If God or Gods or Angels or Devils could play a musical instrument, this would be, with no doubts, Theremin. It's an apotheosis revested by an ethereal sound, able to invade the body and break the soul into small pieces. It's magic. It's a musical instrument that can't be touched. Better: it's touched with no touch. The Theremin player, or the theremist, looks like a maestro with no baton, a commander of an invisible orchestra, inebriating the listener with ether. Theremin sounds like the wind coming inside through the window, like the hypnotic chant of a mermaid, like the invisible presence of a phantom.
When you imagine Lenin playing this instrument, you can see him commanding his troops. Why? Lenin was a theremist. Lenin liked so much of that kind of instrument (which was taken as a bizarre thing then) that he ordered 600 samples for distribution through USSR and sent its inventor to take a walk through United States of America in order to announce the invention of the electronic music. It's true. Theremin is the first musical instrument completely electronic, precursor of the electronic music.
In the middle of Russian Civil War, the inventor Léon Theremin was leading an investigation supported by the Russian govern about proximity sensors. It was basically a study about the interference of the hands at the radiophone transmissions which modified the frequencies and irritatingly damaged the communications. Probably owner of an uncommon sensibility, Mr. Theremin was surrounded by the almost surreal sonorous beauty which came from such an annoying interference. In front of him, there were two oscillating metal antennas of high frequency where the electrical stream passed through. When his hand got closer of one of the antennas, modifying its frequency, this mysterious and endless beautiful sound came up crossing him, like a shiver through the spine, as a soft and pleasant flow. However, he perceived that, with one hand, he could control the frequency; with the other, the amplitude or the volume. So, he decided to amplify these brand new sounds and turn on the instrument to a column. Then, the delight came -- the sonorous orgasm.
The Theremin patent happened in 1928. In the beginning, it was called etherphone ("a made-with-ether telephone?"), Thereminophone ("Mr. Theremin's telephone?") and Termenvox ("the Termen's voice" - an homage to Mr. Theremin, whose birth name was Lev Sergeyevich Termen).
In his trip through United States of America, it was offered to Léon Theremin a studio where he trained several musicians in order to take those new sounds to the audience. Everything looks fine until 1938: for some obscure reasons, Léon was obliged to return to USSR leaving behind the fame, the friends and the wife. Some of the obscure reasons for his forced escape can be unveiled at his biography -- Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage --, written by Albert Glinsky after his reappearance, 30 years after.
Let me introduce you Clara Rockmore.
Clara Rockmore wasn't a girl looking for more rock. Clara was a Russian prodigious student of violin and loved classical music. At the age of five, she was already taken as n extraordinary musician -- until the time that a problem in her hands took the violin away from her neck and she started to dedicate herself to the invisible strings of Theremin. As the favorite alumnus of the inventor of this new instrument, Clara quickly became the best theremist of the world and followed his master in the trip ordered by Lenin. In USA, she made several spectacles astonishing audiences with her unique method -- the "aerial finger" --, playing the instrument with a no preceding precision.
At the beginning, Thremin was conceived to play classical music and even to substitute entire orchestras with its "ethereal music". Such a thing didn't happened and fell into oblivion after the Second World War, when the bombs were shut up and a new wave of electronic instruments came along. Where was Theremin during all that time? A little niche of affectionate people was using the instrument on their compositions along the years, and even a resurgence happened during the 1960s and the 1970s with bands like, for example, Led Zeppelin. In 1993, when the documentary directed by Steven M. Martin, Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey , was released, allied with the revival characteristic of the contemporary music, the ethereal frequencies of Theremin started to be used often. At this documentary, we can watch several interviews with legendary figures of the musical industry and, peculiarly, an interview with Léon Theremin.
The sorcery of the God-and-Devil instrument was used by several sonorous band and many musical groups. Nowadays, it's raising a new blast of interest and several models like PAIA's Theremax, Wavefront's Classic and Travel-Case. Moog Music Inc., by Robert Moog (pioneer of electronic music, who built hundreds of Theremins so many years before of building synthesizers) produces the well-known Etherwave models. We've got to consider that, without Moog, Theremin would not have survived as a living instrument, where the ether sorcery is now rediscovered.
You surely remember Clara Rockmore. It's always possible to drink a little bit of her history -- and feel the same shiver Léon felt -- at her The Art of Theremin album, followed by the piano played for her sister, Nadia Reisenberg.
It's a story good enough to let ourselves inebriated.