And that would be the Theremin, the instrument you play by keeping your goshdarn hands off it!
Invented in 1928 by Lev Sergeyevich Termen [Westernized to Léon Theremin], a largely self-taught Russian electrical engineer and inventor, the theremin is played by moving your hands closer and farther away from two antennae, one regulating frequency and the other amplitude or volume.
Here, from a Soviet film, is a performance the inventor himself via vlogger slonikyouth:
Leon Theremin playing his own instrument
We first because aware of the instrument though its presence in the sound tracks of the science fiction films and space operas we loved as a kid. In those pre-digital synthesizer days, only the theremin could produce those otherworldly sounds so appropriate to otherworldly films.
Here’s a thermin-scored clip from a 1951 film we loved, The Day the Earth Stood Still:
And here’s the composer of that score in a 1956 appearance on the Johnny Carson Show [not the Tonight Show, but an earlier talk show Carson hosted], via theremin artist Peter Pringle:
Johnny Carson Plays THEREMIN
This is an appearance that thereminist Dr. Samuel Hoffman made on the JOHNNY CARSON SHOW in 1956. The 1929 RCA theremin you see in this clip is currently in my collection.
And here’s Pringle himself, playing a theremin featuring a truly magnificent [speaker that we’d just love so have for ourselves]:
Mozart Theremin Concerto
This is the main theme from the “andante” movement of Mozart’s piano concerto #21 in C major (K. 467). The theme was used in the soundtrack of the 1967 Swedish film, ELVIRA MADIGAN, and since then it has been called “The Elvira Madigan Concerto”.
This is a theremin transcription of the theme played on the Moog Ethervox.
Here’s another latter-day theremin artist, Randy George, in a dimly lit performance of a work by Claude Debussy:
Clair de Lune – Randy George, theremin
Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy. Randy George, theremin.
For a higher quality viewing and listening of this video, I made a download available. I remastered the audio and video in March 2013 and compressed a higher resolution mp4. download it here (106MB): http://bit.ly/cdlRGM
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If you are new to the theremin, please discover it in more depth. It is the most fascinating musical instrument in the world (when played as it was originally intended).
The theremin entered my life seven years ago. It has been a tremendously challenging journey, but it is immensely rewarding. The theremin is absolutely deceptively difficult to play with musical precision and finesse.
Clara Rockmore introduced the theremin to the world as a serious musical instrument. Over the course of recent music history, this expressive voice was forgotten.
I feel it’s definitely time to reconnect with the roots of the instrument. With these classical theremin videos, I hope to light the way back home.
Finally, to take things to an absurd extreme, from Japanese vloogger mandarinelectron, a mass performance by nearly 300 folks who play theremin bulk to look like those nesting Russian matryoshka dolls:
“Symphony No.9, Boogie” by Matryomin ensemble “Da”
Recorded at auditorium of Jiyugakuen Myonichikan in Tokyo on 22 Jan. 2011.