Theremin

Ghostly sound. I bought myself a theremin, a belated birthday present. A theremin is an electronically musical instrument controlled without physical contact by the player. The exact date of the theremin’s invention is unknown, historians place it somewhere between late 1919 and early 1920. It’s named after its inventor, Léon Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. The instrument has been used in movie soundtracks (such as Bernard Herrmann’s The Day the Earth Stood Still and recently Justin Hurwitz’s First Man), concert music, popular music, television and video games, (info Wikipedia). Feel free to check out some clips on YouTube.

I used a friend’s theremin years ago for a few musical and sound design projects. I never became a professional player but I loved using the device. Now it will be mostly used as decoration. As you know from previous posts, my house got a complete makeover. I created an industrial style living room and the theremin will look very good on the dresser.

Mr. Bowie was also very interested in the device. Or maybe he was only waiting to get into the box? Rock on, Mr. Bowie! Right now I’m working on an experimental electronic piece, maybe I can throw in some theremin sounds?

Enjoy this beautiful day, my friends, wherever you are. Peace, love and understanding. 

76 responses

  1. I used to be a huge fan of the American TV series “Outer Limits,” which naturally leaned to eerie sound effects in the score, and my father (a professional musician) reckoned that some of the themes I liked were done with a theremin. Then he had to explain it. Now all those disturbing plots are flooding back. The VFX for that series are laughable in today’s context but it was enough to give a ten year old nightmares, and of course I kept coming back for more. I’m going to spend all day humming the tunes.

    • As a kid, I loved all the old B&W sci-fi movies and series where you could hear those weird ghostly sounds and music. I was always wondering how they made that kind of sounds. Years later I found out it was made with theremins and modular Moog synthesizers (and other weird electronic devices). In school I played saxophone and clarinet, at home electric guitar. But as soon I got some money I bought a cheap synth and kept on buying more electronically instruments.

  2. Like you and other commenters I’ve been familiar with the theramin since the old B&W movies and series. Haven’t even HEARD anyone mention the theramin in ages but just refreshed my memory with some videos and am fascinated all over again at the sounds. Your new “look” is really nice Herman – I think Bowie approves too – then again who wouldn’t love the clean lines of “industrial”! I’m sure you’re happy (as is Bowie) that the re-do of the house is over and you can just ENJOY. Maybe with an espresso and chocolate?

    Hugs, Pam

    • Hi Pam. I tried out the theremin this afternoon and it was fun. I think I’m going to watch The Day the Earth Stood Still tonight… Mr. Bowie gave me strange looks while I was playing, guess he doesn’t like this kind of ‘music’…
      Thank you so much for your kind comment, my friend! Enjoy your coffee this morning!

  3. How lucky you are that Mr. Bowie should not be afraid of theremin. Monsieur Belaud tolerates a little music, but he hates the sound of the vacuum cleaner, mankind’s most terrifying invention.

    • Hi Micheline. Mr. Bowie’s keeping me company most of the time while I’m working in the studio. It seems he likes my music but sometimes he gives me looks when I’m using ‘special’ sounds… And yes, he hates the vacuum cleaner too… Someone should invent a silent model!

        • It’s very obvious Monsieur Belaud is a very wise cat! Mankind has to set priorities for sure… and take a look at our fury friends!

    • Thank you, Tim. I plugged in the theremin into an amplifier but Mr. Bowie didn’t felt like walking near the antennas. I was looking forward to make a short video of Mr. B playing the theremin but guess I need to try a little bit harder… Or maybe you can send Spunk over to the studio?

    • Hi David. You are right, Mr. B just wanted the biggest box because we’re having rain showers today and he prefers to stay indoors… in a box.
      There’s some music of me out there on the internet (lost track of it) but it’s not very good and rather outdated, kinda. I should give it a try and post some clips on this blog…

    • Thank you so much for your kind comment!
      The theremin is used in a lot of old (and new) sci-fi movies and series. But a big modular Moog synthesizer was also often used to create such sounds. It’s difficult to tell the difference…

    • Theremins are still used a lot, much to my surprise. I noticed recently a local band using one on a live gig. I’m sure I’m going to use mine very soon on a project…
      Thank you so much for your kind comment! Hope you’re having a great day, my friend!

  4. Lucky you Herman. I have to add myself to the list of old sci fi movie fans who love the theremin. They used it in the remake of The Thing which was I thought a nice gesture to the original. I can see how Mr. Bowie might not be too sure about it. Cat ears are so sensitive, what is he hearing you are not, I wonder.

    • A lot of people have no idea how such sounds are made. They often think it’s a computer or a synthesizer. I had no idea myself when I was a kid (no internet when I was young).
      Didn’t remember they used a theremin in the remake of The Thing. Great movies (have them both on dvd), going to watch them again. Thanks for reminding me…

      I have to keep the volume down when Mr. B is in the studio room. I can see he hates some frequencies of certain sounds, especially of the Moog synth.

  5. Cool, ik ben benieuwd naar het geluid!! Leuke cadeau voor je verjaardag, dik verdiend…
    Heeft Bowie ondertussen de doos ingepalmd?
    Liefs vanuit Torremolinos

    • Ik heb die Theremin eigenlijk enkel gekocht als decoratie. Maar ik kan het apparaat uiteraard ook gebruiken in de studio.
      Geniet nog van jullie vakantie in het zuiden en breng wat zon mee naar hier als jullie terug komen. Het was deze morgen amper 9°C! Brrr… ik mis die hittegolf al! 😉

    • Thank you for your kind comment, my friends. Well, music is a vitamin for the soul so I guess you were actually right!
      Hope you’re having a great day! Mr. Bowie says “Meow!” and sends his regards!

  6. Wow, I have never known anyone who owned a theremin before! Very impressed. As to Mr. Bowie – he can hear much more than us humans.

    Your home makeover has been very beautifully done, Herman!

    • Hi Inese. Thank you so much for your kind comment. I’ll probably post some photo’s of the makeover next weeks/months.

      I always have to be very careful when Mr. B is in the studio while I’m working. He has got very sensitive ears and some frequencies seems to be painful.
      A theremin is a very fun device to play. My friend used to have one and I borrowed it sometimes. I was very happy to give myself this present…

      • The day the Earth stood still gave me the scare of my life :). I asked my music teacher what was the instrument they had played, and it is how I learned about theremin. I would love to try one now, but when I was 7 I wouldn’t even dare 🙂
        You are right about being careful. Mr. Bowie is a more complicated being than a mere human.

    • Hi Lavinia. Oh yes, love that original movie too, have it on dvd. I didn’t like the remake with Keanu Reeves.
      I love playing the theremin. It’s really big time fun. You can’t use it a lot in songs because it maybe sounds too recognisable and monotonous. But I love the device and how it looks and sounds.

  7. Extraordinary! I’ve seen them played in films etc but how marvellous to own one! 🙂
    I think you should switch it on, so Mr Bowie can make his own music every time he walks past it! 😀

    • You can hear theremins in a lot of old sci-fi films and series. Always loved that ghostly sound of the instrument and now I’m happy to own one…

  8. I imagine you playing it and Mr Bowie looking rather perplexed 😀 I remember Sheldon Cooper playing one on The Big Bang Theory. It sounded like tuning in an episode of ‘The Shadow Knows’ on a big ol’ RCA. Maybe you and Mr Bowie could write your own crime thrillers ! xK

    • Hi Boomdee. Mr. B doesn’t like the sounds of the theremin. He prefers the voices of birds and mice outside in the garden… The sound of a theremin creates a mysterious atmosphere.
      Have a great weekend, my friend!

    • Haha… so true, Julie. But unfortunately, Mr. B doesn’t like to be a statue on the dresser. But he loves sitting under the window and watch the sparrows in the tree.
      Have a great weekend, my friend!

    • Hi Christine. Thank you so much for your kind comment, my friend.
      I’m still looking for a good way to post some clips of my music. I’ll keep you posted.

    • Hi Charlotte. Thank you so much for your kind comment. Well, I can always use a top professional voice from the UK. I’m sure it would upgrade the quality of my composition! 🙂
      A lot of people asked me to posted one of my songs. I should look into this and do something about it…
      Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

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