor, Russian physicist Leon Theremin. It is played by moving the hands in the proximity of two metal antennas, which control pitch and volume.
It is played by moving one’s hands towards the two metal antennas on the instrument, which creates an alternating electronic sine wave tone that the player can vary. A Theremin is tuned to a minor scale, with the lowest pitch being an E above middle C.
The Theremin was initially intended to be marketed as a radio remote control for Russia’s fledgling industry. It was not until Robert Moog began producing Theremins in the 1960s that it became popular outside Russia.
The American rock band, the Beach Boys, incorporated the instrument into their groundbreaking 1966 single “Good Vibrations.” The Beach Boys’ pioneering work in rock music with their innovative use of the Theremin led them to become inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Who is Leon Theremin?
Leon Theremin was born Lev Sergeyevich Termen in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on August 27, 1896. He was a Russian physicist and inventor who is most famous for inventing the Theremin, an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact.
Theremin began his career as an electrical engineer in the early 1920s. In 1920 he invented the Termenvox or what we know as Theremin, an electronic instrument that you can play without physical contact.
In 1927 Theremin moved to New York City, where he worked for RCA developing new radio technologies. During his time in America, he invented the Theremin, which he patented in 1928.
Theremin also invented another musical instrument called the Rhythmicon, an electronic drum machine. It was the first of its kind and was patented in 1931.
Theremin moved back to Russia in 1938, where he continued to work on new electronic musical instruments. He was arrested by the Soviet secret police and held in a prison camp for two years. He was allowed to return to Moscow in 1950 but was closely watched by the KGB. Theremin died in Moscow on November 3, 1993.
What was Leon Theremin’s Life Like?
Leon Theremin had an exciting life. He taught himself how to play the violin at a very young age. He then went on to study with a famous cello teacher in Saint Petersburg, who recognized Theremin’s talent. Theremin first learned about electronic technology in 1914.
After learning all he could, Theremin invented the Termenvox, which was an early acoustic Theremin. He came up with the name “Thereminvox” for his invention. However, it wasn’t until 1930 that he started to use the term Theremin as we know it today.
It’s said that during his time in America, Theremin worked as a secret agent for the Soviet Union. The KGB supposedly sent him back to Russia because they felt he was spending too much time with Donald Trump’s father, Fred.
What Inspire Leon to Invent The Theremin?
Well, when you think about it, Theremin was in the right place at the right time. He came up with his invention just as radio technology began to boom. It led him to invent an instrument that would take advantage of radio waves without touching anything.
It’s said that Leon got the idea for his Theremin while watching his sister perform on cello. He was interested in how her body would affect the instrument’s sound. That led him to experiment with new ways for humans to interact with electronic devices.
Moreover, Leon Theremin was likely inspired by various sources, including his early training as a violinist, his experience with electronic technology, and his interest in creating new musical instruments.
Instrument Rediscovered, Inventor Disappeared
The Theremin was first introduced to the public in 1920 at an exhibit in New York City. However, the Theremin inventor, Leon Theremin, had already disappeared back to Russia by then. Until the early 1960s, the Theremin became popular outside of Russia when American musician Robert Moog began producing them.
Today, the Theremin is still used by some musicians in their performances. It’s a unique and exciting instrument with a sound like no other. Who knows what new and exciting things we’ll be able to do with it in the future?
What Are the Famous Pieces Played With Theremin?
The Theremin’s eerie-sounding tremolo, vibrato, glissando, and portamento make it an ideal instrument for horror, thriller, or sci-fi films.
It was not until Robert Moog began producing Theremins in the 1960s that it became popular outside Russia. The American rock band, the Beach Boys, incorporated the instrument into their groundbreaking 1966 single “Good Vibrations.” The Beach Boys’ pioneering work in rock music with their innovative use of the Theremin led them to become inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
Theremin was also used to create eerie sound effects for movies like “Spellbound” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
The Theremin has been used in various genres, including rock, jazz, classical and electronic music. Today, the Theremin is still used by multiple artists and remains one of the most unique and exciting instruments ever created.
The Theremin’s Legacy
The Theremin is one of the oldest and most unique instruments globally. No other instrument creates the same sound as the Theremin.
Leon Theremin passed away in 1993 after spending most of his life inventing new instruments. His invention continues to be used by musicians today, thanks to Robert Moog. As one of the oldest and most unique instruments in the world, there is no telling what new and wonderful things we will do with it in the future.
The legacy of Leon Theremin lives on through his invention, the Theremin. It is an instrument like no other, and its sound continues to be sought after by many musicians today.
The Theremin is a unique and interesting instrument that sounds like no other. Leon Theremin invented the Theremin in 1920, but his disappearance caused it to be rediscovered by Robert Moog many years later. Today the Theremin is still used as an instrument by some musicians, and its sound can be heard in movies.
The Theremin stays just one aspect of Lev Termen’s extraordinary work. As he lived his long and varied life, he constantly invented new things. He was a man of unrestrained curiosity and experimentation that led to many technological breakthroughs. Each one would be an impressive feat in itself. They made him both an antagonist to the U.S. government and a pioneering musician.
Eduardo Perez is a multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience playing instruments such as piano, guitar, ukulele, and bass. Having arranged songs and produced music in a recording studio, he has a wealth of knowledge to share about analyzing songs, composing, and producing. Currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Musical Studies at Berklee College School of Music. Featured on Entrepreneur.com. Subscribe to his YouTube channel, or follow him on Instagram.