Artist Needs 13 Theremins

Posted: 4/28/2015 4:15:44 PM

From: 60 Miles North of San Diego, CA

Joined: 10/1/2014

Amanda "xoadc" states below:

I'm an artist about to embark on a rather ambitious project of buiding 13 theremins, that I will run through a pitch to midi converter into a Max MSP patch to trigger audio recordings that I made by placing home made contact microphones onto shortwave radio towers.  The project is called Requiem for Radio, and it's about the demolition of the Radio Canada International shortwave radio site (the site was torn down last year).  There were 13 radio towers on that site, and I recorded the sounds of each one of them, so I plan to build 13 theremins, 1 for each of the towers, and I will set them up as a scale model, with their distances from one another, and antenna heights relative to the towers they represent.  The finished project will have two incarnations: 1. as an art gallery installation where the public can enter and play the ghosts of the radio towers with radio waves, and 2. as a performance where the theremin / towers are played by dancers.

I have never built my own theremin before.  Well, I've built optical theremins on a bread board, but that doesn't count.  Aside from a few basic electronics workshops, I am mostly self taught, but am pretty handy with a soldering iron.

I don't play the theremin yet either.  I'm not sure if I want the theremins I build to even make sound, since I am only using them as controllers. but still, if I am building 13 of them, I figure I should learn how to play.

However, since I'm building 13 of them, I want to do it well, and I want to really understand every aspect of them and how they work.

-- Currently I am borrowing a Theremax 9505 from a friend.  But I'm ready to start building now.
-- I plan to buy one Etherwave Plus kit to get started... so that I have a solid pro instrument for learning to play.
-- Then I plan to buy a PAiA kit, so that I can build an entire circuit board from scratch and get more comfortable with the electronics.

-- I'm also working on a super simple one this week, based on the schematic I found in this youtube video.
Essentially, I want to find the most stripped down schematic possible... so that I can wrap my head around how it actually works on the most basic electronic level.

--I also found the schematic for the Thierrymin in the forums here (Thanks Thierry!)... I will build one of those as well...
I figure that after building an Etherwave, a Theremax, that super simple polish one from the youtube video, and the Thierrymin... I should then *hopefully* have a relatively solid understanding of what's going on in the circuits. *hopefully*.

amanda - oh, and I'm on the east coast of Canada... Moncton, NB... 

Hello amanda,

Your art project is challenging, it needs to be in this thread of its own. It will take time (years) to interpret, agree and crystalize your goal. Most of us are retired grumpy old men and time is all we got or so we hope. (-'

Theremin success is based upon traveling through the maze of 10,000 reasons why a theremin will not cooperate, that is no exaggeration. For you that will be 10,000 x 13.

My first thought if you want to trigger a single event to turn on a pre-recorded sound sequence use passive infra-red detection, 13 theremins will require 13 people to retune them all day long whether it makes sound or not, passive infra-red is more stable. Theremins outdoors are extremely unstable due to environment changes, temperature (sun), humidity, wind, etc.

What is the distance for response and how close together will they be in your scaled down art?

When you hear a Master play the theremin... it is truly a miracle.


Posted: 4/28/2015 9:48:34 PM

From: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Joined: 4/24/2015

Hello Christopher,

thanks for the thoughtful response!


Alas, infrared is out of the question... in spite of the challenges, using radio waves is key for this project... it's a conceptual project, all about playing the ghosts of the radio towers with radio waves....
so... i've steadied myself for the challenges of the project... however quixotic it may be... i'm ready for failure and hope to find beauty in the process. :-)


playing outdoors is another part of the project... one i haven't told anyone yet... yet you tuned in to it!

In terms of the outdoors part, here it is:... last year, I got my climbing certification and climbed two of the RCI towers before they fell (250 feet up).... and many international shortwave sites around the world have also been decomissioned... so eventually I would like to climb to the top of a tower of one of the remaining sites elsewhere in the world, with a theremin (probably the etherwave and not one of my DIYs), and from the top of that radio tower, play a requiem for all of the decomissioned shortwave sites in the world... (the requiem being the interval signal of each of the international stations once used)... there's something poetic, like a viking funeral, to climbing to the top of a radio tower, with a radio based instrument, to play the lament for decomissioned radio sites.... so yes... not just out doors, but a few hundred feet up, on top of a metal tower surrounded by other wires and antenna.  that project might not be possible... but fingers crossed... i have the proper climbing certification and experience... and i'm about to approach a few radio stations... we'll see what happens there.

as for the set up of the 13 DIY theremins, their distance and placement from one another will depend on the size of the gallery they are installed in, or the performance stage for the performance version.  So by scaled down, I still expect it to be quite large... it will just be smaller than the original shortwave site... although, it might be nice to also set them on the exact locations where the RCI towers once stood... that could be a variation... For most installations though, I'm expecting they will fill a room or stage that is about 25-30 feet wide by 15-20 feet deep.
There is a map of the site in this photogallery for another project I did called the Marshland Radio Plumbing Project (where I tried to build a working radio reciever from copper plumbing instead of wire)... that was the beginning of this journey:


So yes... 13 theremins... but they don't need to make sound... I will likely only be working with their control voltages... set up in a rough "U" formation to fill either a gallery or a stage.





Posted: 4/28/2015 9:52:50 PM

From: Colmar, France

Joined: 12/31/2007

There is a so called "thérémingenieur" in France who might be able to help you designing these CV only theremin circuits, especially if you need 13 of them without interfering. You may contact him via Facebook under his real name Thierry Frenkel... ;-)

Posted: 4/29/2015 1:58:15 PM

From: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Joined: 4/24/2015

Most excellent!  
I look forward to making acquaintances with this "thérémingenieur"! ;-)

Posted: 4/29/2015 5:16:54 PM

From: 60 Miles North of San Diego, CA

Joined: 10/1/2014

xoadc said: "Alas, infrared is out of the question... in spite of the challenges, using radio waves is key for this project... it's a conceptual project, all about playing the ghosts of the radio towers with radio waves....
so... i've steadied myself for the challenges of the project... however quixotic it may be... "

Should I run for cover?  None of the theremin designs old or new "use" radio waves in their operation, RF is a very weak byproduct or nuisance some designers might wish did not exist due to regulations.

So the key is the illusion captured by the Art.

Miniature radio towers made of wood or plastic could have a thin wire antenna concealed within them, the theremin components under the platform or base.

I once wanted to do a theremin type setup in my local kids museum, thermal drift over the course of the day was the main deterrent. Now you are inspiring me to re-think some of my optical approaches (passive daylight) for the affect of pitch response due to movement rather than playing a tune.

More 10K-Tips for the day


In the video you are having fun, my inventing is like your Art... Try everything!


Posted: 4/29/2015 5:57:52 PM

From: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Joined: 4/24/2015

aha!  yes, you caught me!... i was waiting to be caught by that.... true... it's not actually controlled by radio waves... but it functions on some of the same principles as radio, no?  the way our bodies interfere with analogue radio and television antennas?  perhaps  it is just the interference and the noise i am interested in.

i am still just getting my feet wet and reading through the literature as well as through these forums... learning more every hour and every day...


oh dear... i forgot about that video (i shared the link for the photos and forgot about the video)... my french was very bad back then... and the project was at very early stages ... that's where my initial interest came from.

trying to build a functionning radio reciever out of copper plumbing... based on external rectification (the rusty bolt effect), using a poorly soldered joint between two different types of metal in the drain trap as a diode...

the radio sink never did work, although a radio technician told me that the principle was sound, but i just needed more pipe... (longer antenna)... i had no funding for that project, and did it on the side when i wasn't at my day job... every pay cheque i would go buy another 12 feet of copper pipe... some people buy cigarrettes, i bought plumbing... but it never worked.... still... i would like to revisit it and make a working radio receiver out of copper plumbing one day.... but for now... theremins... i will learn more about how they work... and make a few... learn to play the intervals of shortwave stations, and climb a radio tower with one.

Posted: 4/29/2015 6:01:16 PM

From: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Joined: 4/24/2015

btw... very very cool kids museum!  love the photogallery! nice combination of the record player and the singer sewing machine!  record-breaking! ;-)

Posted: 4/29/2015 6:43:23 PM

From: 60 Miles North of San Diego, CA

Joined: 10/1/2014

xoadc said: "i was waiting to be caught by that.... true... it's not actually controlled by radio waves... but it functions on some of the same principles as radio, no?"

Theremins and radios are kiss'en cousins no doubt and share the same heart! In the early 60's I made a crystal radio, later that year a one transistor oscillator for a AM Radio transmitter. That is what my theremin research was always based, it really is that simple. Fine tuning the principle is what takes time. I had never heard of Moog or Termen when I started out, you visiting this group gives you a head start.

It is important to go with a theremin design that has proven itself. Thierry is undisputed  #1 in the field today so his opinions are gold. (I got to get mushy, may need his opinion some day. lol)

I also agree with your expert, several of us here could get your copper distillery pumping out local music by using a high impedance earphone, a spot of corrosion on the pipe for detection and no modern electronics, especially if you are located within view of the Great Antennas. Can you tell me why there are so many towers in one location, what determines their height and why they are lined up the way they are? (-:

If that was my son with no variable capacitor I would lay the coil on its side and use a metal strip slider across a sanded off side exposing the copper under the enamel.


Posted: 4/29/2015 9:06:28 PM

From: Cleveland, Ohio

Joined: 12/21/2014

Amanda, how are you going to power your theremin when you climb the 250 foot tower to play the requiem?



Posted: 4/29/2015 9:12:27 PM

From: züriCH

Joined: 3/15/2014

what a cool project! also the lavabo..thing. remembers a bit of beuys "honeypump". but that sackville-site was huge. the antenna-fixing wires must have been like aeolsharps. low frequencies in summer and a bit higher in winter.

thierry is definite the man. no doubt. his thierrymin looks pretty awesome simple.

did you check art harrisons designs? here for the diy-er: or for the buyer: . he also has a weatherproof model, but the "minimum", cmos-based, is also not the badest design for 1st time experiments like on antenna forms/lengths etc... it can even be built on the fly!  or use perfboard with or without copper-eyes for prototyping. forget the breadboard for theremins. 

as said by christopher, (man that museum of yours must be fun,wiwt.), drifting of the oscillators is a huge problem on theremins. some designs do more some less.  but if you're going to "midificate" them anyway, it will be hell lot more of fun! so it would not hurt to also use theremins own audio?  maybe it's time for the legendary "infinite improbability drive"  to be included !

radios&theremins: turn on a am radio, move the radio antenna near to the oscillator coil of the theremin and tune the radio scale 'till you hear the sound of the the theremin through the radio. pitch only. works also on a paia.

all the best for that journey and a good high antenna swing.







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