What is a toy theremin?

Posted: 1/8/2012 1:20:52 AM
RS Theremin

From: 60 mi. N of San Diego CA

Joined: 2/15/2005

Coalport, what you reveal through the Hoffman Theremin takes the instrument to a level few, if any, will ever surmount. The badger theremin, for me, is actually an embarrassment yet it is probably awesome with the mindset of a younger generation. I think it is fair to say the market does not have available - yet - the theremin that will bring the instrument out of the shadows. The skill is out there but gadgets (band-aids) won't do it. Just listen to most theremins……a toy.

The theremin is young yet its heart was removed by the transistor or synth imitators. The Electro-Theremin (The Box) was a brief hit because it had heart, that  of a theremin.

What is a theremin, not a toy!


Posted: 1/8/2012 11:16:14 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

I believe the theremin will always be an instrument "in the shadows" because it is simply too difficult to play (something French inventor Maurice Martenot recognized back in the 1920's). 

These days, with all sorts of devices available that are capable of producing theremin-like sounds, in the minds of many people, a "theremin" is any electronic instrument (keyboards, computers, etc.) that can make SciFi and suspense FX similar to the kinds of things heard on the soundtracks of old movies. The word "theremin" has come to define a particular sound, not an instrument. 

I don't think it's such a bad thing that the theremin will always be marginal, appealing to the tastes of a relatively small group of dedicated enthusiasts. In fact, I rather like that.


Posted: 1/9/2012 8:25:24 PM

From: portland

Joined: 11/30/2011

It seems to be coming out of the shadows on its own, since Ive moved to portland a year ago, almost everyone knows what the theremin is, has heard it, and Ive met several people who have made one or owned one, but most have just used it to make noise, or gave up because its too difficult to play. But still, I dont know if it is cause I live in portland now, and portland is a strange place, or if it is a function of time, but the number of "what is that?" have certainly gone down over time.

On another note, to me, the theremin has always been partially an idea, a instrument for the poletariat, a new instrument for a modern age. This idea failed, as the instrument is too hard to play, and the rca theremin was far too expensive, but, if you are looking for the heart or soul of a theremin, its more than a perfect sound, or vacuum tubes, part of it is the rejection of the aesthetic and social context of the violin or piano. While, little can be done to make it easier to play, but I think there is a danger of fetishizing the instrument itself. I always saw it as meant to be conceptually more of a folk instrument than a classical one. (Which I think is kept alive, in part, by its DIY nature, there are few classical instruments you can make a decent version of yourself, without significant skill and training)

And to call the etherwave and the b3 a toy, is a bit extreme. I understand your point on their limitations in tone, but they are practical, they can play a tune reliably, be thrown unceremoniously in the back of a van with a bunch of other gear, they could certainly sound better, but they are serviceable.


Posted: 1/10/2012 11:45:39 AM

From: Canada

Joined: 8/1/2008

In the last year or so, the theremin has made some notable appearances on prime time TV in America. Both Sheldon and Millhouse played it for millions of viewers (and for millions more in reruns) and this has gone a long way to promote recognition of the instrument. It hasn't done much to promote appreciation of the instrument but the level of recognition has improved significantly. 

Unfortunately, both Sheldon (of BIG BANG) and Millhouse (of THE SIMPSONS) are quintessential nerds. Neither has done anything to lend the theremin any real credibility. In fact, both have managed to confirm the instrument as the musical choice of lovesick oddballs. 

Posted: 1/11/2012 9:39:16 PM

From: Nashville, TN, USA

Joined: 12/22/2011

Like Coalport, I wasn't overjoyed when Sheldon used the theremin as an annoyance device on Big Bang...but I've reached the point in my life where I don't care what other people think about what I like to do...I've kind of fallen in love with the instrument, even though it's a harsh mistress. I see it not only as a musical instrument, but as a meditative exercise that teaches me focus and how to be relaxed yet still...(there's no way to play in tune if you're not, and out of tune things make me nuts).

I like nieradka's point that the Etherwave is cheap and rugged enough to carry to gigs without worrying too much if it gets damaged (though I won't be ready to gig for some time yet).  To my mind, this improves the chance that sooner or later someone will break through as a popular sideman on theremin...Then maybe Moog will pay attention to quality and start incorporating Thierry's modifications  and other improvements, if sales volume increases enough..

I accept the fact that I'm kind of a nerd....That's OK with me...In fact, I would love to have a propeller beanie cap with the Moog logo on it...jcn

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