The theremin is a device that turns your body into part capacitor and allows you to play music without touching the instrument!
The theremin was invented in 1919 by a Russian physicist named Lev Termen (aka Leon Theremin) who arrived in the United States in the early 1920’s to promote his invention.
In 1938 Leon Theremin was taken back to the Soviet Union by force, leaving behind his studio, friends, business and his wife. After a stay in a prison camp, Leon Theremin reportedly worked for the KGB designing among other things, the ‘bug’ and methods for cleaning up noisy audio recordings.
The theremin is unique in that it is played without being touched. Two antennas protrude from the instrument – one controlling pitch, and the other controlling volume. As a hand approaches the vertical antenna, the pitch gets higher. Approaching the horizontal antenna makes the volume softer. Because there is no physical contact with the instrument, playing the theremin in a precise melodic way requires practiced skill and keen attention to pitch.
In the late 1920’s, RCA produced approximately 500 theremins, manufactured by General Electric and Westinghouse. Today, it is estimated that only half of these still exist. An effort is underway to track down the remaining models.
Electronic music pioneer Robert Moog built theremins long before he built synthesizers. In the 1960’s, he produced such models as the wedge-shaped Vanguard theremin and the shoebox shaped Moog Melodia theremin.