Finding Real Music Played on the Theremin

The theremin, that strange and kooky electronic instrument that gave us the theme from the original Star Trek television show in the 1960’s, and again brought back to the popular culture through CBS’s hit Sit-Com “The Big Bang Theory,” and that shows quirky character Sheldon Cooper (played by actor Jim Parsons).

For whatever reason it is/was I was thinking about the theremin today and decided to try and find more music that not just utilizes it, but actually features it.  I mean the only instances I am aware of it being used is the afore mentioned Star Trek theme, and the Big Bang Theory.  In the first the music just made by the Theremin sounds as dated as the special effects in that television show, in the second the theremin is used primarily used as a comedic device – which is understandable since the Big Bang Theory is a comedy television show.

Using the glorious power of the internet, and specifically YouTube, I found the below video featuring Pamelia Kurstin, who is, of all things, a theremin virtuoso, playing a piece from her album “Thinking Out Loud.”

Upon listening to that piece by Ms. Kurstin, I think virtuoso is an apt title given to her.  I find the music in that piece pleasing in a rather haunting way.  At times her playing of the theremin sounds like a weeping violin, and at others it sounds as if there is a Gregorian like chorus in the background, and rarely does it sound like the music is being made by something that I think most people would agree is a non-traditional instrument.

Then there is this piece by Peter Pringle, called “Lemminkainen Dream,” using an electric kantele, and a theremin, which is equally impressive, if not more pleasing than the one above.

6 Responses to Finding Real Music Played on the Theremin
  1. Pete

    You’ve probably come across Clara Rockmore at this point, but in case you haven’t: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuKBPEDU-W0
    She was considered a virtuoso on the instrument.

    The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” is another well known use of it.

    • tim

      Hey Pete, thanks for sharing that link. Just further proof of how wonderfully versatile the theremin is as a musical instrument. I actually forgot all about The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” as another example of the theremin’s use in music.

  2. Alwyn

    My understanding was that “Good Vibrations” didn’t use the theremin, but something similar, the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electro-theremin.

    It was similar in it’s sound generation circuit, except it used a ribbon slider to control the pitch, rather than the wavey-hand bit…

  3. Jean Debefve

    It was a electro-theremin indeed, played by Paul Tanner. The Theremin part took some 15,000$ from the 50,000$ production end budget. “Good Vibrations” has been recorded in 1966, and took 27 sessions, from February to May. However, the “Ondes Martenot” sounds somewhat the same, and some sources give an erroneous credit for that instrument in the Beach Boys super-hit.

  4. Jean Debefve

    Sorry, my mistake ! Alwyn was right.
    I just checked out another source (Paul Tanner himself !) and it WASN’T a regular Theremin. The electro-Theremin (or its posterity, the “Tannerin”, can be seen and heard here, as well as the “real” story :
    http://www.electrotheremin.com/tannerin.html

  5. Cwize

    The theremin was not used in the StarTrek theme.