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a musical instrument


theremine = Das Theremin (auch: Thereminvox, Thereminovox, Termenvox, Aetherophon, Ätherwelleninstrument) ist ein 1920 erfundenes elektronisches Musikinstrument. Es ist das einzige Musikinstrument, das berührungslos gespielt wird und dabei direkt Töne erzeugt.



“The sound of the early THEREMINS was somewhere between a violin and a ghostly human voice, so for audiences at that time the combination of this and her charismatic presence must have been captivating.”

Bill Baily on Weird Science & Clara Rockmore - The Guardian

Did you


- an electronic musical instrument that generates sound of varying pitch and volume depending on the proximity of the musician’s hands to two antennae mounted on the instrument.

Your Dictionary


The Theremin was invented by Leo Theremin, a Russian scientist who, in 1920, presented it to Vladimir Illich Ulianov, alias Lenin. Lenin was so impressed by its sound; he ordered 600 instruments to be produced.

The Thereminist stands in front of the instrument and moves his or her hands in the proximity of two metal antennas. The distance from one antenna determines frequency (pitch), and the distance from the other controls amplitude (volume).

Only three countries in the world have music schools that teach the Theremin – Russia, Japan and Ireland.


Leon Theremin was working on radio surveillance equipment in a Moscow laboratory when he happened to move his hands between two high-frequency oscillators. The natural body capacitance of his hands luckily controlled the electrical field in the air between two antennae and produced an ethereal, haunting sound, not unlike WOOO-EEEEEE.

And so was the idea of the world’s first electronic instrument born.

Theremin’s work immediately aroused the suspicions of the Russian Secret Service who considered the device a state secret and monitored his work very closely. He continued perfecting his invention until 1927, when the authorities were closing in. Theremin fled to America, his instrument attracted huge media attention to the point that Leon Theremin became something of a celebrity on the New York social scene.


Clara Rockmore, an accomplished violinist, was born in Lithuania in 1911. She had an extraordinary affinity with the theremin, playing it with a dexterity and depth of feeling that has not since been matched. A photo of her in 1930 shows a beautiful young woman, her arms raised aloft, a look of intense rapture on her face. As she said, to master the theremin “every movement you make is a perfect synchronisation of sound and motion”.

Key to Rockmore’s skill with the theremin was that she had “perfect pitch”, the ability to pluck a given note out of the air and hum it without reference to a piano. Perfect pitch, or absolute pitch as it’s sometimes called, occurs entirely at random in about one in every 10,000 people. There are those who have perfect pitch with no musical ability or interest whatsoever and go through life wondering why they can hum the exact pitch of a a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, or a dentist’s drill.

The co-incidence of Leon Theremin and Clara Rockmore at the same time and place was, like much of life, a near impossibility that happened anyway.


Not only humans, songbirds and even wolves have perfect pitch.

Take a minute to watch “cat plays theremin” on YouTube and just imagine a wolf doing the same!

SMUGGLE OWAD into a conversation today, say something like:

“Hey,… did you know that ‘THEREMIN - Over The Rainbow’ has over 10 million views on YouTube?”

THANKS to Alex for suggesting today’s OWAD

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Paul Smith

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