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Multi-timbral theremin

It's all just arm-waving
  (+10, -1)(+10, -1)
(+10, -1)
  [vote for,

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 instrument.

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 beyond necessity.

MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 14 2008

Theremin http://www.youtube....watch?v=nJYho56INKU
you couldn't make it up - hilarious in its own way [xenzag, Apr 14 2008]

Thereminty http://www.youtube....watch?v=XwqLyeq9OJI
Less hilarious but more musical [MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 14 2008]

meow http://laughingsqui...aying-the-theremin/
[jaksplat, Apr 15 2008]

Star Trek theme with Wii controller http://video.google...rch&plindex=2&hl=en
[Klaatu, Apr 15 2008]

Telharmonium http://www.obsolete...armonium/index.html
Now that's half-baked [BunsenHoneydew, Apr 15 2008]

Good lord, it's baked http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntheremin
"...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]

MIDI Theremin http://www.moogmusi...oduct&product_id=11
[angel, Apr 15 2008]

Moog Ethervox: Peter Pringle http://www.youtube....watch?v=QPLNEw6KH4E
The first half is only the harmony! [Amos Kito, Apr 15 2008, last modified Apr 16 2008]

(?) Led Zep Whole Lotta Love http://www.youtube....watch?v=rjIf1BdI9CY
About 1:40 into the song. For fams note that this song does not finish! [gnomethang, Apr 15 2008]

For Po http://www.youtube....LBI&feature=related
Mornin' all. [egbert, Apr 16 2008]


       Are the subordinate players called Thereminions? +
xenzag, Apr 14 2008

       No. They're not allowed to travel, so they're called heremins.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 14 2008

       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.
supercat, Apr 14 2008

       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. [+]
qt75rx1, Apr 15 2008

       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.
angel, Apr 15 2008

       //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"
coprocephalous, Apr 15 2008

       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.
angel, Apr 15 2008

       //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 [1951]" and "Forbidden Planet [1956]"   

Klaatu, Apr 15 2008

       // 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.
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 15 2008

       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.
BunsenHoneydew, Apr 15 2008

       Oh, multitimbral in synth terminology usually means a machine capable of producing more than one voice timbre at a time.
BunsenHoneydew, Apr 15 2008

       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'?
hippo, Apr 15 2008

       (linky) for [hippo].
angel, Apr 15 2008

       What angel said - by comparison to electric guitars, a foot pedal seems the best way to accomplish this.
DrCurry, Apr 15 2008

       //multitimbral in synth terminology usually means a machine capable of producing more than one voice timbre at a time.// errrr, would that be "polyphonic"?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 15 2008

       [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.
FlyingToaster, Apr 15 2008

       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).
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 15 2008

       Actually, Bunsen's link to the Syntheremin means that this is pretty baked. Any votes for deletion?
MaxwellBuchanan, Apr 15 2008

       no votes for deletion from me....
xenzag, Apr 15 2008

       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!
gnomethang, Apr 15 2008

       Not just baked, but baked by "composer AQi Fzono". I'm so glad it wasn't made by Bob Smith.
wagster, Apr 15 2008

       Nor from me! I rather loathe marking-for-deletion, myself, except in extreme cases. It carries an odious, unsavoury feel to me.
qt75rx1, Apr 16 2008

       [DrC], I meant to use not a pedal, but another antenna, with the performer waving his foot around in free air.
angel, Apr 16 2008

       I was about to ask what idiot posted this idea.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 02 2017


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