One of the highlights of the the film ‘It Might Get Loud’, which explores the history of the electric guitar through the music and playing styles of Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White, is the sequence where Jimmy Page shows the others how to use a theremin (see below) – that mysterious electronic instrument developed in Russia in the early part of the 20th. century that’s played without being touched.
The theremin was used by Lenin to showcase Soviet technology around the world. When its inventor – Leon theremin – visited the United States in the late 1920′s he attracted the attention of RCA, who licenced the technology for a then huge sum of $100,000, making it the world’s first electronic instrument manufacturer. It went on sale in 1929, costing $220. Theremin went on to invent an array of other interesting and useful products, but none got off the ground.
Leon Theremin died in Moscow in 1993 aged 97, after a long, eventful, but complicated life. To hear more about the instrument and its inventor, listen to Martin Vennard’s interview with Lydia Kavinq, the great-niece of inventor Leon Theremin, and his biographer Albert Glinsky on the BBC’s World Service ‘Witness’ programme , broadcast on 12 March to celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of his invention.
Here’s another video clip showing the theremin being demonstrated by musician Jon Spencer of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.