Here A Min, Theremin, Everywhere A Min Min
Mon 13, 2014

Margaret Atwood just SLAYIN’ it on the theremin.

WHAT THE HELL IS A THEREMIN? 

“You know……it’s that spooky “wee oooh weeee ooooh” instrument in the Beach Boys ‘Good Vibrations’.

And so begins most people’s introduction to the early electronic musical instrument called the theremin. Even though that spooky “wee oooh weeee ooooh” instrument in “Good Vibrations” is ACTUALLY a tannerin (a tactile first-cousin to the theremin, SEE ABOVE) . Unlike the tannerin, the theremin makes music, void of human physical contact. (just like my life)

HOW DOES THIS THING WORK?

No one really knows. Some say it’s witchcraft, some say it’s reverse-engineered alien technology. The pervasive theory over the past few decades has been that it’s a conduit through which God passes his golden voice. His voice travels through a circuit of vacuum tubes, oscillators, coils and wires that creat electromagnetic fields around the instrument’s two antennae. Players flutter their fingers and wave their hands near the antennae to raise or lower the Theremin’s pitch and volume. These days, the tubes and coils etc. have been replaced by circuit boards, but the effect is still the same, and it’s pretty much nuts! My dad bought me a theremin kit when I was a teenager and I remember mom coming down to the basement as I was assembling it:  “Who cares if no one wants to go to prom with you, for you shall soon command the sounds of the ether, my child!!!!!”  Anyway, I kind of grew up around theremins and I’m not saying that playing it steals your soul per se, but I’m not NOT saying it steals your soul.

DID A RUSSIAN MAN INVENT THE THEREMIN?

What a weirdly specific question. Yes, the guy that invented the Theremin was INDEED Russian. Here he is playing his creation:

He also claims to have invented the television, the motion detector AND a magnetic bridge that would levitate cars on a magnetic field from point A to point B. Cuckoo Bananas! He also invented a listening device called The Thing. Disguised in a replica of the Great Seal Of United States carved in wood, in 1945 Soviet school children presented the concealed bug to a 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. That’s kinda crazy. Don’t worry though, the U.S. would get even just a few years later. Oh yah, his name was Leon Theremin, I should have probably put that in the first sentence. Duh.

 

FILM SCORES

Despite having been originally designed as a a very serious classical instrument, the theremin also had a dial setting called: “SUPER-CREEPY“. People began to use it in suspense and horror films all through the 50’s-60’s. There was no turning back at that point and the theremin has all but been erased from the annals of classical music history.

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

The music score for The Day The Earth Stood Still was composed by Bernard Herrmann. Herrmann chose unusual instrumentation for the film: violin, cello, and bass (all three electric), two theremin electronic instruments, two hammond organs, a large studio electric organ, three vibraphones, two glockenspiels, marimba, tam-tam, 2 bass drums, 3 sets of timpani, two pianos, celesta, two harps, 1 horn, three trumpets, three trombones, and four tubas. It’s SUPER creepy.

SPELLBOUND

Alfred Hitchcock didn’t like the music, but it is really awesome and he was such a weirdo, so whatever.

THEREMIN IN ROCK

THEREMINS IN POP CULTURE

BIG BANG THEORY

JOHNNY CARSON

JERRY LEWIS

THEREMIN PERFORMANCE THAT WOULD MAKE EVEN A SITH LORD BAWL HIS FRIGGIN’ EYES OUT!

REALLY COOL THEREMIN DOCUMENTARY

I saw this documentary at the ol Wormwoods Theatre in Halifax, lo those years ago. Remember Wormwoods? It was a great little theatre. 🙁 The documentary is probably on Netflix. I wouldn’t know, because all I watch on Netflix is this!

ARE THERE ANY VIDEOS OF CATS PLAYING THEREMINS?

HELL YA!!!!

BONUS VIDEO

IN SUMMARY

The theremin is likely the most difficult musical instrument in the world to play and no thereminist has ever uttered the sentence: “I just have too many gigs lined up!!!”, but it IS an incredibly satisfying and rewarding musical experience that I wholeheartedly endorse! Anytime you want to play one, just let me know. I can almost assure you that all my nights are free.

-Jason Michael MacIsaac

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