Yup, the theremin. The theremin was invented by Russian scientist Léon Theremin, in 1920. It is the world’s very first electronic instrument—what is unique about the theremin is that it’s an instrument you play without touching it; it remains the first and only non-contact instrument.
Here’s a pic of the model of theremin I have, the Etherwave model made by Moog, that you can make from a kit:
Today there are virtuoso thereminists, but not too many. (Students! if you learn to play the theremin like Clara, you’ll always have work … but don’t give up the piano!)
Here’s a video of arguably the best virtuoso thereminist who ever lived, Clara Rockmore, playing The Swan by Camille Saint-Saëns. She was Léon’s protégée.
And the inventor himself, playing his own theremin:
And for you fans of the British mystery series, Midsomer Murders, yes, that’s a theremin you hear for the theme music, played by Celia Sheen:
And of course, the classic: The Day the Earth Stood Still, film score composed by the brilliant Bernard Herrmann (theremin enters at 0:42):
And for you true theremin geeks out there, here’s the theremin studio session from that film:
If you want to know all about the theremin and its inventor and history, watch the fantastic documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. It’s a bit hard to rent now, not on Netflix or Amazon, but usually can be found in libraries and is for purchase new or used on Amazon. I have it (on VHS!) for any of my students interested in watching it! 🙂
*Cool fact: Léon was snatched up by the KGB from New York City, where he lived, in 1938. The filmmaker of the documentary went to Russia to find him and bring him back to NYC, where he was reunited with Clara Rockmore, after more than 50 years, in 1991.
Here’s a clip of one of my students and me playing a free improvisation for piano and theremin a couple of years ago: