The Intriguing Theremin

My first encounter with a theremin occurred when I was about seven years old. We had gone up to Oklahoma City to visit my grandfather and decided to spend the afternoon at the Omniplex, a marvelous hands-on science museum near the zoo. Among the kinetic sculpture, the demonstrations of various physical principles, and the periscope to the outdoors, I stumbled aross a big, yellow plastic box with two handprints on its top.

I began to fool around with it, and was thrilled to discover the range of sound I could elicit from the box merely by waving my hands around. It sure beat practicing scales on the piano! Other attractions in the cavernous Omniplex soon pulled me away, but the theremin left its mark, so I was quite excited when I later started to notice its distinctive sounds in various movie soundtracks. Years later I even tried to simulate it in part of the soundtrack for [The Screaming Electric Pumpkin->].

In spite of the repeated encounters with the instrument, I had no idea that there was a level of mastery above that of making spooky noises, so I was floored to hear, while listening to a Radio Netherlands Documentary on the instrument, an absolutely beautiful rendition of The Swan, by Camille Saint-Saens. I had learned the piece on cello in middle school, but never played it half as expressively as it was rendered here by Clara Rockman, widely regarded as one of the best players in the instrument’s brief history.

The documentary played several other lovely works of “precision theremin” which sealed my reevaluation of the instrument. If you have any interest in electronic music at all, I highly recommend giving the documentary a listen.