The theremin, invented by Russian Leon Therimen in 1920, was one of the first electronic musical instruments ever created. Everything about it was a radical departure in music-making. One plays the theremin by merely waving the hands in front of it; the object is never actually touched to produce sound. The antennae radiate a magnetic field, and the breaking-into this field with the hands affects the sound. The left vertical antenna controls the pitch, and the loop on the right alters the volume, from silent when touching it, until full volume is reached with hand about 1.5 feet from the antenna. The instrument was often used in Hollywood to produce otherworldly outer-space wails or a hypnotists' spell...the sound is instantly recognizeable.

My design for my theremin visually predates the actual date of invention, but I wanted to accentuate the quality I find so lovely in the instrument: the warm and utterly human quality it evokes. Invented at a time when human error and frailty was present in many of our technology's products, it is as honest and directly human-interfaced as anything electronic I've encountered. It is an almost Herculean instrument to become proficient on, as there are no stable signposts for the correct notes, but I'm learning more and more. One of my favorite gigs yet was playing 'Here Comes the Bride' on a Vermont mountaintop, in warbling duet with a musical-saw player!
For proof that it indeed happened, click here.



Theremin: ONDES ETHERÉES. 1996

Birdseye maple telegraph box, Theremax Kit (by Paia electronics),
etched and oxidized brass, brass rod, brass drawer pull,brass door handle,
19th-century tripod, , 1930's bakelite knobs