May 24

Ther-a-wah?

Posted by Matty

So, I haven’t put up the next silk screen article yet, mainly out of sloth and laziness. Of course, there has been another pet project that’s been taking up most of my free time. I just finished it, and Nanc suggested that I share.

I will warn you that it’s not for the faint-of-heart. So, gird your loins, then come on in and get a look at my new Theremin.

For some reason last fall, while reading MAKE, I decided that I really wanted to build a theremin and I dutifully added it to my Christmas wish list. Nanc found out what it was, which caused my chances of actually getting it to dwindle.

Most likely against her better judgment, I did end up getting a Theremax kit under the tree. Due to the constraints of life, the parts sat in a box for a few months. I started working on it a couple hours a week this month, and now it’s finished. w00t!

There were probably a few hundred components to put together, and I did really take my time and was very careful. I should mention the kit was great, and the documentation with it was superb.

At this point, I should probably tell you why I didn’t think Nanc would get it for me. It makes noise. In fact, that’s really the purpose. The theremin is an electronic musical instrument that you play without actually touching. There are two antennas – one controls the pitch, and the other controls the volume. As you move your hands in proximity to these antennas, you can control the sounds that come out of the box. As usual, Wikipedia has a much better description. At the hands of a talented ermm… thereminist, the music can be haunting, ethereal, and beautiful. The sound cannot adequately be described in mere words.

Theremins had a brief surge of popularity, but for the most part have been relegated to science fiction and horror-type uses. Once you recognize the sound, you will probably come up with any number of times that you’ve heard it played, such as in the Star Trek theme song or in the film Ed Wood.

I’ve logged about two hours playing, so my abilities are somewhat limited. I would describe my playing thus far more along the lines of painful, noisy, and not at all pleasant. But you gotta start somewhere, I suppose. I can tell you that it’s awfully tricky to play an instrument with no set fingerings or tuning!

A couple of blessedly short videos of my dubious talents are below. I’ve also included Samuel Hoffman playing one on a TV show in the 1950s. Enjoy!

A dramatic recreation of the sound effects in Pole Position on the Atari 2600

Random Noises

Samuel Hoffman plays the Theremin

7 Responses to “Ther-a-wah?”

  1. Rachel Says:

    Well, I’d like to comment something substantial, but I have yet to get those videos to load. I don’t know if they are HUGE or my ‘puter is just acting weird. In any case, the ermm…pictures look neat?
    -R

  2. Matty Says:

    I goofed somethin’ up. They should work now.

  3. Betty Says:

    Oh, phooey. Stupid work computer won’t let me play your videos. (And no, it’s not the way you set it up–it’s my low-tech system that the Compter Nerds at work won’t let me upgrade.)

  4. P-la Says:

    So when can we expect your first concert? Please let me know in advance as I will want to camp out for tickets!

  5. bot-gurl Says:

    I am in awe. While I think your performance was incredible, it also made me laugh hysterically.

  6. Barnacle Jill Says:

    I love his monocle.

  7. eatpaste Says:

    i was watching a cat playing a theremin on youtube and was reminded of you playing a theremin on youtube. we watched it. much joy was had. so – thanks.

    also, essej says: dr. monocle is a theremin ninja.

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