The Sunday Magazine

Out of Thin Air - In praise of the theremin

The sound it produces is beautiful, unsettling, haunting, unmistakable, resembling as one critic famously said, "A cello lost in a dense fog, crying because it does not know how to get home." He was talking about the theremin, that mysterious electronic instrument, whose Bolshevik and Cold War history is as fascinating as the music it makes.
Lev Theremin demonstrates his invention. Photo: Crobis Bettmann
The sound it produces is beautiful, unsettling, haunting, unmistakable, resembling as one critic famously said, "A cello lost in a dense fog, crying because it does not know how to get home." He was talking about the theremin, that mysterious electronic instrument, whose Bolshevik and Cold War history is as fascinating as the music it makes.
Clara Venice

The theremin - once hailed as both a musical and scientific breakthrough - has lived most of its modern life on the fringes, in creepy movie soundtracks and pop music cameos. But right here in Canada, the theremin seems to be having a bit of a mainstream moment.
Sean Michaels photo by CP:Graham Hughes

Clara Venice, one of the few composers who writes pop music for the theremin, completed a residency at the National Music Centre in Calgary. Her second EP will be out later this year. Ms. Venice performed the pop music, and the version of "Amazing Grace", in our documentary.

Sean Michaels is a Montrealer. His novel, Us Conductors, is a love story rooted in the connection between Lev Theremin - the instrument's inventor - and its most famous player - Clara Rockmore.

Our documentary, "Out of Thin Air", was produced by Lindsay Michael. It first aired in October.

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