World Music Monday Instrument of the Week: the Theremin


Each week, tune into World Music Mondays on WMSE (Mondays from 9am – 11:30am CST) to not only listen to world music, but to learn about a different instrument each week, curated by program host, Ruadhan Ward, an Ethnomusicology student and WMSE DJ. Read up on this week’s instrument, here…

The theremin was invented in 1928 by Leon Theremin, a Russian physicist doing research funded by the government on proximity sensors. Leon Theremin toured Europe and then the United States with his theremin, returning to Russia under mysterious circumstances in 1938.

The traditional theremin has two antennas, one controlling frequency and the other controlling amplitude. The players floats their hands above these antennas, and the proximity of the hands creates the sound. Virtuosic theremin playing focused not only on classical music, but also was prominently featured in 20th century players. In the 50’s, the theremin became the sound of science fiction in film, and gained notoriety among film score composers. The theremin burst into the rock world in the 60’s and 70’s, with bands like Led Zeppelin substituting guitar solos for theremin solos.

As promised, here is a link to the Matryomin Ensemble, “Da”.


Here is what we played on the last edition of Instrument of the Week:

1.) “14 Songs, Op. 34: No. 14, Vocalise (Arr. for Theremin and Piano) by Clara Rockmore from The Art of Theremin

2.) “Free Music #1 for Four Theremins” by Lydia Kavina from Original Works for Theremin: Music from the Ether

3.) “The Lost Weekend Sequence #1” by Miklos Rosza off of the album The Theremin Years: The Lost Weekend

4.) “L’escargot” by Michael Nyman from A Zed and Two Noughts

5.) “Electricity” by Captain Beefheart from Safe As Milk


Tune in next week Monday at 10:30 for the next Instrument of the Week segment!