Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thermins

One of the reasons I am so attracted to Marc is that he always has some odd interest on the go. One of his odd interests is playing odd musical instruments. The theremin is one of his favorite odd instruments. What is a theremin you ask? I'll let the guys at Theremin World explain:
The theremin was invented in 1919 by a Russian physicist named Lev Termen (in the United States his name was Leon Theremin). Today, this marvelous instrument is once again in the musical spotlight.
Besides looking like no other instrument, the theremin is unique in that it is played without being touched.

Two antennas protrude from the theremin - one controlling pitch, and the other controlling volume. As a hand approaches the vertical antenna, the pitch gets higher. Approaching the horizontal antenna makes the volume softer. Because there is no physical contact with the instrument, playing the theremin in a precise melodic way requires practiced skill and keen attention to pitch.

Originally, the theremin was intended to play classical music and even replace entire orchestras with its "music from the aether." While that never quite happened, it has been used in many recordings over the years. Several big band conductors featured the theremin in numerous specialty ablums. During the 60's and 70's, bands such as Lothar and the Hand People, the Bonzo Doo Dah Dog Band, and Led Zeppelin brought the theremin into the public eye for a short time. (However a theremin did not play in the song "Good Vibrations", but the instrument used was based on it.) Then, the theremin slipped back into obscurity until the recent revival of the 1990s. Today, lots of bands use theremins, though few in a musical context.
The spooky sound of the theremin was used in several movie soundtracks during the 1950's and 1960's. It provided background mood music for such sci-fi classics as The Day the Earth Stood Still, where it played a serious musical role, and It Came From Outer Space, as well in classic, well composed, thriller soundtracks such as Spellbound and The Lost Weekend.


Here is a theremin master, Clara Rockmore playing The Swan (Saint-Saƫns)



One of my equally odd friends, Shell sent me a link today to a Make video on how to make an optical theremin in a petrie dish.

Might be a fun project for a teen.


Beep-it from Michael Una on Vimeo.

We've had some fun with the theremin. One Halloween Marc played spooky music but we had to stop that after we ended up scaring the daylights out of some of the littlies.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Wait a minute, how did he get a theremin in the first place? Is there a market for old ones or did he make one.

I've been interested in them for several years but haven't done much about pursuing the chance to have one myself.