On May 5, 2012, Andrew Baron of Popyrus Studio stopped into the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting and played our RCA Theremin. We realized we were witnessing something special and captured the final verse of "Home on the Range" with a cell phone.
Andrew is an international award-winning pop-up book designer, as well as a restorer and historian of various early technologies. With his research colleague Mike Buffington, Andrew co-hosts RCATheremin.com, the first and only definitive website devoted to Leon Theremin's unique and historic instruments. RCATheremin.com is also home to the Official RCA Theremin Registry, formed in 1996 by Theremin World's Jason Barile to document the surviving instruments.
Andrew's web site for his other endeavors, including his restoration of the famous Maillardet Automaton at The Franklin Institute Science Museum, can be found at Popyrus.com. Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Not A Radio...
Not A Phonograph...
Not Like Anything You Have Ever Heard...
Then Aladdin rubbed the lamp. The slave of the lamp appeared, and Aladdin commanded, "Let there be music." When lo! musicians appeared, and discoursed most exquisite music until Aladdin slept...
Even Aladdin had to rub the lamp ... and even he could not make music for himself! Now, with an unbelievable, almost magic instrument which you need not even touch, you can make, with a gesture of your hands, whatever melody you wish to hear!
NEW... UNIQUE ... ASTOUNDING
RCA has made music, and the enjoyment of music, available to every home, to every person in this land. For Radio, in the development of which RCA has played so vital and so large a part knows no limitations of space ... of repertoire; and radio reaches everyone.
Now: A Further Tremendous Step
Having made the enjoyment of music universally possible, RCA takes another tremendous step-making possible not merely the enjoyment of other people's music, but the actual creation and performance of one's own music! Now, for the first time in the history of music, anyone, without musical knowledge or training of any sort, anyone, without even the ability to read notes; without tiresome or extended "practice"; without keys, orbow, or reed, or string, or wind-without material media of any kind-anyone can make exquisite beautiful music with nothing but his own two hands!
Move Your Hands in the Air and You Make Music
This sounds impossible ... but it is a very real, a thrilling, amazing, gloriously delightful reality. To Professor Leon Theremin, distinguished young Russian scientist, the world owes a debt for his conception of the idea which has been developed into this unbelievable instrument, the RCA Theremin.
What is the RCA Theremin?
The Theremin is an instrument which produces musical sound by exclusively electrical means. It has no keyboard, strings, reeds or other mechanical aids or sources of sound. It employs RCA Radiotrons, two metal bars as antennae, and a loud-speaker. One antenna- a straight, perpendicular bar, controls tone, or pitch-or, if you like, the "voice" of the Theremin. The other antenna, a looped horizontal bar, controls volume, or intensity of sound. When any object, such as the human hand, is brought into the sensitive electric field surrounding the vertical antenna, the field is so affected that audio-frequencies (sounds) are produced. These are amplified through the loud-speaker. As the hand approaches the antenna, the pitch of the sounds becomes higher; as the hand is with-drawn, the pitch becomes lower.
The other antenna is also affected by the proximity of the hand. As the hand approaches it, the power of the Theremin's voice is lessened, in minute gradations down to the faintest whisper; as the hand is moved away from the antenna, power is increased, by the same delicate gradations, to an intensity exceeding that of the most powerful stringed instrument. Thus, playing this almost incredible instrument resolves itself into nothing more complicated than waving one's hands in the air! The Theremin is the only musical instrument ever conceived which anyone may play without touching! It is the most intimate and personal of musical instruments, for it employs nothing mechanical, nothing, in- deed, but the player's own mental conceptionof music, expressed in a few simple gestures of his hands. And it is the simplest and most universal of musical instruments, because no technical knowledge of music, no tedious practice, no long period of study is necessary in order to play it. Anyone who can hum or whistle a tune can play the Theremin ... and, as far as technique is concerned, anyone can begin to play it on the same footing with the finest cellist, or pianist, or other instrumentalist in the world! Of course, with really serious study, it is possible to become a genuine virtuoso of the Theremin ... to produce music as beautiful and as expressive as that of any other instrument.
Tone Colors-New to Human Ears
But the Theremin does not aim to imitate any other instrument. It is a new instrument, in every sense, and in its own right possesses a voice of thrilling beauty. Vibrato, glissando and other musical effects are accomplished with utmost ease in playing the Theremin. And, like no other existing musical instrument, it can produce not merely quarter tones, but the most infinitesimal divisions of tone, with no difficulty whatever!
The Tone of the RCA Theremin
Tile RCA Theremin is capable of the most exquisite beauty of tone ... and of tonal variety, as well. Its range is about three octaves, but it may be adjusted practically for any three consecutive octaves in tile scale. In the lower range its tone partakes of the quality of the bassoon, string bass and other low-pitched instruments; further tip the scale the tone is extraordinarily like that of the 'cello; still further, the quality of viola, violin and flute are closely approximated. Toward the upper end of the scale, the Theremin can with an amazing versimilitude, represent the soprano human voice, humming; and it can suggest powerfully the ethereal tones of the violin's harmonics.
Everyone Will Play the RCA Theremin Beautifully!
There are few of us, very few indeed, who do not crave musical expression of some kind. Some of us sing in the morning bath ... we whistle or hum at our work ... unconsciously we give expression to that most universal of all loves, the love of music. But most of us have been denied, for one reason or another, the time and opportunity to study a musical instrument. Yet, we can now play, and play beautifully, a wonderfully expressive, marvelously simple, absolutely unmechanical musical instrument! Scientists and musicians of note and of standing have gone on record with their opinions that the Theremin may likely revolutionize the whole world of music. But now ... today ... this amazing instrument can give you music; music of your own making. It gives you the means of expressing yourself musically ... it obliterates any feeling of regret you may have, that you did not take up, or keep up the study of music. You need not he able to read a single note to play the RCA Theremin magnificently! You need only your hands, and the ability to "carry a tune."
The Universal Musical Instrument
The most familiar instruments are popular because of pleasing tone and relative ease of playing. But the Theremin can rival the tones of any of them ... and can do what many instruments cannot do, produce a singing melody! And it is easiest of all instruments to play! A child ... an elderly lady ... a skilled musician ... a blind man ... all can learn to play this incredible instrument with exactly the same facility! It is destined to be the universal musical instrument; people will play it as easily, and naturally, as they now write or walk.
The Age of Mechanical Marvels Has Produced the First Non-Mechanical Musical Instrument
It has been the fashion to say that everything is done by machinery nowadays ... that musical marvels such as the modern radio and the marvelous electrical phonographs have reacted against the development of "home-made" music. RCA's answer to that line of thought is the RCA THEREMIN ... the first musical instrument in the history of the world that is not a machine! For the piano needs keys, springs and strings; the violin, a bow and stretched strings... and so through all the conventional instruments, which interpose some sort of mechanism between the music of the tone and the melody which you conceive in your head and heart! For the music leaps into being fromthe ends of your fingers ... it is, as it were, an extension of yourself. It is vitally and literally your music, brought into being by your bodyitself. It may be music in its ultimate and greatest form ... it certainly is music that will thrill you beyond words with its beauty, its power, its endless variety, its expressiveness and most of all with the consciousness that you yourself have created it! See ... hear ... and play the RCA THEREMIN and know the keenest thrill of your life!
Taken from an original RCA Theremin sales brochure.
RCA Theremin Related Documentation
Original RCA Theremin Patent Application
RCA Theremin Owner's Manual
RCA Theremin Design
Theory of Operation
||A detailed description of the electrical design of the Theremin withschematic diagrams.
Theremin Related Articles
The Electrical Future of Music By E. E. FreePh.D.
Radio News, July 1931, pages 34 - 35
First Orchestra of Theremins Arouses Keen Interest
Wireless Age, May 1930
Build Your Own Theremin
How to Build a Theremin By Charles L. Hansen
Radio-Electronics, November 1953, pages 84 - 86
A Simple Electronic Musical Instrument - The Theremin By Ernest J. Schultz
Radio & Television News, October 1949, pages 66 - 67
For that different sound, Music a la Theremin By Louis E. Garner Jr.
Popular Electronics, November 1967
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