15 August 2008

Happy Birthday, Leon Theremin

...you wacky astronomer-physicist-cellist and inventor of the instrument makes that woo-eee-ooo sound in 1950s sci-fi movies. Oh, and he was also a commie double agent.

Today's Composers Datebook (which I love) celebrates the birth of Russian inventor and electronic music pioneer Leon Theremin on today's date back in 1896 (in a helpful footnote, they point out that li'l Lev Sergeivitch Termen was born on August 3rd on the Julian calendar, lest crotchety fans of said calendar get their panties in a bunch, cuz you know how they are).

I would link directly to today's episode if that were teknowlogiklee possible, but as some American Public Media web 1.0 kludge intrudes, I'll just paste the relevant info from their daily "enewsletter." Check it:
Theremin studied astronomy, physics, and cello, and in 1927 he traveled to the West, where he quickly obtained a patent for an electronic instrument he called the Thereminovox. In the 1930s, Theremin arranged concerts for his creation at New York's Carnegie Hall.

Then, in 1938, without explanation, Theremin disappeared. Some said it was because his American business ventures didn't pan out; others that Theremin was married to two women at the same time, and things had started to get tricky for him stateside. The truth was even stranger: Theremin was a spy, and had been passing on American technical information to the Soviets. Ironically, when he did return home, Theremin was immediately thrown into a Soviet Prison camp for 7 years. While incarcerated, he developed miniature electronic eavesdropping devices for the Soviet government, one of which was successfully installed in the American Embassy, another, for good measure, in Stalin's own apartment.
Those crazy Russians. What will they think of next?

Today's episode of Composer's Datebook features music from Bernard Herrmann's classic score The Day the Earth Stood Still and a theremin passage from Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird (not to be confused with Jim Rockford's classic Firebird). Yet even though they titled today's episode "Leon Theremin's good vibrations," host John Zeck and the kids sadly couldn't crack their classical cool to point of including what is by far the most famous musical use of the theremin:

Viddie: The Beach Boys original 1966 promo film for "Good Vibrations" - guess the BBs loved Help! -- but then who didn't?

» More info on Leon Theremin (and the Teremin)
at oddmusic.com (whence the image above was ganked).

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