Tuesday, October 30, 2007


I do a Word of the Day for my friends at work. I figure it’s appropriate to put the music words here as well. Today’s word is theremin. I recall seeing Dave Dreiwitz playing it when I saw Mad Cow at Tonic a couple of years ago. I was searching for when it was and who played and discovered that Mad Cow is really 2 guys who will extend the band with different people at different times. That was a great show. Calvin was very excited when he saw the piano on stage, so he made sure to play that for a bit, and that was excellent. I remember no one was there because there was something going on in Prospect Park that day, but I loved it.

I was intrigued by the theremin, but I never did anything to find out what it was. I saw it this morning in the listings for Issue Project Room on 11/3, a band called Barbez. I haven’t made it there yet, I can’t do it on Sat, or it might have been the night.


MAD COW makes it's way to NY! Mad Cow regulars Dion Paci & Calvin Weston join forces with Dave Dreiwitz (WEEN) & Andrew Weiss (WEEN, ROLLINS BAND)for some lo end experimentation.
Show Time:8:00pm

ther·e·min (thěr'ə-mĭn) n. An electronic instrument played by moving the hands near its two antennas, often used for high tremolo effects. [After Leo Theremin (1896-1993), Russian engineer and inventor.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth EditionCopyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

an electronic musical instrument; melodies can be played by moving the right hand between two rods that serve as antennas to control pitch; the left hand controls phrasing
WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.

Theremin An unusual electronic instrument developed in 1919 by Leon Theremin. The Theremin had two antennas and was played by moving one's hand closer to and further from them. One antenna controlled the volume and the other controlled the pitch. A skilled Theremin player could produce a wide variety of interesting sounds and musical phrases. The sound of a Theremin is a sort of eerie whining type of sound and was used for "effect" in some popular music of the '60's and '70's (for a good example check out the beginning of Good Vibrations by The Beach Boys). After modern synthesizers became commonplace the Theremin faded into relative obscurity. Today there are still some die hard Theremin fans out there with clubs and users groups. Also, Bob Moog (a major developer of the modern synthesizer) is now building and selling new hand made units though his company, Big Briar.

theremin Considered the first electronic musical instrument, invented in 1919 by Russian born Lev Sergeivitch Termen, which he anglicized to Leon Theremin. The theremin is unique in that it is the only musical instrument played without being touched. Interestingly, when granted a US Patent in 1928, there were 32 prior patents referenced, going all the way back to Lee De Forest. A theremin works by causing two oscillators to "beat" together. The beat frequency equals the difference in frequency between the two signals. Beats are a physical phenomenon occurring in the air when sounds are mixed. A theremin uses one oscillator operating well above the upper limit of human hearing as a reference tone, and another oscillator whose frequency is varied by the proximity of a human hand, for instance, to a capacitive sensing element shaped like an antenna. A typical machine has two antennas and you play it by moving your hands nearer to and farther from the antennas. One antenna controls the volume of the sound, while the other controls the frequency, or pitch, of the sound. Used together you can creates sounds that can range from being very sci-fi-ish -- a sort of quivering sound -- as heard in early sci-fi movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still, to very complex jazz licks. The theremin even appears as Dr. Hannibal Lecter's favorite instrument in Thomas Harris' bestseller Hannibal (Delacorte, 1999). It was the theremin that got Bob Moog (inventor of the Moog Synthesizer and considered the father of modern electronic music) interested in electronic music. Moog Music now makes some of the world's best theremins.
See the Theremin web ring for additional info; and to view the fascinating, bizarre, and stranger-than-fiction true-life story of Leon Theremin, check out the film (available on video), Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, by Steven M. Martin (1994), including several performances by Clara Rockmore, perhaps the best theremin player ever.


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