Alien Antenna: The Theremin

It is impossible not to love the Theremin!

Even if it conjures up visions of new-age schlock, ouija boards and over-used science-fiction and horror cliches. One could also argue that it is the most pretentious of all instruments.

But as soon as a gifted player get his hands near those two antennas which stick out of a wooden box like an unfinished, abstract sculpture: Instant magic!
Not only was the Theremin the first usable electronic instrument, it is also one of the most bizzare, elegant and exotic musical devices ever built.

Russian physician Leon Theremin invented it in 1919. During and after WW1 people became increasingly interested in the occult and the eerie and otherworldly sounds of the Theremin made it very popular. As the early fascination of anything "electric" was swept away by the horrors of industrialized warfare, the Theremin was a strange chimera between the rational and the ethereal.
For the first time there was something that produced sound seemingly out of nowhere. To add to the appeal, you didn´t have to touch it! The player had to move his hands in a strange chiffre as if he/she was taming something unseen.

Maybe because it was very hard to play and maybe because it was a bit too far out, the Theremin never really cought on in popular or classical music. Even when Hollywood planted the Theremin into our common subconscious as the "official Alien sound", it remained an odd duck.

Leon Theremin
also invented the Terpistone, which was a similar instrument that was played by dancing on a platform. But this was a bit too far ahead! After all, Laurie Anderson was not yet born back then...

When Hi-Fi entered the western worlds bachelor pads, the Theremin had a small renaissance. It wooed and whirred in stereo, accompanied by countless pieces of balinese percussion, sweeping string arrangements and new studio trickery galore.

But as always: People would marvel and snicker at the player who appeared to perform tai-chi moves in front of an antenna and then they would forget about it.

But why? Is the sound too eerie? If this was true, every Bagpipe should have been burned centuries ago and Didgeridoos would lie rotting in deep, deep holes.

Is the Theremin too "effeminate"? I admit that a 15 minute rocking Theremin solo and a mosh-pit are not made for each other. And imagine the erotic possibilities of orgiastic air-Theremin playing (despite it IS played this way!).

Apart from some gimmicky appearances (leave it to Wikipedia to list Jerry Lewis and Matthew Barney in one line!) on stage and in art circles the Theremin has remained underground and obscure.

Strangely enough, the Theremin was not dead when Bob Moog started the synthesizer revolution. He would later build his own version and to this day the Moog Etherwave its the most commonly used Theremin.

There are also many model-kits available to build your own Theremin, but I hear these appeal more to the model-builder and not to the player.

So I was looking through the "universal jukebox for everything" (youtube) to see what the Theremin underground has to offer. And there I found - next to some "classic eerie" renditions - these two utterly strange videos.

Now, I don´t know why exactly Gnarls Barcley´s "Crazy" is the subject of Theremin obsession, but there must be something about it. Maybe its the "ooooh" that hovers over the original version like a chorus of weeping ghosts?

Anyway, this guy plays the Theremin as the lead voice and it sounds as if Cee-Lo was looking for words during an early studio jam. In true Theremin-style: Magical and weird!

"Crazy" Theremin Jam

Now, if you can take another take on the same song...this takes the cake!
A Theremin and toy percussion are played by a laptop-controlled "robot"!

"Crazy" Robo Theremin

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