The Theremin & Clara Rockmore



I must say, today's Google doole blew my mind. Well not the doodle itself, but what I learned after digging further into the subject. The doodle commemorates Clara Rockmore's 105th Birthday. Clara Rockmore is not very remarkable, except for the fact that she was one of the first theremin players or thereminist and maybe the most famous of them all.

"But what is the theremin?" you ask and this is a very good question. A question that captivated my the better part of this afternoon.

The theremin is an electrical instrument invented in 1920 by Lev Sergeyevich Termen that is played without touching it. It is composed of a body and two "antennas". One hand controls the tone (frequency) by moving horizontally relative to the vertical antenna and the other the volume (amplitude) by moving vertically relative to the horizontal loopy antenna.

© 2005 Bernd Hutschenreuther CC BY-SA 3.0

This being the 1920s, the entire process is implemented with analogue electronics. The antennas actually act as a capacitor plate and the hand is the corresponding ground. The pitch circuitry is composed of two oscillators, that oscillate at a similar frequency and one of the oscillators is influenced by the "antenna". By mixing the signals and though the heterodyne principle; the same way AM radios are tuned; the output is created. This is them amplified by the volume signal, which is simply a band passed oscillator, which was influenced by the second "antenna". The result is a clean almost ethereal sound emitted by the instrument.

© 2013 DF5GO CC BY-SA 3.0

This instrument blew my mind; I did not know that something like it existed. It is played out of thin air almost like a harp an yet sound like a wind instrument.

I leave you with "La Vie En Rose" by Édith Piaf, interpreted by Clara Rockmore on the theremin.