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After dinner with theremin pioneer Clara Rockmore and Robert Moog

Theremins are associated with the Beach Boys and as a cheesy sound effect used for UFOs in sci-fi movies from decades ago, although actually in both cases the instrument in question is actually a Tannerin, otherwise known as an electrotheremin, which is far easier to manipulate to get the desired tones—that was developed by Paul Tanner, trombonist with the Glenn Miller Band.

But this is the theremin we’re talking about, and you can’t talk about the development or popularity of the theremin without discussing Clara Rockmore. A native of Lithuania, Rockmore (1911-1998) has been called the “premiere artiste of the electronic music medium” (look at the album cover below), “the greatest theremin virtuosa” and “probably the world’s first electronic music star.”

Rockmore’s given name was Clara Reisenberg—her sister was the well-regarded pianist Nadia Reisenberg. In pictures, Rockmore seems like (in younger pics) a magician’s assistant or (as she gets older) someone’s dowdy old aunt. But don’t let appearances fool you—Rockmore was pretty badass. Léon Theremin, inventor of the instrument that bore his name, wanted to marry her and proposed several times, but she turned him down cold and married an attorney instead. In 1940 she toured the U.S. with none other than Paul Robeson. She was 66 years old in 1977 when her first album, The Art of the Theremin, was released. (Actually, the album in question, pictured below, hardly has a discernable title—if anything it’s Theremin—but over time it has come to be called The Art of the Theremin.)

Nobody seems to know when the footage in the clip below was taken, but judging from the quality of the video, the haircuts, and the clothes, I’d say it was the mid- to late 1970s. In attendance are Clara Rockmore and her sister Nadia; Nadia’s son Bob Sherman, who introduces the scene; Dr. Robert Moog; and Dr. Thomas Ray, who is named as a scholar of electronic music. Moog, of course, produced The Art of the Theremin, which perhaps serves as another clue as to the timing of this clip.

I really dig the odd sculptural item in the middle of the table, with the dangling silver orbs. After a few minutes’ chitchat about the theremin, Rockmore treats us to a few minutes of “Hebrew Melody.”

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Good Vibrations: Paul Tanner inventor of the Electro-Theremin, R.I.P.
05:40 pm


Beach Boys
Paul Tanner

Paul Tanner and the Electro-Theremin.
The signature theremin sound in “Good Vibrations” was produced not by a traditional theremin but by an invention created in the late 1950s by big band trombonist Paul Tanner and actor Bob Whitsell. They called it the Electro-Theremin. It created a sound similar to the theremin, but was easier to play. Instead of passing your hands over two antennae (which required a lot of practice to get right), you would mechanically control an audio oscillator. A simpler process, but far less beguiling to watch than the traditional method of playing the theremin.

Mr. Tanner died this past week at the age of 91.

In addition to “Good Vibrations,” Tanner played his Electro-Theremin on The Beach Boys’ “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and “Wild Honey,” as well as on the soundtracks of movies and TV shows (My Favorite Martian). He also recorded two albums of Electro-Theremin music: Music from Heavenly Bodies and Music from Outer Space.
Tanner’s proto-type was the only authentic Electro-Theremin ever made. He didn’t see much of a future for his instrument. He correctly read the writing on the wall: synthesizers. Therevox created a variation on Tanner’s invention that worked using the same basic principals.

To hear Paul Tanner playing the Electro-Theremin click here.

In the video below, Mike Love is playing a Moog ribbon controller, an instrument developed for the Beach Boys for the sole purpose of simulating the sound of Tanner’s invention.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Cats playing a Mini Theremin

The Theremin is a unique musical instrument that, according to WIkipedia;

“[was] originally known as the aetherphone/etherophone, thereminophone or termenvox/thereminvox [and] is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without discernible physical contact from the player. It is named after its Russian inventor, Professor Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928.”

A cat is a four legged feline animal that, according to Wikipedia;

“[is] also known as the domestic cat or housecat to distinguish it from other felines and felids, [and] is a small, furry, domesticated, carnivorous mammal that is valued by humans for its companionship and for its ability to hunt vermin and household pests. Cats have been associated with humans for at least 9,500 years.”

According to WIkipedia, the word “awesome” means: “...that which inspires awe.”

You can see the “prequel” (Cats and Mini Theremin Part 1) here.
If you were not aware of the existence of these Mini Theremins, they come in kit form, are cheap ($30) and look relatively easy to build. You can purchase a kit (and watch a video demonstrating the building process) at Maker Shed.

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Leave a comment
The meme that wouldn’t die: ‘Trololo’ performed on a theremin
05:44 pm

One-hit wonders


I know you’ve all grown tired of the “Trololo” meme, but this version brings some new life to Edward Hill’s interweb sensation. Performed on the Moog Etherwave Pro Theremin by Jairo Moreno.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment