"No instrument says 'You're in outer space!' more than a small cigar box with a radio aerial stuck to it."The theremin (a.k.a. termenvox) is an electronic instrument developed in the 1920s, notable for being the only musical instrument played without touching it. 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. The retrofuturistic 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.
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Anime & Manga
Films — Animation
- In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, among the instruments Pinkie suggests Twilight should play, she brings out a theremin and plays a haunting tune.
Pinkie: So magical...
Films — Live-Action
- Miklós Rózsa was the first composer to incorporate the theremin in film scores:
- He first used it on the soundtrack of The Lost Weekend (1945), for the nightmare sequences.
- He also utilized the unusual instrument for Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945). That score was supposed to be the first one with the theremin, which producer David O. Selznick was really excited about. When he found out that Rózsa was also using the instrument in his score for The Lost Weekend, Selznick was furious. He knew that The Lost Weekend would be released before Spellbound (Weekend was released in November, Spellbound in December), thus spoiling Selznick's "first-score-with-theremin" thunder.
- 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 (1963), 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.
- Myrtle Snow plays a theremin to calm herself in American Horror Story: Coven. It fits nicely with her odd, eccentric demeanor.
- 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" from Smiley Smile 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" from Led Zeppelin II by Led Zeppelin. Although it sounds less like space and more like THE DEEPEST DEPTHS OF HELL!!!!
- 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 from their album Dummy.
- 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 from his album Safe as Milk.
- 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.
- He has played the Theremin at every one of his concerts since 1997 along with various pieces of music, starting with "Oxygène 10" (which doesn't really have any Theremin parts in its studio version), later with older material such as "Magnetic Fields 1". During his 1997 tour, he even explained the Theremin to his audience and briefly told them its history.
- The Black Lips feature a guest theremin player on their single "Modern Art."
- Eric Hersemann of Gigan uses one as part of his extensive effects setup.
- By the way, the Theremin might not be as popular as it is today, weren't it for Dr. Robert A. Moog himself, later founder of Moog Music, who has been making the Etherwave Theremin from 1954 on, for a while under the brand name Big Briar. Moog Music still makes the Etherwave — and has recently given it a younger brother named Theremini, the first virtual-analog Theremin.
- In the This American Life episode "Classifieds" where they comb the want ads to put a band together and record a song all in 24 hours, one of the band members is a man who plays a Theremin. To take advantage of this they decide the song they'll record is "Rocket Man."
- Destroy All Humans! uses it to evoke the 1950s alien invasion films which it parodies.
- The Movies uses a theremin sound as the stock sound effect for handling a Sci-Fi script.
- Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines has a theremin playing all the way through Dr. Grout's (a batshit insane leader of an equally insane vampiric clan) mansion.
- In episode 3 of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Homsar plays the theremin in Strong Bad's band D-Ö-I. A giant theremin, that he plays by levitating and moving his whole body up and down.
Larry Palaroncini: Weird instruments are the new four-necked guitar!
- Sonic the Hedgehog:
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2's final zone has a very long, theremin-heavy theme tune, the last vestige of a Dummied Out level.
- Ditto the Mystic Cave Zone.
- The Egg Carrier theme in Sonic Adventure also uses it, starting at 0:45.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2006) uses the instrument sound in "White Acropolis (The Base)," starting at around 0:55.
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2's final zone has a very long, theremin-heavy theme tune, the last vestige of a Dummied Out level.
- Liberally used in the soundtrack for Banjo-Kazooie and its sequels. The levels where it shows up are meant to evoke the feeling of a classic horror B-Movie, Atlantis and an alien terrarium.
- A pocket theremin is a usable weapon in Kingdom of Loathing.
- Descent 3 uses a theremin-style synth for its main theme, as well as for the pentatonic Asian riff heard in Level 4.
- Welcome to the Machine from Ecco the Dolphin .
- RayStorm uses it along with Psycho Strings in the infamously nightmarish "Molecular Clock" boss music. Also used in the Special Mode theme from the PSX version of Ray Crisis.
- Used in one of the songs in Gitaroo Man, "'Nuff Respect".
- P.N.03 uses one in its first final boss theme.
- The music "The Depth Napishtim"(second Final Boss theme) from Ys: The Ark of Napishtim.
- The last part of the Chapter 3 music in House of the Dead uses one. Appropriate for the horror setting.
- Perfect Dark Zero uses a theremin in several soundtrack pieces, such as the main menu, Game Over and River Extraction themes.
- The last level of de Blob 2, set in space, features a theremin-heavy melody.
- Fallout: New Vegas has it during Wild Wasteland encounters.
- Super Mario Bros.:
- Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel feature the theremin occasionally to match the space themes of the games, for example in the Buoy Base Galaxy theme (starting around 0:46).
- Super Princess Peach has this in the Shriek Mansion level, complementing the Big Boo's Haunt theme.
- Another Big Boo's Haunt stage with theremin music is Twisted Mansion from Mario Kart 8.
- Animal Crossing: New Leaf adds a theremin to the vast number of musical instruments players can collect.
- Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures has an 8-bit theremin-type sound in the "Boo! Haunted House" BGM.
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has Zadornov playing one on one of MSF old pictures.
- 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.