Of the Theremin and Futurist Stringed Instrument Making

In this article, Giorgio Necordi examines the technology behind the Theremin and outlines the differences between tubes and transistor technology. Then he describes his project for a new transistor Theremin.

Introduction

Lee De Forest
Lee De Forest.

The date of birth of the first electronic instrument depends on that of the invention of the thermionic valve or tube (the first exquisitely electronic component) or, more precisely, triode invented by Lee De Forest in 1906.

Wladimir Baranoff Rossiné
Wladimir Baranoff Rossiné.

Having defined this, the first electronic musical instruments were the Audion piano invented in 1915 by de Forest, the Optophonic piano invented by the Russian Vladimir Rossiné in 1916, and the Theremin invented by Lev Termen (whose name was subsequently anglicized as Leon Theremin) in 1917.

Lev Sergeivitch Termen
Lev Sergeyevich Termen.

Of these three, the Theremin is undoubtedly the instrument that has left an indelible mark on the history of music because its appearance is not only different from that of the other two, but also different from that of any other instrument of whatever type insofar as it is played without any tactile contact: the player moves one arm in one electromagnetic field to control the pitch, and the other in a second field to control the intensity of the sound.

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