Music + Theremin


clara rockmore

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Leon Theremin's conception of his namesake included a repertoire of classical music selections. By the end of 1930, it had been heard on programs of the New York, Cleveland and Philadelphia symphony orchestras and a number of composers of prominence had written especially for the theremin. Also that year, a performance of ten theremins was demonstrated at Carnegie Hall as part of an avant-garde multimedia production.

In the mid 1940s, Hollywood composers discovered the theremin and began to arrange scores that included its haunting sounds to convey disturbed states of mind or establish suspense. Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) used theremin extensively in its score. By the early 1950s, the sound of the theremin began to appear in science fiction films, most notably The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

By the 1960s, theremin sounds began to be heard in experimental and rock music. A popular misconception is that the Beach Boys used a theremin in their studio release of Good Vibrations. In reality, the eerie sound was produced by an electro-theremin, sometimes referred to as the “Tannerin”, the creation of session musician Paul Tanner. The sound is nearly the same, but the electro-theremin is a contact instrument. The band Lothar and the Hand People used theremin, as well as Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. More recently, Yoko Ono has employed theremin, played by Pamelia Kursten.

For further reading, you may enjoy Albert Glinsky's superlative biography Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage.

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Theremin in Music

Leon Theremin playing the theremin

Video Credit: slonikyouth


Clara Rockmore - Probably the best known theremin player to date

Video Credit: yaoikan1981


Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) 

Video Credit: Lydia Kavina


The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Video Credit: LucasSpade


Partick Wolf - A singer song writer from London who built his own theremin at age 11

Hear some of his music here on Pitchfork

Video Credit: kashmir87


Worlds Largest theremin concert ever!

Video Credit: mandarinelectron

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