After the electronic oscillator was invented in 1915, revolutionizing the radio industry, the Russian inventor Léon Thérémin used this technology to develop the first fully functional electronic musical instrument; originally called the etherphone, it became widely known as the theremin.
Without touching the instrument, the player controlled pitch through relative proximity of the right hand to a vertical antenna, and volume through similar movements of the left hand in relation to a horizontal antenna. The instrument employed a heterodyne, or beat frequency system, and boasted a range of three to four octaves.
On the invitation of Lenin, Thérémin travelled throughout Russia, demonstrating his instrument, and toured Europe in 1927, causing excitement in Germany, France, and England. Later that year, Thérémin travelled to the U.S., where he remained until 1938.
In 1929 he sold his patent to the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which made and sold 500 instruments. Leopold Stokowski collaborated on a fingerboard version, which he used with the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1929 to 1931. Thérémin performed with the New York Philharmonic and Cleveland Orchestra, and presented several coast-to-coast broadcasts. He returned to the USSR in 1938.
This according to The theremin in the emergence of electronic music by Albert Glinsky, a dissertation accepted by New York University in 1992 (RILM Abstracts 1992-424).
The theremin is 100 years old this month! Above and below, the inventor in action.
BONUS: A brief presentation of further historical and technical information.
The chromochord is a bioelectronic musical instrument that is driven by protein expansion and contraction.
Linked to a laptop computer, the device holds 12 vials, each paired with a different sound. When light shines on one vial the proteins inside swell, changing the wavelength they absorb. A sensor measures the change in absorption and cues the sounds. As one set of proteins slowly expands, the chromochord emits the deep thrum of a bass; as another set quickly shrinks, out comes the sound of glass chimes.
The chromochord was developed by Josiah Zayner, a biophysicist at the University of Chicago, and the composer Francisco Castillo Trigueros. “Scientists see beauty in a well-crafted experiment,” Zayner says. “The chromochord allows other kinds of people to experience that beauty.”
This according to “Biotech’s first musical instrument plays proteins like piano keys” by Nona Griffin and Daniel Grushkin (Scientific American 3 September 2013). Below, a sequence of related and unrelated images is accompanied by the chromochord.
Scrabble™-to-MIDI is a computer-emulated two-dimensional board game that generates MIDI music as the game is played.
The plug-in translator and its configuration parameters comprise a composition. Improvisation consists of playing a unique game and of making ongoing adjustments to mapping parameters during play.
Statistical distributions of letters and words provide a basis for mapping structures from word lists to notes, chords, and phrases. While pseudo-random tile selection provides a stochastic aspect to the instrument, players use knowledge of vocabulary to impose structure on this sequence of pseudo-random selections, and a conductor uses mapping parameters to variegate this structure in up to 16 instrument voices.
This according to “Algorithmic musical improvisation from 2D board games” by Dale E. Parson, an essay included in ICMC 2010: Research, education, discovery (San Francisco: International Computer Music Association, 2010). Above, a demonstration of Scrabble™-to-MIDI.