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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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
It includes "The Swan" by Clara Rockmore on theremin with Nadia Reisenberg, an "Excerpt From 'In the Beginning'" by Don Buchla with Robert Moog, and "New York, New York" with Wendy Mae Chambers on car horn organ.
Several music-related items of notably high monetary value were sold on the open market, including some Theremin autographs, Gershwin's doodles while waiting for his lessons, and a presentation copy of Porgy and Bess, signed by the composer.
The theremin will make its first appearance in Limassol on Thursday and then again in Nicosia on Friday, under the name The Untouchable Instrument.
Then much to the delight of visitors they were invited to have a go at making music with the Theremin themselves, proving it wasn't as easy as it actually looked.
Born in 1934 in New York City, Moog paid for his studies at Queens College and Columbia University by building and marketing theremins, which are played by passing the hand through and around vibrating radio tubes.
`I have not yet mastered the art of flying the theremin. I would like to," he said.
Leon Theremin, as he is known in the United States, was among the first to build expressive electronic musical instruments.
Their bank of keyboards, theremin, xylophone, synthesisers, samplers, clock chimes and microphones creates a central island on the thrust stage for the actors in each scene to play around.
WHILE voice and guitar are at the heart of songwriter Dan Whitehouse's new self-titled album, his 11-track debut also features a few more unusual sounds, including a spooky noise generating Theremin, an electric screwdriver, and, on the song My Stupid Face, Birmingham shopping Mecca the Bullring!
It has also designed the electronics for a theremin kit, created a bio-signal interface and is building an unmanned aerial vehicle.
Good looking, super-talented - keyboards, accordion, 'keytar', theremin, he plays them all - it would be easy to hate the guy if he wasn't so naturally likable.
Utilising everything from guitars, piano, trumpet, Theremin and bouzouki to violin, accordion, upright bass and sousaphone it was a quite mesmerising and uplifting showcase of their astonishing diversity and instrumental virtuosity.