Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Lately I've been reading a book about Leon Theremin. He was the inventor of the Theremin, which was one of the very first electronic instruments. Theremin's work in electronic music paved the way for Robert Moog and the modern synthesizer.

Theremin is also known for his work in Russian espionage. While imprisoned in the Gulag he invented "The Thing," a listening device that was hidden in a plaque which, in 1945, was presented to the American ambassador to the Soviet Union as a gesture of friendship. "The Thing" was undetectable by x-ray, didn't require any electricity, and could run by itself for upwards of 50 years. The bugging device was discovered largely by accident after it had hung in the ambassador's office for eight years. The technology was extraordinarily advanced for the time and was a predecessor to today's RFID technology.

Here is Leon Theremin playing his musical invention, the Theremin. I was about to comment on its unusual looks, but then I started thinking about typical instruments. When you think about it, the violin is pretty funny looking too. I'm not completely clear on the science of how a Theremin works, but the right hand controls pitch and the left hand controls volume.


Anonymous said...

I hope that you caught the segment on PBS's "History Detectives" a couple of weeks ago. The submitter had a Theremin and wondered if it was one actually built by the inventor rather than one manufactured by RCA. Leon Theremin's personal history is quite interesting as well.

Pieter said...

The Theremin can be used as a classical solo-instrument as well, as demonstrated by Thorwald Jørgensen from the Netherlands: http://bit.ly/cfrCV7+