The Cult of the Theremin

The Theremin isn’t a very famous instrument. They were first invented back in 1920 completely by accident and somehow they just caught on with a certain niche group of people. Part of the reason that these instruments are so popular is because they can actually be constructed at home, which makes them easily accessible. The instrument also has an interesting history.

"In The Beginning There Was the Theremin"

Back in 1920, civil war broke out in Russia. A young Russian physicist was doing research into proximity sensors when he accidentally invented what’s known as the Theremin. Interest in the instrument swelled in World War II and the instrument has managed to stay popular enough that it was used in several famous movies.

The History of Theremins

The physicist, named Leon Theremin, invented this in October of 1920, and the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin was so intrigued by his accidental invention that he began to learn to actually play it. He commissioned 600 to be built and distributed throughout the entire Soviet Union. He also sent Theremin on a campaign around the world to show off the technology. By 1928, Theremin had made it to the United States where he patented the instrument. Early Theremins were made with electronic tubes and circuits that produce sounds. They also required antennas which were capable of sensing someone’s hands. Today, they are constructed with transistors.

Theremin Materials

It’s possible to build a Theremin at home for under $20. You just need to get the right parts. The parts include: Two 555 timer ICs, two CdS photocells, and two .01 mF capacitors. You also need both: a 1K resistor, 5K potentiometer, 2-Position PCB terminal, 8-Ohm 1” speaker, 9-Volt battery snap, Split-Level shielded box, Hookup wire, and a 9V battery. All of these things can be found at a typical All Electronics or Radioshack store.

How to Make a Theremin

Firstly, you have to build the circuit using the 555 Timer IC oscillator, frequency divider circuit, and CdS photocells. Once the circuit is built, you have to wire the terminal using the 2-Position PCB terminal as a conductor and lead for the 9V battery. Then, you have to install the circuit inside the box mounting the two CdS photocells outside and fixing the speaker to it. Connect the battery and it should immediately start making noise.

"The Theremin Apostles"

The Theremin has earned a cult following because it was constantly used in Sci-Fi movies up until the 1950s. In those times, the Sci-Fi genre was extremely niche. The instrument is adept at naturally producing sounds that are scary and creepy, making it very attractive to those who like those types of sounds. Their cult status has also led them to developing very passionate and devoted players and fans.

Theremin Fan Clubs

Just as with all instruments, there are fan clubs devoted to the Theremin. These clubs give the people who play the Theremin the chance to connect with other players. They are often responsible for putting together small concerts or seminars designed to raise interest in the instruments.

Theremin Music

Theremin is used in a variety of music genres. Famous composers like Vladimir Komarov and Percy Grainger used it to compose music for plays. It’s relatively rare in pop music. However, the Theremin was used to create music for films like The Ten Commandments, The Red House, Ed Wood, and The Machinist. It’s even been used in the Star Trek TV series.

Theremin Collectors

As with all older instruments, there is a niche market for Theremin collectors. Many older Theremins are composed of completely different parts than those made today. This makes them rare and valuable, and many people who love them want to collect instruments that reflect the “roots” of their instrument. Although they aren’t the most prolific instruments in the world, Theremins have a dedicated following.

The Theremin isn’t the world’s most flashy instrument or the most prestigious. They can be constructed at home from common household objects which makes them fun to play. Theremins are another of the world’s novelties but it will be interesting to see how it survives the times.