You hear the noise – but you have no idea what’s making it. There are so many weird and wonderful musical instruments that are floating around, but most of the time we have no idea what’s making them! From the digital, to the completely natural construction, these instruments are what makes music interesting. So lets take a look at some of the weirdest musical instruments, and how they came about.
The theremin is a favourite instrument of funk, psychadelic and just plain old noisebands. This amazing instrument is the creation of Leon Theremin who discovered and patented the device in 1928. This instrument is controlled by electronic frequencies, as well as the use of contact from the person playing. The sound that is emitted from the instrument is that of an eerie and almost supernatural sounding frequency. It has no natural or realistic equivalent, due to it being produced through electronics and frequencies.
It looks rather like a block of electronic equipment, with an antenna or two sticking straight in the air. The way that it works, is that the person controlling the instrument will stand with their hands between the two antennas. The way in which you move your hands in conjunction to the two antennas will determine the pitch and frequency in which the sound plays.
The pitch and the volume is determined through the ways in which you move your hands, which is how the sound is emitted once plugged into an electronic device that well amplify the sound.
The way in which it is played is rather easy to learn, however, without the aid of any valves, or controlling aspects whatsoever, the instrument becomes infamously hard to master. Known for infuriating many once they attempt to play a song simply through the aspect of playing by ear, the instrument isn’t used in many conventional means for performance.
The theremin also has a varied range when it comes to performance techniques. Due to the way in which it’s played, the theremin gives off an almost constant glissando sound. Glissando refers to a playing technique which makes the notes sound as though they’re flowing into one another, without much definition in between each. This is just one technique which further lends the sound to an eerie and supernatural feel – however; this can cause problems when it comes to performing certain songs which require staccato and definition.
Theremin’s have been used in film and pop music – even though you may not have realised it at the time. Pop artists such as the Bee Gees, Jamiroquai, and the Beach Boys have all used the Theremin within their songs. Go find the Beach Boy’s album ‘Pet Sounds’ and play ‘Good Vibrations‘ that sound at the start (while originally wasn’t played live with a theremin) was re-recorded with the theremin part, making it the first ever recording of a theremin on an album.
Since then, the musical sound of the theremin has been used widely throughout films to create that ethereal supernatural sound for things that an instrument simply cannot master. This sound has been widely popularised during sci-fi sequences, usually involving ghosts or aliens, due to the pitchy and vibrant sound being associated with such extra terrestrial life forms.
The theremin is just one weird and wonderful instrument making this installment series, have a look around on youtube to see if you can discover some of the awesome recreations of songs people are creating through the theremin!