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This weekend make a theremin, the first electronic musical instruments that you don’t have to touch to play! Leon Theremin invented this in 1918 and Bolshevik leader Lenin liked it enough to take lessons and ordered 600 to be made and sent around the world to show how awesome Russian electronic music was. I made this one using the Harrison Instruments Minimum Theremin kit and put it in a housing that a friend gave me. It works and it’s really fun to play!

16 thoughts on “Make a Theremin – Weekend Project Podcast

  1. has there ever been a Theremin that mutes off pitch tones rather than progressing smoothly from one pitch to the next? sort of like a fretted guitar rather than a fret less.

  2. I don’t think there’s ever been a ‘real’ Theremin that quantized notes like that. It would be easy to do with a Theremin as MIDI controller, though.

  3. The Theremin in the video is pitch only and is great for playing around with and learning a little bit about electronics. The more professional musical ones have another antenna that controls the volume so that you can mute between notes and change the attack and decay of the note. It is a really hard instrument to play requiring a really good ear, fine and gross mussel control to move quickly and accurately to the note. Clara Rockmore (who did indeed rock) refined the techniques to let players easily do this.

    There have been quite a few attempts to make the Theremin quantize notes. IIRC the guy who scored the Loony Tunes was working on one. He was a great inventor and came up with one of the first sequences, a wheel with a light sensor that spun over light bulbs of different brightnesses controlling a synth.

    It would be pretty trivial to convert a control voltage from a Theremin to a quantized pitch but then you are left with difficult to play instrument that is pitched but lacks the nuanced sound that makes a theremin so special now.

    Lev Theremin was a cello player. One day tuning his invisible burglar alarm to detect gasses he noticed that the sensitive circuit responded like his hand on the neck of a cello. He plugged some earphones into part of the circuit and tuned it to make audio and was soon playing songs and adding tremolo here and there like when he played the cello. Shortly after he made some circuits that used the technique he used to produce the sounds.

    When it came out it was one of the first (if not actually) purely electronic instruments of any type. Previous to that they were oddities like banks of motors spinning at pitched speeds that weight as much as a train car. The keyboard circuits were just as novel but not quite as visual as pulling sounds out of the ether. Also with a keyboard you turn a note on and off. The theremin is expressive having in the best hands a real voice that you can’t quite do on a keyboard (see the video of the robot playing ‘Crazy’ on the theremin. or the video of the person playing ‘Crazy’)

    What was I saying. oh yeh. you could make a pitched theremin but it looses it’s thereminess that makes it so wonderful

  4. and if you are really interested check out the book by Glinsky “Theremin, Ether Music and Espionage” and the Theremin documentary (Netflix has it)

    or just pop in to

  5. Hey Bre,

    Nice box… thanks for the ref… now I want to make a Theremin and we can have a concert! Maybe I should go to Blip this year…


  6. Hi,
    I follow the instruction and made my own theremin, but the sound is so low.
    I guess my antenna can not sense the distance of my hand. I can only touch the antenna to make the sound change, but not moving my hand around the antenna without touching it to make the sound change. I don’t know how to improve it. Do anybody has suggestions?

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