The theramin is one of the first electronic instruments ever invented. Patented in 1928, it is controlled by frequencies produced through two antennae–one controls volume, the other controls pitch–depending on the distance from each the performer positions his or her hands. The performer never touches the instrument.
The theramin is enjoying quite the rebirth of late. Modern rock music has embraced this haunting, ethereal electronic machine whose otherworldly tones were first heard by many in retro sci-fi movies and emotive motion pictures dating as far back as the 1940s. Robert Moog discovered and embraced the instrument during the early 1950s. Now the Moog Corporation has created a new line of affordable modern versions for today’s musician, which it placed on display in its booth during the winter NAMM 2015 show.
I had to visit the booth to try my hand at Moog’s consumer-friendly version, the Theramini. I’d studied via YouTube videos how to play the instrument and, with just a 5-minute tutorial from a booth rep, was easing my hands up, down, in and out, making noises that sounded eerily familar. When you’re doing it right, that’s the sound you produce: eerie, whiny, creepy.
The Theramini looked–to me, at least–very much like a white suppository with one vertical antenna that modifies pitch via hand movements and a flat, flared loop off the left that controls volume. Pitch controls near the center let me set the key from which I wanted to manipulate my sounds. Within 10 minutes I was offering tutorials to other newbies I glimpsed flailing about trying to make sense of it all. Within 20 minutes I had managed a wobbly, yet triumphant version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
This is not an easy machine to master. If, however, it speaks to you, the Theramini is more than worth your time…and frustration. The Moog Theramini retails for $319.