40 March 2018
Of course, this makes playing a theremin very difficult as anyone who has ever attempted to do so will tell you. Proficient theremin players must have perfect or near perfect pitch to play traditional musical
compositions. Otherwise, the result is just weird noise. It’s
easy to understand why many describe the sound of a
theremin as uncanny, sinister, ghostly, unnatural,
unearthly, supernatural, and/or otherworldly. But hello!
This is also what makes theremins so cool.
I have been fascinated by theremins ever since I first
heard them in low budget 1950's sci-fi movies when I was
a kid. Eerie etherial theremin sounds always occurred
right before the alien or monster made its appearance on
the big screen and whenever the movie's level of
suspense and intensity needed to be heightened. This was
an appropriate use of a theremin as its sound was as alien
to people as were the monsters in the movies.
Since that time, theremins were rarely used until they
showed up again in rock and roll music. A theremin-like
device was used in the recording of the Beach Boys song,
“Good Vibrations,” and it’s this sound most people
associate with a theremin today.
Theremins actually have a long and sordid history
involving the USSR, the KGB, and possibly even the IRS.
The following brief history of the theremin was taken from
the Zeppelin Design Labs manual.
Léon Theremin (1896-1993) was working on early
radio designs for the Soviet government when in 1920 he
accidentally built a device that emitted a weird but
pleasant sound. He developed it into a musical instrument
which he initially called the Thereminvox. In 1927, he left
the USSR to tour Europe in promotion of his invention,
performing to large audiences and receiving mixed
reactions. His tour took him and his wife, Katia to New
York where he opened a laboratory and studio, patented
the theremin, licensed its manufacture to RCA, performed
with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, performed at
Carnegie Hall with a theremin ensemble, and invented an
In 1930, he conducted the first-ever concert of an
electronic orchestra. In the early 1930s, the Soviet
A theremin is a musical instrument that is played by waving one’s hands in
midair over the instrument itself. There is no physical contact between the
player and the instrument. Typically, movement of the right hand controls
the pitch of an oscillator over many octaves, while movement of the left
hand controls the volume; from full off to full on. Because the pitch and
amplitude controls are continuously variable, it is incumbent upon the
player to use his/her hands to hit the perfect pitch with the proper
dynamics as required for the piece being played.
Labs – Altura MIDI
By Craig A. Lindley