DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jun 23 2010

Future Sounds From The 20th Century

by Joseph M

One of the great things about working in a library is the constant stream of interesting media that I come across in the course of my day.  For example, I was shelving music CDs a few weeks ago and noticed one entitled Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Album.  It just so happened that I was familiar with Rockmore, whose performance of “The Swan” appeared as a track on a mixtape given to me a few years back.  Intrigued by this tidbit, I took the CD home, loved it, and have been recommending it to people ever since.  But what, you might be asking, is a theremin?  As Wikipedia explains, a theremin is an early electronic musical instrument played without contact from the musician.  Named for its inventor, Leon Theremin, the device produces a unique, haunting sound.  Perhaps the world’s only theremin virtuoso, Clara Rockmore was deeply involved in the evolution of the instrument and helped to boost its legitimacy in the realm of classical music.  Here’s an example of the artist at work, courtesy of youtube:

Those interested in more information may want to check out Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, a 1993 documentary on the instrument and related subjects.  Both the CD and the DVD are available in our catalog, along with other music CDs which utilize this fascinating and versatile piece of technology.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ken June 23, 2010 at 12:38 PM

On a related note, the composer Olivier Messiaen wrote pieces which require an ondes martenot, an instrument which is similar to the theremin. Both his Turangalila Symphonie and the Trois petites liturgies de la presence divine (both in our catalog) use that instrument. Even though he’s French like Saint Saens, his music sounds very different from “The Swan,” which was a beautiful choice for your post.

Jimmy L June 23, 2010 at 1:10 PM

I know about the theremin, but have never heard of Clara Rockmore. She’s amazing! I’ve never heard the theremin played so precisely before (usually just a bunch of background noise in experimental rock bands haha). Her wikipedia entry was very informative, too (I learned that she was classically trained in violin until a bone problem made her stop and pursue the theremin).

Greg H. June 24, 2010 at 12:48 PM

There was a 60’s psychedelic band out of Denver called Lothar and the Hand People that utilized a Theremin and Moog synthesizers in their special spacy brand of music. I’ve never listened to them but I’ve always been curious about them.

Stephen H. June 30, 2010 at 2:59 PM

Last night’s episode of “History Detectives” featured a story on the therimin. The owner of an instrument wanted to know if his was built by Leon Therimin, the inventor, or one mass manufactured by RCA. Interesting episode. Information on the therimin, video and a transcript of the episode is currently posted on the History Detectives website: http://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/

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