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The theremin is the oldest type of
synthesizer. It consists of two antennae
connected to a box of gadgetry. The
performer moves his hands relative to the
two antennae, without touching them.
Each antenna acts as a variable
capacitance, affected by the movement of
the players hands.
These two capacitors,
in turn, control the pitch and volume of
The theremin was made famous by its use
for spooky sound effects. It has also been
used for classical music, but has never
caught on, for a very simple reason.
The tone or timbre of the theremin is dull.
The user has infinite and very subtle
control over pitch and volume (probably
more so than on any other instrument
except the voice), but no direct control
over tone. The theremin's natural tone
seems to be rather dull - probably quite
close to a sine wave.
Instead of two antennae, have four - two
pairs at right angles. Thencefore, one
hand can control two parameters (up-
down and left-right). This makes it
possible to control four parameters in
total. So, use the newly available
parameters to control timbre (tone) by
determining the mix of harmonics in the
output. The result would be something
more flexible than the human voice, and
capable of an almost infinite repertoire of
sounds. It would still retain those
characteristic qualities of the theremin:
the subtle wavering of the sound, and the
glissando transition between pitches (and
now, also, between timbres).
Of course, it should be possible to arrange
three orthogonal antennae for each hand,
giving six parameters, but this may be
you couldn't make it up - hilarious in its own way [xenzag, Apr 14 2008]
Less hilarious but more musical [MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 14 2008]
[jaksplat, Apr 15 2008]
Star Trek theme with Wii controller
[Klaatu, Apr 15 2008]
Now that's half-baked [BunsenHoneydew, Apr 15 2008]
Good lord, it's baked
"...it has a series of antennas and each one corresponds to a parameter, so the parameters ... can be controlled real-time..." [BunsenHoneydew, Apr 15 2008]
[angel, Apr 15 2008]
Moog Ethervox: Peter Pringle
The first half is only the harmony! [Amos Kito, Apr 15 2008, last modified Apr 16 2008]
(?) Led Zep Whole Lotta Love
About 1:40 into the song. For fams note that this song does not finish! [gnomethang, Apr 15 2008]
Mornin' all. [egbert, Apr 16 2008]
||Are the subordinate players called
||No. They're not allowed to travel, so
they're called heremins.
||The original Theramin produced a rather rich and colorful waveform somewhat like a sawtooth wave. Many modern imitations produce sine waves or other boring waveforms, but that's not a fault of the original design.
||It might be more difficult to play than the two-antenna theremin, which is a difficult instrument to learn anyway. But those prodigals who could manage such a feat could probably create some very beautiful music indeed. [+]
||Never heard the word theremin before. (+)
||Anyone know if that was the instrument in the original Star Trek theme?
||//The theremin is the oldest type of synthesizer.//
It isn't, actually, the Telharmonium, invented by Thaddeus Cahill, preceded it by around 20 years. (It also weighed 200 tons, which explains why it didn't catch on.)
The Theremin's timbre depends partly on the exact nature of the circuitry used and partly on the player's technique. Watch Clara Rockmore to see how the position of the hands along the length of the antennae (and even the posture of each hand) can affect the tone. For this reason, additional antennae at 90 degrees to the existing ones wouldn't really work. Also, you've effectively killed your own idea by saying "The theremin's natural tone [is] probably quite close to a sine wave" and "the mix of harmonics in the output"; sine waves have no harmonics. Fortunately, however, the first contention is not necessarily correct. The output waveform can be whatever the designer decides, and could also be adjustable in real time; just as the pitch and volume controls use the player's hands as variable capacitances, a foot could vary the response of a filter.
||//Anyone know if that was the instrument in the original Star Trek theme?/
Not sure on that, but pretty certain it made a big impact on the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations"
||That wasn't a Theremin on Good Vibrations, it was a precursor to the Tannerin, just called "The Box"; it uses a slide controller similar to the Moog.
||//Anyone know if that was the instrument in the original Star Trek theme?//
||I don't think so, but know it was used in "The Day The Earth Stood Still " and "Forbidden Planet "
||// sine waves have no harmonics.
Fortunately, however, the first
contention is not necessarily correct.//
True on both counts. My argument was
that most theremins have little tonal
control or variability whilst playing, and
in most cases the output sounds fairly
sinusoidal; but I agree it may not be a
pure sine-wave (especially, as Supercat
pointed out previously, on the original
instrument). However, in any case, the
raw output can (thank's to modern
electronics) have any desired waveform,
modulated by the additional antenna.
||I can't find a definitive reference as to the instrument used in Star Trek. There are uncited references in wikipedia stating that it was a theremin, and not an ondes martenot, as I had long thought.
||By the way, you ain't seen half-baked until you've seen the Telharmonium [link] and its accompanying business plan.
||Oh, multitimbral in synth terminology usually means a machine capable of producing more than one voice timbre at a time.
||Why not have an ordinary Theremin which can output a sort of MIDI-encoded stream of pitch/volume information to a synthesizer which can be used to apply the pitch/volume information to any chosen 'instrument'?
||What angel said - by comparison to electric guitars, a foot pedal seems the best way to accomplish this.
||//multitimbral in synth terminology
usually means a machine capable of
producing more than one voice timbre at a
time.// errrr, would that be
||[BunsenHoneydew] hmm, I always assumed it was a theremin on StarTrek, but now that you mention it the martenot seems more likely.
||[MB] "multi-timbral" means more than one kind of sound can be played at the same time (violins and trumpets f'rinstance); polyphonic means more than one note.
||Hmmm. Fair point. So, maybe "variable
timbre theremin" or "voiced theremin".
||Incidentally, I'm not in favour of pedals and
suchlike. I think we should keep the
weirdness of look-no-hands (or feet).
||Actually, Bunsen's link to the Syntheremin
means that this is pretty baked. Any votes
||no votes for deletion from me....
||Baked is not a reason for an mfd. I'm pretty sure that it is not 'Widely known to Exist' (Hell!, some people didn't know about old Leo's invention!)
I would rather keep it here as a nicety and a good post with lots of info in it.
I might even add a link to Jimmy Page on 'Whole Lotta Love'!
Link added - Gotta Love Percy!
||Not just baked, but baked by "composer AQi Fzono". I'm so glad it wasn't made by Bob Smith.
||Nor from me! I rather loathe marking-for-deletion, myself, except in extreme cases. It carries an odious, unsavoury feel to me.
||[DrC], I meant to use not a pedal, but another antenna, with the performer waving his foot around in free air.
||I was about to ask what idiot posted this idea.