Leon Theremin playing the instrument he invented.
"No instrument says 'You're in outer space!' more than a small cigar box with a radio aerial stuck to it."
(a.k.a. termenvox) is an electronic instrument developed in the 1920s. The player waves his hands near its antennas, using the electrical conductance of the body to alter the sound. It creates a very pure tone, and sounds like a lower-pitched version of someone tuning in an old-fashioned radio to a test signal. It's essentially a primitive analog synthesizer with an Unusual User Interface
, or a Real Life Bizarre Instrument
and haunting sound of the Theremin is closely associated with Speculative Fiction
and horror from the black-and-white era, but it shows up in some very odd places.
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- In Nodame Cantabile, there is an extremely creepy girl who resembles, and is mistaken by some to be, a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl. Her favorite instrument to play is the theremin.
- In Chapter 2 of Saint Young Men, the music-related sidenote about Jesus says that "he's curious about theremins".
Films — Live-Action
- First used in a Hollywood score in Hitchcock's Spellbound.
- The Lost Weekend, about a alcoholic's weekend-long binge.
- The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is one of its most famous uses.
- Used in Tim Burton's bio-pic Ed Wood, to recreate the theme music from Plan 9 from Outer Space.
- Used to represent altered reality in eXistenZ and The Machinist.
- And in countless horror and science fiction B-movies between 1945 and 1960. In those times, if it wailed, it was usually a theremin.
- The Delicate Delinquent, a Jerry Lewis film from the late 1950s, was unusual for having an actual theremin on screen instead of just using it for the score. It's mined for physical comedy, as Lewis' character stumbles upon it, slowly figures out that its sounds are corresponding to his movements, and starts dancing around it.
- There's a quasi-Beach Boys pastiche in the middle of Grace Of My Heart that lampshades the theremin, where the band "The Riptides" features a real theremin player onscreen during a recording session (reminiscent of the one in "Good Vibrations"), with "Brian" commenting that he "liked the theremin at the end."
- In the French movie L'élève Ducobu, the music teacher Miss Rateau is seen playing the theremin in her spare time.
- As befitting a sitcom about aliens, ABC's The Neighbors used a theremin sting as its opening for the show's first season.
- The opening to Doctor Who doesn't use one, but evokes the sound. The musicians in this case actually cobbled some parts from the technical department and built a synthesizer to simulate it.
- The melody of the theme of Star Trek: The Original Series was actually never played on a theremin. A soprano singer emulated its signature sound.
- The Midsomer Murders theme and underscore uses it, to great, creepy effect.
- The theme music to Dark Shadows does, as well.
- Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory plays the theremin. Badly.
- Harry Lubin, composer for One Step Beyond and the second season of The Outer Limits (TOS), used the theremin extensively in his scores for both series.
- The title character in Hannibal teaches his apprentice-turned-lover Alana Bloom to play theremin as part of his general bon vivant persona.
- Hisashi Imai of Buck Tick has this as one of his signature instruments. It pops up in a lot of Buck-Tick's songs...
- The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" features a Tannerin (a.k.a. an Electro-Theremin, basically a theremin with mechanical controls for pitch and volume) in the chorus.
- "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin.
- The '60s psychedelic band Lothar and the Hand People was known for using the theremin.
- The punk-reggae band The Dingees featured a guest thereminist on two tracks from The Crucial Conspiracy, "Summertime" and "We Rot the Voodoo". It fit well with the album's sci-fi Conspiracy Theorist themes.
- Converge used this extensively on their Jane Doe album, to genuinely heart-stopping effect.
- "Velouria" by The Pixies.
- The Hungarian space rock band Omega has always loved the theremin, and it shows up in multiple songs.
- The Road Hammers may be the only country music band in history to use one.
- Vadim from DragonForce plays one in addition to keyboard.
- John Otway uses a theremin in part of his cover of Crazy Horses. He doesn't so much play it, as use it to replace the screams in the refrain.
- Bill Bailey uses it as part of his keyboard setup, usually for comedic effect.
- Several of Doctor Steel's songs incorporate the theremin (or at least samples of theremins).
- Possibly subverted in The B-52s' song "Planet Claire" — it sounds like they use a theremin at one point, but that's actually Kate Pierson's voice.
- In their more recent live shows, Simon & Garfunkel have used a theremin player for the instrumental break in "The Boxer".
- "Mysterons" by Portishead.
- The Polyphonic Spree had a theremin player around 2004-2005, who appeared on their Together We're Heavy album.
- Used in "Stab My Back" by the All-American Rejects.
- Covenant's first hit single was named "Theremin" after Leon Theremin, the instrument's inventor, but does not actually use it.
- Notably used on "Electricity" and "Autumn's Child", both by Captain Beefheart.
- Japanese electropop artist Aira Mitsuki released a single called "Aira no Kagaku CD" (translated as Aira's Science CD). There are two tracks that prominently feature the Theremin — a song called Science Music and her cover of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence called Senjou no Merry Christmas.
- Twentieth-century composer Percy Grainger wrote for an ensemble of four to six Theremins (instead of a string quartet) in his composition "Free Music," utilizing their potential for notes of indeterminate pitch.
- The Other Wiki lists several composers of 20th-century concert music who called for Theremins in their instrumentation: Bohuslav Martinů, Percy Grainger, Christian Wolff, Joseph Schillinger, Moritz Eggert, Iraida Yusupova, Jorge Antunes, Vladimir Komarov and Anis Fuleihan.
- Used rather poignantly on Ulver's Shadows of the Sun album.
- Ska/punk/funk band Fishbone makes use of a theremin.
- Pato Fu's "Eu" not only has a Sampled Up theremin, but also features the arrest of Leo Theremin in its video.
- The trance tune "Dark Blue" by Cabala.
- The Spaghetti Western Orchestra use illuminated platforms and dramatic lighting to make a big deal out of the one use of a theremin in their show — to replace the operatic female vocal in "Jill's Theme" from Once Upon a Time in the West.
- Joy Electric has used the instrument in concert as more of a noisemaker than a real "instrument".
- Used in "Terre-Mere" from Cirque du Soleil's Totem, and "Running on the Edge" from Amaluna. (Or at least a similar-sounding synthesizer is used.)
- "Noises for the Leg" by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. It's implied that the theremin is being played by leg.
- Dream Theater uses one in one verse in "A Nightmare to Remember".
- Jean Michel Jarre used this in "Oxygene 9" and "Oxygene 10", likely in homage to classic sci-fi films.
- In the various musical tracks that accompany Homestuck, Jack Noir is often leitmotifed by what sounds like a theremin.
- I.R. Baboon plays a Theremin in one episode of I Am Weasel, and the instrument somehow keeps causing earthquakes.
- The Simpsons:
- In an episode, the family hear what they think is a ghost haunting their attic. On their way up to investigate, the obligatory spooky theremin music starts playing. Homer hears the music and is not happy about the ghost getting a hold of his theremin.
- Despite being often featured on the soundtrack, it wasn't until the 2011 Treehouse of Horror episode that an actual theremin was used. (Before that, it was emulated by a synthesizer.)
- Used in an episode of American Dad!. While flashing back to the day he met Roger at Area 51, the theremin plays in the background. Stan stops and says he's going to check the room it's coming from.
- In a post-revival episode of Futurama, Bender dies and takes on a ghostly existence. When the characters call a séance to exorcise the ghost, cue the creepy theremin track, but when the Establishing Shot ends, it is Zoidberg playing it to his colleagues.
- Used in the Grojband episode "No Strings Attached" for Trina's Diary Mode sequence for fear.