Instructional Media Center

• March Feature - Theremin•


The theremin - one of the most interesting and difficult instruments to play.  Even more interesting is the story behind it.  Take a look. 

Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage  - ML429.T43 G6 2000 (library stacks)
Lev Sergeyevich Teremin (Leo Theremin), brilliant Russian scientist and inventor, singlehandedly launched the field of electronic music with the instrument that bears his name.   As part of the avant-garde New York music scene in the 20s and 30s, Theremin created a worldwide sensation with his invention of an instrument that required no tactile interaction, merely a skilled waving of the hands – ether music.  His mysterious disappearance in 1938 and subsequent exile into the depths of Soviet exploitation is the fascinating subject of this book - a story, where truth is stranger and more provocative than fiction.  “Theremin is seen at the epicenter of most of the major events of the century:  the Russian revolution, two world wars, America’s Great Depression, Stalin’s purges, the cold war, and perestroika.  His life emerges as no less than a metaphor for the divergence of communism and capitalism”.  

Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey
- ML1380 .T48 2001 DVD (PARC)
Don’t have time for the book?  Watch the award-winning documentary.  Basically a retelling through the lens, this movie chronicles the life and times of Lev Teremin, who is miraculously discovered to be alive and willing to share his storied past.  In the end, the reunion between Lev and former muse Clara Rockmore is bittersweet, a painful reminder of what could have been.  Truly heartbreaking – watch the reactions and body language of Rockmore and Teremin as they reunite for the first time in 50 years.

The Art of the Theremin, Clara Rockmore
- M285.E4 R635 1987 CD (PARC)
Clara Rockmore (1911-1998) by far the most recognized and accomplished theremin player.  In addition to inventing the playing technique, she managed to keep the theremin alive as a viable performance instrument, when most musicians disregarded it as a cheap sci-fi sound effect. Rockmore’s interpretation of Camille Saint-Saën’s The Swan (track 3) is one of the most emulated and envied tracks of classical theremin enthusiasts.

Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin album - M285.E4 R635 2006 CD (PARC)
Unfortunately very few of Clara Rockmore’s performances were ever recorded.  This one, engineered in 1978 by Bob Moog, is one of the best in terms of fidelity.  Paired, as always, with her sister Nadia Reisenberg on piano, Rockmore delivers beautiful renditions of Dvorak, Chopin, Bach, Ravel, and a particularly soulful version of Gershwin’s Summertime.   The CD booklet contains interviews of the two sisters and a timeline of photographs.

Lydia (Ilya Andreivich Smirnov) - XR14.A68 L9 2005 SCORE (Special Collections)
Special Collections has a theremin score!  “Composed at the Rockefeller Study and Conference Center in Bellagio, Italy." 

Ohm: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music
Special Edition 3CD + DVD - M1473 .O467 2005 CD (PARC)
The CDs and DVD feature theremin by Clara Rockmore mostly covered in the documentary.  However, for those interested in the genesis of electronic music this CD/DVD set is a good place to start. Luminaries such as Pierre Schaeffer, John Chowning, Iannis Xenakis, Milton Babbit, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Raymond Scott are all well documented.  Unfortunately, much of the material is limited to brief passages rather than entire performance compositions.  Some of the "music" pushes the boundaries of experimental as does the video but generally speaking the material presented here is required study for anyone interested in early electronic music.

SpellboundPN1997 .S645 2002 DVD (IMC)
Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 film was one of the first movies to feature the theremin and won the Academy award for best original music score.  Check out the theremin piece produced by NPR in the video extras.

Endless Summer - M1630.18.W557 E55 1987 CD (PARC)
There was a brief theremin revival with the release of the Beach Boys single Good Vibrations (1966) which featured the instrument.

Mastering the Theremin - Summit
Want to know more about playing the theremin?  Checkout this video available on Summit (we’re looking for a used copy).  “Includes a series of 6 lessons demonstrating hand movements, finger position, articulation, dynamics, vibrato, and other playing techniques. Also includes live performances of 3 of Lydia Kavina's own theremin compositions; and a brief history of the life of Leon Theremin, and an appearance by Bob Moog”.

Build this Theremin - Full text pdf
Ready to build your own theremin? Go for it.

Grove online - link
A concise history.

Theremin Enthisasts Club International - link
Still wanting more?  Check out this website for all things theremin.