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What Is A Theremin?

Tags: Instruments Equipment Shows Live Page

Page's instrumental arsenal has included a theremin (taer'-uh-min) since summer of 1996. (e.g. 8/2/968/4/96 and 8/13/96). It's use declined after that first tour - 10/27/96 and 8/6/97 is exceptions, and perhaps the 8/10/97 soundcheck. But it's made a bit of a return: Recent uses include 8/5/11, 8/15/11, 9/4/1112/31/11, and 6/23/12

History: One of the first electronic instruments, and the only instrument played without being touched, the theremin was invented in 1918 by Leon Theremin (Lev Terman?), a Russian physicist born 1895 in St. Petersburg who stumbled upon the "device" while working with radio signals for the Russian goverment. It was first sold in 1929 by RCA; Big Briar (Robert Moog's company) is the leading manufacturer today.

How it's played: The theremin is a synthesizer that uses a field monitored by two antennae (one horizontal and one vertical, forming a right angle) as the input device (instead of, e.g., a keyboard.) The field created within this right-angle reads "capacitance" to produce noise sounding something like a cello.. Moving your hand (or a wand) within that angle disturbs and changes the electromagnetic field between the antennae, one of which reads changes in amplitude (and produces change in volume) and one of which reads change in frequency (and produces change in pitch).

How it works: "It works using the same theories that allow a good musician to tune instruments accurately. When you have an instrument that is out of tune to a reference note, you can hear a pulse in the sound that you can use to tune the instrument. The theramin works by using an electronic oscillator to create a high pitch tone (inaudible) as a reference tone, and another oscillator who's tuning is controlled by a simple antenna which detects changes in electical capacity. The produced tone is the 'pulse' frequency between the two oscillator frequencies." (Brian Whitman posted to the MMW list 1/23/97) You can build one, with schematics and technical guide, or a cheap pocket version.

Where else you've heard it: Think of the eerie sounds in 1950's horror and science fiction movies.
For other theramin info, we recommend:

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