Halloween is fast approaching and what better way to weird out your neighbors and spook your guests than some creepy theremin music. A staple of suspenseful soundtracks and low rent sci-fi, this electronic musical instrument is controlled without physical contact by the musician. Designed by Russian physicist Lev Sergeyevich Termen, better known as Leon Theremin, just over 100 years ago, the original designs were an attempt to better measure the density of various gases. Pitch was his alternate means of doing so and when he also discovered that having his hand in the field of the antennae that pitch again changed. A second antennae controlled the volume. And thus, by accident and experiment, the theremin was born. Read more about the history of the theremin here.
With its odd, unsettling sound, science-y styling, and genuine demonstration of electricity in action the theremin lends itself to maker curiosity. Indeed, it is a poster child for early electronic musical experimentation and modern day DIY. You too can learn the physics of electrical capacitance while building your own theremin! And we’re here to offer you more than one way to do so.
DIY Theremin Action
From kits or parts to some unique builds and ideas, here’s a bunch of ways you can get started and join the legions of theremin enthusiasts.
Designer and electrical engineer David Levi started MicroKits to inspire the next generation of engineers, and make circuits accessible to everyone. He decided to create a theremin kit as the instrument is one of the most spectacular ways to demonstrate the physics behind circuits. When he was a young student, it took hundreds of dollars and complicated assembly to build a theremin. With this kit, he’s made it easy for anyone to get started. Get yours from the Maker Shed!
Make A Light Theremin
Using the ever-popular 555 timer chip and a light-sensing component, you can create your own instrument of the retro-future! This simpler design uses interrupted photons (light) instead of radio waves, and can be built with a handful of common components, including the versatile 555 timer chip. When we’re done, we’ll have a decent sounding mini-theremin. You can experiment with its sound by changing the type of light sensor used and the capacitance of the circuit. Of course, the real beauty of this project is that you can experiment with both, thanks to use of a solderless breadboard. You can swap out components on the fly in order to test your circuit design, or gauge the response of your components before committing to soldering. INSTRUCTIONS HERE.
Light theremin mods worth checking out: Snap Circuits
Mew, made by Emily Groves, Jackie Ford, Jakub Pollág, and Paula Arntzen as a collaborative project between Design Products, Information Experience Design, and Visual Communication students at the Royal College of Art in London. Mew combines the interactivity of a theremin with the sound and texture of a cat. Read more about how it was made and perhaps take away some inspiration to create your own furry instrument HERE.
Star Wars Adafruit Flora Theremin LED Bra
“Don’t touch that dial. No tweaking the knobs. Just wave your hands in front of the two sensitive sensors embedded in this bespoke piece of wearable tech. The garment has an embedded Adafruit Flora wearable microprocessor to generate R2-D2 theremin like sounds.” Instructables user caitlinsdad created a tutorial for this charmingly quirky Star Wars bra featuring an Adafruit Flora arduino theremin, ultrasonic ping sensor, and photocell sensor. /Make
Turn Almost Anything Into A Theremin
Or you can get even more creative like Lucy Sansom did. Using conductive ink, theremin circuitry, and a nice little amp, she made my sister into a fully functioning musical instrument.
Theremin Dolls For Double Creepiness
Matryomin is the unique, original electronic musical instrument invented by Masami Takeuchi in 1999. It is a type of theremin shaped like the traditional Russian wooden doll, Matrioshka. Performing a five octaves range, the distance of 1 octave at Low-Middle range is equal to Etherwavetheremin of Moog Music Inc. If you have acquired the basic technique to play theremin by Etherwavetheremin, you can enjoy playing Matryomin by same way. Matryomin is only pitch controlled theremin.
More Theremin Arcana
Not quite a theremin but with a similar feel and form, Exp.Inst.Moon is a combination of musical instrument, technology, and art. As an interactive art installation, users touch electronic sensors that relay signals through the electronic components to an Arduino microcontroller that converts the input into projections of sound and light. It’s an example of how technology can transform someone from merely viewing art into becoming part of the art itself. From Westport Mini Maker Faire, read more HERE.
Want to learn more about how the theremin works before you start on the voyage?
As parting inspiration, we leave you with the world’s largest theremin ensemble. The Matryomin ensemble “Da” (a resounding 273 players) attempted to set the Guinness World Record for “the Largest Theremin Ensemble” and succeeded in doing so at Create Hamamatsu in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan on 20 July 2013. Enjoy!