Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Grandaddy of Electronic Instruments


Ever heard of an instrument called the theremin? Well, if you haven't it'd be a good one to remember in case you're ever on Jeopardy, because it's a rather significant development in the advent of electronic music, in my opinion. It was invented by a physicist, actually, in the 1920s named Leon Theremin and was the product of a government-sponsored research project on proximity sensors. See, you don't ever actually touch the theremin to play it. Instead, you just sort of hover your hands over it and move them back and forth and up and down changing pitch and volume. So, just think what people would have thought of this thing back in the 1920s: "Oooooh! Super-futuristic magic! It's the cat's meow!" -or something like that.

So Theremin demonstrated his instrument to Vladamir Lenin, who promptly began taking lessons and sent Theremin off on a world tour, showing off his instrument (while at the same time doing some undercover reconnaissance for Russia in the U.S. -you know, multitasking). The theremin was shortly after manufactured for public use, because surely, it would become the next big craze. Each big wooden box included an instruction manual complete with photographs demonstrating the proper way to use the instrument. Though not a real commercial success due to a certain stock market crash in 1929,the theremin still fascinated people. In the 1930s, Lucie Bigelow Rosen and her husband, Walter, took up the instrument and worked to provide financial and artistic support that would further popularize the instrument.

The theremin has a sound that's thought to be eerie by many, and so it's commonly put to use in movie soundtracks like those for The Day the Earth Stood Still and Spellbound . It enjoyed a resurgence in popularity on the avant-garde scene and in psychedelic rock music.

So now you know and have no excuse to not win all that money on a popular TV game show.

All I ask is that, when you do, remember who gave you the answer to that double jeopardy question.

12 comments:

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