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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."
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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 their 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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Examples:

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    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".

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
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    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • It's used in Tim Burton's bio-pic Ed Wood, to recreate the theme music from Plan 9 from Outer Space.
  • In the French movie L'élève Ducobu, the music teacher Miss Rateau is seen playing the theremin in her spare time.
  • It's used to represent altered reality in eXistenZ and The Machinist.
  • 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."
  • An odd non-science fiction example is I Live In Fear, where the theme song has a theremin in it.
  • Danny Elfman also include theremin in the music for Mars Attacks!, as part of the overall pastiche of old science-fiction movies.
  • Rocketship X-M was the first Science Fiction movie to use it, with The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) becoming the Trope Codifier and one of its most famous uses. It also showed up in countless other horror and science fiction B-movies between 1945 and 1960. In those times, if it wailed, it was usually a theremin.
  • Miklós Rózsa was the first composer to incorporate the theremin in film scores in the west:
    • 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.
  • Though for that matter, The Ten Commandments has a theremin in its score. The instrument really was quite widely used in 1950s Hollywood, even beyond SF.

    Literature 
  • Fahrenheit 451: A theremin is mentioned at one point when describing how background music tricks people into feeling an emotional response.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Myrtle Snow plays a theremin to calm herself in American Horror Story: Coven. It fits nicely with her odd, eccentric demeanor.
  • Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory plays the theremin. Badly.
  • In Cowboy Bebop however, Ana is not impressed when Gren suggests they use a theremin in her nightclub. "We might as well hire a magician in a bow tie and coattails."
  • 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 title character in Hannibal teaches his apprentice-turned-lover Alana Bloom to play theremin as part of his general bon vivant persona.
  • The score of Loki prominently features a theremin. Both composer Natalie Holt and director Kate Herron independently from each other decided that it should be included in the score because of its inherent sci-fi sound.
  • The Midsomer Murders theme and underscore uses it, to great, creepy effect.
  • In the Cry Wilderness episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 Jonah puts a theremin in a Thanksgiving turkey for his invention exchange, the point of the invention being that it adds a new musical tradition to the holiday. When he cuts into it, the turkey plays theremin music. The bots find it unsettling.
    Servo: Yeah, really reminds you you're cutting into a once-living thing.
  • As befitting a sitcom about aliens, ABC's The Neighbors used a theremin sting as its opening for the show's first season.
  • 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 melody of the theme of Star Trek: The Original Series was actually never played on a theremin. A soprano singer emulated its signature sound.

    Music 
  • 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 in "Stab My Back" by the All-American Rejects.
  • 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.
  • Bill Bailey uses it as part of his keyboard setup, usually for comedic effect.
  • 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.
  • Used in this jazz cover by Robyn Adele Anderson of the Beastie Boys song "Intergalactic".
  • The Black Lips feature a guest theremin player on their single "Modern Art".
  • "Noises for the Leg" by The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. It's implied that the theremin is being played by leg.
  • 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 trance tune "Dark Blue" by Cabala.
  • Notably used on "Electricity" and "Autumn's Child", both by Captain Beefheart from his album Safe as Milk.
  • 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.)
  • Converge used this extensively on their Jane Doe album, to genuinely heart-stopping effect.
  • Covenant's first hit single was named "Theremin" after Leon Theremin, the instrument's inventor, but does not actually use it.
  • 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.
  • Several of Doctor Steel's songs incorporate the theremin (or at least samples of theremins).
  • Vadim from DragonForce plays one in addition to keyboard.
  • Dream Theater uses one in one verse in "A Nightmare to Remember".
  • Ska/punk/funk band Fishbone makes use of a theremin.
  • The intro of Helalyn Flowers' "New Days of Babylon".
  • Ghost's song "Spirit" opens with an theremin refrain backed by a mellotron choir. It's the only song in their catalogue that uses the instrument, giving the song an eerie, horror movie-like feel.
  • Eric Hersemann of Gigan uses one as part of his extensive effects setup.
  • 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.
  • Jean-Michel Jarre supposedly used this in "Oxygene 10", likely in homage to classic sci-fi films. In addition, he has played the Theremin at every one of his concerts since 1997 along with various pieces of music, starting with "Oxygène 10", 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.
  • Joy Electric has used the instrument in concert as more of a noisemaker than a real "instrument".
  • "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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Hungarian space rock band Omega has always loved the theremin, and it shows up in multiple songs.
  • 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.
  • Pato Fu's "Eu" not only has a Sampled Up theremin, but also features the arrest of Leo Theremin in its video.
  • "Velouria" by The Pixies.
  • The Polyphonic Spree had a theremin player around 2004-2005, who appeared on their Together We're Heavy album.
  • "Mysterons" by Portishead from their album Dummy.
  • A handful of songs by Rammstein incorporate a theremin, especially "En Lied" and "Tier".
  • The Road Hammers may be the only country music band in history to use one.
  • Clara Rockmore based her entire orchestra career on playing the instrument, and was extremely serious about it. She ignored the general populace's idea it was an otherworldly, spooky gimmick, and treated it like the cello or any other core stringed instrument, finally releasing an album The Art of the Theremin.
  • In their more recent live shows, Simon & Garfunkel have used a theremin player for the instrumental break in "The Boxer".
  • 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.
  • The theremin is one of three instruments used in this mashup of the themes from Star Trek: The Original Series and The Simpsons. The other two instruments were a Rhodes piano and... a funnel.
  • Used rather poignantly on Ulver's Shadows of the Sun album.

    Radio 
  • Dimension X: The theremin is one of a number of instruments that Albert Buhrman tended to choose for the music. Its distinctive sound made radio listeners easily identify that they were listening to a futuristic Science Fiction story. When the Title Sequence was revised to include references to Astounding Science Fiction, a piano and theremin play to indicate a transition to the episode's story.
  • 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."

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • 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.
  • A theremin can sometimes be heard in Avatar: The Last Airbender to put emphasis on spooky, strange, or silly moments on the show. More often than not, it's Played for Laughs.
  • Ben 10 uses this in the soundtrack of the first series to fit the excitement of being an alien hero.
  • Used in The Crumpets episode "Prehistoric Crumpets" in the scenes with the meteorite crystals and the arrival of the space ship.
  • Doofus Drake plays the theremin in one episode of DuckTales (2017) to highlight his bizarre personality.
  • The fourth episode of Frankelda's Book of Spooks centers around Tere, a girl that is bullied at school for her theremin talents, culminating in being publicly humiliated at a school recital, leading her to take an offer from a monster to remove her passion for the instrument from her. The monster removes the part of her soul representing her passion for life in general which becomes the new star player in his ghostly orchestra of stolen childhood joy, tearfully asking her now helpless and emotionally drained self why she abandoned her.
  • 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.
  • I.R. Baboon plays a Theremin in one episode of I Am Weasel, and the instrument somehow keeps causing earthquakes.
  • The Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja episode "30 Seconds to Math" reveals that Julian plays this instrument. Unfortunately, when he demonstrates his talents, he gets pelted with an orange.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "The Ziff Who Came to Dinner", 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.
    • Used in episode "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind" when Homer delves into his own mind.
    • Despite being often featured on the soundtrack in spooky scenes, it wasn't until the 2011 Treehouse of Horror that an actual theremin was used. (Before that, it was emulated by a synthesizer.)
  • In the Wayside episode "Music Lessons", Stephen, a student who loves Halloween and cosplay (typically as an elf), plays the theremin.

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