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Leon Theremin

Period of Production:
early 1920s

Part of Collection:


This picture shows a theremin (also known as a termenvox), an electronic musical instrument invented by Leon Theremin (Russian name: Lev Termen) in the early 1920s. Players can change the pitch and volume of the synthesized tone by adjusting the position of their hands in relation to the two antennas. The instrument is played without touching. This spectacular mode of use, together with the typical smooth tone sweeps, has contributed to the device’s continued popularity worldwide. Many different models and modifications have been built since the creation of the first theremin, including a version with the option of choosing fixed pitches (Moog) and a terpsitone (a platform that allows the device to be controlled by dance movements). Like other electronic instruments capable of creating sounds that differ from the tone of the mechanical musical instruments or the voice, the theremin was used widely in film soundtracks, notably to create a surreal or “alien” atmosphere.


Smirnov, Andrej. Zauberhafte Klangmaschinen. Von der Sprechmaschine bis zur Soundkarte. Edited by IMA Institut für Medienarchäologie, Mainz: Schott, 2008, pp. 135–139,
Glinsky, Albert. Theremin. Ether Music and Espionage. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005,
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