I FELL IN LOVE WITH THE THEREMIN (noun; the-re-min) many years before I even knew what it was—as a kid, watching The Day the Earth Stood Still, and marveling as the mighty robot Gort emerged from his flying saucer to a haunting melody that seemed to come from something that was part violin and part bumble bee.
Variations on that music became a staple of the eerie soundscape of 1950’s science fiction films. I watched them all and I still didn’t know what it was, but I sure loved it. I even recognized it in the Beach Boys’ classic,”Good Vibrations.”
Eventually I discovered that this strange sound came from something called a theremin, a hands-free instrument invented by Russian physicist and engineer Lev Sergeyevich Termen (right) in 1920. It was truly a marvel in its time, and in retrospect, how fitting it was that science fiction would for a time become identified with an instrument invented by a scientist and “played” in wondrous fashion, without any physical contact.
Flash forward to the digital age, and I bring you news of a new kind of Theremin—a free online synth instrument from Femur Design that does require physical contact but is available to everybody, everywhere, whenever inspiration strikes. I stumbled into it some time ago and I’ve been using it to score the sci-fi films in my head ever since. Try it out for yourself.
In addition to the free version there’s a paid app available for iPhone/iPad and Desktop that you can use to make layers, record, loop, and download your creations. Check out the video sample below.
No doubt, Lev Terman would be proud.