Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Physics of the Theremin Musical Instrument :: physics theremin
The theremin is an electronic musical instrument that is played using electrical fields. When it was first introduced, people were shocked to see this instrument that could be played without even touching it. The theremin unsually is tuned so that it has a range of three and a half octaves. The theremin's operation is based on the theory of beat frequencies. Two antennas stick out on each side. Usually a vertical antenna is located on the right which controls the pitch. The closer the players hand is, the higher the pitch. A horizontal loop antenna is located on the left and controls the volume. The closer the hand is, the louder the volume. Patented in 1928 by Leon Theremin, the theremin has not escaped its original status as a novelty instrument. Most people have heard the theremin, even though they may not recognize it. The theremin is a staple of sci-fi films, particularly classic ones. It is not as prominent today but it has featured in recent movies such as Mars Attacks and Ed Wood. The theremin was invented in 1921 by Leon Theremin (nee Lev Termen). It is one of the most important musical instruments of the twentieth century because it is the first electronic intsrument. Leon Theremin first came up with the idea for the theremin when in high school. He noticed depending on how close a person stands to a Tesla coil, the coil hums in different pitches. After its inveiling in 1921, Theremin toured his instrument around Russia, sparking the curiosity of almost everybody who saw it. The theremin made its way to America in 1928, where it gained more popularity. In 1929, RCA bought the rights to manufacture the instrument. Leon Theremin stayed in America, where he met Clara Rockmore, the theremin's first virtuoso. Theremin worked on many variations of his original instrument including the Terpsitone (controlled by the entire body), an electric cello, and a theremin controlled only by the eyes. In 1954 Robert Moog (famous for his synthesizers of the same name) started production of the theremin. His company, Big Briar Inc., still produces them today. It also produces kits for those who wish to build their own theremin. The popularity of the theremin started to rise again and it was included in several movies (The Day the Earth Stood Still, Spellbound, and Lost Weekend). The Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin both used it in their hit songs "Good Vibrations" and "Whole Lotta Love," respectively.