Dec 10, 2012

Theremin, My Theremin

The Almighty Teremin

This thing that is pictured here, that looks like nothing, or an old fashioned radio with even older speakers is a Theremin.  Only my husband would buy a Theremin.    Wikipedia’s definition of the Theremin is :  The theremin, originally known as the ætherphone/etherphone, thereminophone or termenvox/thereminvox is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without discernible physical contact from the player.

When he first spoke of wanting one, I assumed he was talking about some obscure kind of NyQuil.  Wikipedia says it is controlled without discernible contact from the player.  According to my husband, whose was dubbed “The Thereminister” by one of his students, it is controlled without contact from the player, discernible or not.

Mark claims the there is a Theremin on the Beach Boys’ famous song Good Vibrations and that I would know it if I played the song.  I hardly think so, based on the sounds coming out of his office when he is working on his Thereminics.  There is actually a site called which is dedicated to Thereminists (no kidding, they call them that).  I wonder if it is a mini Moog synthesizer?

Gordon C. from Hertfordshire in the UK write on   RS Theremin wrote “mind-numbing math“. (aha! so he was a mathematician).  Gordon fantasizes a team who would undo the mysteries of Theremin mathematics:

The team would certainly include a creative genius from whom ideas pour like water, but it would also have to include a mathematics genius for three reasons; firstly to have the unenviable task of saying “that’s an interesting idea but I’ve done the calculations and it’s just not practical” and secondly because sometimes doing the maths can lead to a conclusion so counterintuitive that you would not think of it any other way, and thirdly to take the good ideas and refine them into something simpler and more efficient.

Based on this, I can see how it appeals to Mark.  It is an early 20th Century instrument, and it is played by moving your hands over its weird little parts.  It has to do with frequency and amplitude, and those are the very math issues which brought Mark to order a Theremin and take it to his class to present the ideas of frequency and amplitude, and to further confirm their collective opinion that he is a nutcase.  (actually, this is my opinion and not necessarily that of his students).

There are fourteen movies in which the Theremin plays a part, beginning in 1945 with The Lost Weekend and ending in 2004 with the Machinist.  Of the performance in The Machinist, a critic says this:  Even after 60 years in the movies, theremin music is still considered rare and weird enough that just the sound of those whining tones is meant to raise the question “Is this real, or just a horrible dream?”

Yes, my husband would buy (and play) a “musical instrument” which makes you think : “Is this real, or just a horrible dream?”

1 Comment

  • I believe your husband is a damn fine man. Just sayin…

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Gloria. Circa 1955.

Gloria. Circa 2012.

Other than working for the American Red Cross in Korea for two years, Gloria Garvey has lived in Hawai`i since 1971. Her opinion and other writing has appeared in: The American Philatelist. Honolulu Weekly, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star Bulletin, The Star Advertiser, Hawai`i Reporter, Pacific Business News, Island Scene, The Design Management Journal.

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