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(thĕr`əmən), one of the earliest electronic musical instruments, invented (1920) in the Soviet Union and named for its creator, Leon ThereminTheremin, Leon
, 1896–1993, Russian engineer and inventor, b. St. Petersburg as Lev Sergeyevich Termen. He studied and worked in his native city, attending its university and conservatory and directing a lab at one of its technical institutes, where he invented the
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. A forerunner of the synthesizer, it consists of a wooden box fitted with two radio-frequency oscillators and two metal antennas, a vertical rod on the instrument's right and a horizontal ring on its left. The player moves the hands in the air around the antennas without touching them, creating changes the antennas' electromagnetic fields. The right hand controls the pitch, the left hand, the volume. The sine-wave tones that are produced are then amplified and fed into a loudspeaker.

The theremin's sound has been described as like that of a violin but more spooky and otherworldly. While some classical composers have written for the instrument, e.g., Henry CowellCowell, Henry Dixon
, 1897–1965, American composer and pianist, b. Menlo Park, Calif., largely self-educated, studied musicology in Berlin (1931–32). Cowell experimented with new musical resources; in his piano compositions he introduced the tone cluster, played with
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 and Edgard VarèseVarèse, Edgard
, 1883–1965, French-American composer. In Paris he first studied mathematics and science but became more interested in music. He then studied composition with Roussel and D'Indy at the Schola Cantorum and with Widor at the Conservatory.
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, it has been used more frequently in film soundtracks—where its eerie, swooping tones can create an atmosphere of unease or strangeness—and by such rock groups as The Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and Radiohead.


See S. M. Martin, dir., Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (DVD, 1995, rereleased 2001).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(etherophone), an electrophonic musical instrument, invented in 1921 by the Soviet engineer L. S. Termen. In order to produce a musical tone, the theremin makes use of audio-frequency electrical oscillations produced by a vacuum-tube generator; the oscillations are amplified and then converted into sound by a loudspeaker. An upright, metal rod attached to a metal arc is used to change the frequency and amplitude of the oscillations generated (the pitch and loudness of the sound); the rod and arc serve as the generator’s oscillatory system. The performer controls the theremin by changing the position of the palms of his hands: the hand near the rod controls the pitch, and the hand near the arc controls loudness. The theremin can be made to sound like a violin, cello, flute, or other musical instrument; the timbre of the sound is determined by the operating mode of the generator.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Manual for Playing the Space-Controlled Theremin, 1930 [1929?] [Manual of Playing Victor-Theremin Ether-Wave Instrument] [School for Playing the Thereminovox].
Among Schillinger's unpublished writings, perhaps the most sought after is his "Manual for Playing the Space-Controlled Theremin." The first mention of this work may be found in an affidavit Leon Theremin prepared for the U.S.
Of the ten works written in the United States, it is significant that four of them employ the theremin.
Performances: Arrangement of first vocalise, Leon Theremin, theremin.
Electric signals are then sent from the theremin, where they are amplified via a loudspeaker.
A spokeswoman for the park, said: "The theremin bollards are designed for music-making and offer an experience for spontaneous and improvisational performance.
"Aspiring musicians of Theremin Bollards don't need any musical skills all you need to do is move."
David Young with one of his Theremin Bollards at Yorkshire Sculpture Park 310714DTHEREMIN_04 JULIAN HUGHES
Performers play Theremin's best-known instrument, called the "etherphone" and later the "theremin," by moving their hands in the air, one on the horizontal plane and the other on the vertical.
With the resurgence of interest in Theremin in the last decade, he has become something of a cult figure.
Though much has been written about Theremin in the popular press and scholarly articles have described and analyzed his accomplishments, Glinsky's meticulously researched book (based on his doctoral dissertation, "The Theremin in the Emergence of Electronic Music" [New York University, 1992]) is the first comprehensive study that covers the whole of Theremin's life and work.