The theremin was invented in 1920 by a Russian physicist named Lev Termen. 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. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.
In the late 1920’s, RCA produced approximately 500 theremins, manufactured by General Electric and Westinghouse. Today, it is estimated that only half of these still exist. The spooky sound of the theremin was used in several movie soundtracks during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Electronic music pioneer Robert Moog built theremins long before he built synthesizers. In the 1960’s, he produced such models as the wedge-shaped Vanguard theremin and the shoebox shaped Moog Melodia theremin. It provided background mood music for such sci-fi classics. 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.
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