Theramin: An Electronic Odyssey

"Movie Magazine International" Review

(Air Date: Week Of 1/1/97)

By Andrea Chase

The documentary "Theramin: An Electronic Odyssey" was in theaters for far too short a time. I've never understood why considering the story it tells.

At the end of the 1920s there lived in New York a Russian emigre with piercing blue eyes and a genius for both electromagnetism and running afoul of soviet politics. Lev Sergeivitch Theremin developed color television, electronic burglar alarms, and the terpsitone, an instrument not so much played as danced. But above all, there was the eponymous instrument that creates music out of thin air. At the height of the theramin craze, RCA mass produced them and theramin concerts played to packed audiences at Carnegie Hall.

Theramin was celebrated for his inventions and plans, such as replacing bridges with ribbons of electromagnetism. It was even whispered that he dreamed of reanimating the dead. Then one day, two soviet agents broke into his home, led him away and Theramin disappeared without a trace. And that's just the beginning of the story. John LeCarre couldn't make this stuff up on a bet.

The theramin instrument took on a life of it own. It became the stuff of do-it-yourself kits and a thousand movie soundtracks. You know, that woooo-woooo sound that usually accompanies the flying saucer. A theramin even co-starred with Jerry Lewis in "The Delicate Delinquent". A new generation of fans tested the limits of what a theramin could do. The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, for example developed a fearful love of the instrument that ventures way too far into the Freudian.

As for Theramin himself, his fate was as odd as the music he made, even without Stalin getting into the act. And that's not even the weirdest part of this story.

Copyright 1997 Andrea Chase

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