The Theremin Part 2: Recordings After 1970
My Book/eBook: Electronic and Experimental Music, sixth edition, Routledge 2020.
My Podcast: The Holmes Archive of Electronic Music
My blog for the Bob Moog Foundation.
In putting together this episode, part two of my two-parter featuring music for theremin, I found that not all Theremins are equal and some recordings assumed to be a Theremin were not. In the first part I included a track for musical saw, which could be confused for a theremin. In this part, the wannabes are more sophisticated and electronic. For example, the famous theremin sound used on the tune “Mysterons” by Portishead was not a theremin at all but the heavily treated output of a Roland SH-101 Monophonic Analog Synthesizer crafted to sound like a theremin. That was a huge surprise. Another song that I always assumed included a theremin was Over My Head from the first Pere Ubu album in 1978. I checked with Allen Ravenstine about this--he was the synthesist who added all those lovely electronic sounds to the first few Pere Ubu albums—and to my surprise he said, “Sorry to break it to you but, there is no theremin on “Over My Head.” What you hear is me playing a Sine wave on an EML 200.” Which was a monster analog synthesizer. So, while I’ve attempted to put together this podcast to feature only actual theremins, there may cases where there are other sounds as well that muddy the audio waters. A case in point is the tune Paranoia 2 from the first Hawkwind album in 1970. They were known to be using a theremin on their early recordings, and there are sounds on this track that I can clearly imagine were made by a theremin. But having not yet heard from them—I did make contact around this question—let’s go with “it’s a theremin.” In most if not all other cases, the nature of the theremin is presented loudly and clearly, which is why I selected the tracks that you hear in this episode.
As in part one, I will be playing the tracks in the chronological order in which they were released.
Even though the title of this episode indicates that all of the tracks date from 1970 and onward, I cheated slightly by including one additional track from 1968: Ultimate Spinach and the “(Ballad of The) Hip Death Goddess.” This American psychedelic rock band was from Boston, Massachusetts, although they had a sound that had more an affinity with the free spirit of San Francisco. The theremin had a prominent part in this song, following the vocalist and providing some interesting instrumental fills. You will also hear some feedback and various organs and keyboard parts, although no synthesizers. This is a good example of the mystery that a theremin could lend to an overall mix.
There are so many gems included in this episode that I don’t know where to start in explaining them. One impression I hope to make is that the Theremin can be used for any kind of music, from experimental to the blues, if an artist has the will to understand it. Suffice it to say that I’ve selected some familiar names, suich as Lydia Kavina, Barbara Buchholtz, Herb Deutsch, Rob Schwimmer, Pamelia Kurstin, Thorwald Jørgensen, and Dorit Chrysler, providing contemporary classical and experimental sounds. I want to thank fellow author Albert Glinsky, who wrote the book about Leon Theremin, for sharing his liner notes for the upcoming release by Dorit Chrysler of her Calder pieces. For those works, “Chrysler identified two of Alexander Calder’s sculptures, Snow Flurry, I (1948) and Man-Eater with Pennants (1945), to interact and “play” multiple Theremins on site.” In Albert’s liner notes he explained how Chrysler realized these pieces. Quoting Albert, he explained, “Recording the interplay of sculptures and antennae on site, Chrylser returned to the studio to sort and manipulate the sounds, mixing them into finished compositions in the best tradition of musique concrete.”
We also have a group of what could be called progressive rock artists including Hawkwind, McKendree Spring, Ronnie Montrose with his custom-made theremin guitar, Arthur Brown and Kingdom Come, and the often-neglected Michael Quatro who used a Maestro Theremin as part of his ensemble of electronic instruments. We will also hear some spacey music from the Canadian group, The Melodic Energy Commission for whom a custom-built theremin was a key instrument in their ensemble as created by member George McDonald. We will hear M83 and a live performance version of “Sitting” that showcases a Moog Thermini, and works by several independent artists such as Linda Cohen, Pietra Wexstun, The Nihilist Spasm Band, Yuseff Yancy, Todd Clark, Danielle Dax, Mars Everywhere, and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion who features an original Moog Vanguard model Theremin.
All in all, I think you find a lot of variety in this episode without hearing a single familiar track, such as Led Zeppelin or the Pixies, which you can always catch on Spotify. In addition, there is a marvelous collection of contemporary thereminists that was released in 2020 on the 100th anniversary of Leon Theremin’s instrument. Theremin 100: Electronic Music Written for the Theremin. Albert Glinsky also wrote the liner notes for this collection of 50 tracks exploring the instrument from all directions and styles. As Albert proclaimed in his liner notes, “As we mark the 100th anniversary of Lev Theremin’s beguiling etherphone, the instrument has come to enjoy a rich repertoire and an enduring identity, its inventor would be proud of. … The collection of music on this release is a testament to that legacy, representing the rich variety of approaches to a now classic instrument - an instrument that will forever inspire musicians to conjure new creations out of the spellbinding ‘ether. ”
I have also put together a timeline of the Theremin which appears on my blog for the Bob Moog Foundation. Check it out if you are wondering how many models of the Theremin have been manufactured over the years.
What you are now hearing in the background are two tracks; one by Ronnie Montrose and a track from Hooverphonic featuring Yuseff Yancy, the great jazz thereminist for whom we did two special episodes of the podcast and an interview (episodes 33 and 37).
You can check out the playlist for this podcast for the complete details about each track. I’ve indicated which theremin model was being used, if I’ve been able to find out.
And a footnote for the last episode. I included a track by Brazil’s Mutantes. I have since come across a video performance from the 1970s that may show the Theremin they used. It was white with three buttons on the front and appeared to have no volume antenna but had some kind of funky triangular-shaped pitch antenna. While not being played in that live performance, the Theremin was positioned stage front and is seen throughout the video. There is a moment near the end where a reverse camera angle reveals the controls that were facing away from the audience. I suspect that this was a custom-made model because I’ve never seen this model before.
The Theremin Part 2: Recordings After 1970
1. Ultimate Spinach, “(Ballad of The) Hip Death Goddess” from Ultimate Spinach (1968 MGM Records). This American psychedelic rock band was from Boston, Massachusetts, although they had a sound that had more an affinity with the free spirit of San Francisco. The Theremin has a prominent part in this song, following the vocalist and filling in some interesting instrumental parts. Bass and Feedback, Richard Nese; Vocals, Drums, Tabla, Bass Drum, Bells, Chimes, Keith Lahteinen; Vocals, Electric Guitar, Guitar, Kazoo, Barbara Hudson; Vocals, Electric Piano, Electric Harpsichord, Organ, Harpsichord, Twelve-String Guitar, Sitar, Harmonica, Wood Flute, Theremin, Celesta, Ian Bruce-Douglas; Vocals, Lead Guitar, Guitar Feedback, Sitar Drone, Electric Sitar, Geoffrey Winthrop. 8:11
2. Hawkwind, “Paranoia Part 2” from Hawkwind (1970 Liberty). Hawkwind was a pioneering space-rock and psychedelic group from the UK. They were known to use a theremin during their early years—1969 to 1973 and revived its use on stage in later performances using a Moog Etherwave model in the 2000s. This first album features a theremin added to much of the sonic textures, sometimes overtly but often run through effects to provide a looming background, as in this song. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish, but I think there is a theremin providing some of the droning background and then sporadic bursts of tones beginning around 4:25. 14:54
3. McKendree Spring, “God Bless the Conspiracy” from 3 (1972 Decca). Electric Violin, Viola, Theremin, Michael Dreyfuss; Electronics (Ring Modulator), Tom Oberheim; Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Dulcimer, Fran McKendree; Electric Bass, Larry Tucker; Electric Guitar, Martin Slutsky. This progressive band with experimental leanings was a quartet without a drummer. Dreyfus later said, “In God Bless the Conspiracy and No Regrets I was able to play viola and Theremin at the same time by bringing my body closer to the Theremin (to change pitch) while playing a harmony part on the viola,”(2006). He played a Theremin beginning 1969. He may have used a Moog theremin, such as the Troubadour. 6:53
4. Linda Cohen, “Horizon Jane” from Lake Of Light (1973 Poppy). Folky album from Philadelphia featuring several electronic musicians. Acoustic Guitar, Bass, Piano, Polytonic Modulator, Jefferson Cain; Classical Guitar, Composer, Linda Cohen; Flute, Stan Slotter; Producer, Electric Guitar, Matrix Electronic Drums, Modulator, Sitar, Synthesizer, Craig Anderton; Minimoog, Theremin, Charles Cohen. 3:36
5. Ronnie Montrose, “Space Station #5” from Montrose (1973 Warner Brothers). Ronnie Montrose added a custom-built Theremin to his equipment with the pitch antenna mounted on his aluminum (silver) Velano guitar so that he could play both at the same time. Volume for the theremin was controlled by a black box mounted on a mike stand, to which he stood nearby. He was recording with it throughout the 1970s. Here is a great live clip you where you can see how he played it. Note the end of the clip where he put the theremin guitar up against the speaker and wails on the volume control of the theremin control box. Bass, Bill Church; Drums, Denny Carmassi; Guitar, Theremin-Guitar, Ronnie Montrose; Vocals, Sam Hagar. 5:36
6. Arthur Brown's Kingdom Come, “Time Captives” from Journey (1974 Passport). Fender Bass, Percussion, Vocals, Phil Shutt; Bentley Rhythm Ace, Vocals, Arthur Brown; Electric Guitar, Vocals, Andy Dalby; Mellotron, ARP 2600, EMS VCS 3, Piano, Theremin, Percussion, Vocals, Victor Peraino. 8:37
7. Michael Quatro, “Get Away” from In Collaboration with The Gods (1975 United Artists Records). Brother of Detroit rockers Suzi and Patti Quatro, he had a flare for progressive rock and electronic keyboards in the 1970s. The Theremin makes frequent appearances on this album, this track in particular. Arranger, Piano Baldwin, Electric Piano Gretsch Electro, Piano Tack Piano, Sonic Six Synthesizer, Effects Univox Phaser, Univox Stringman, EC-80 Echo, Elka Electric Piano, Hammond Organ, Minimoog Synthesizer, Univox Mini-Korg, Electroharmonix Boxes, Mellotron Violin, Cello, Flute, Effects Wah-Wah Pedals, Effects Syntha-Pedal, Bass Nova Bass, Horns, Organ Pipe Organ, Sounds Ring Modulation, Maestro Theremin, Electronic Effects, Percussion , Michael Quatro;Bass, Lead Vocals, Arranged By Arranging Assistance, Dave Kiswiney; Drums, Kirk (Arthur) Trachsel; Guitar, Teddy Hale. 4:04
8. Melodic Energy Commission, “Revise The Scene” from Stranger In Mystery (1979 Energy Discs). This is the first album from this Canadian space-rock, psychedelic and folk troupe from British Columbia. The Theremin was a key instrument in their ensemble and was custom-built by group member George McDonald. His Theremin would eventually be known as the Galactic Stream Theremin and would take some 25 years to build and evolve into a six antennae instrument for “tuning into the performers body motions.” During this recording, a simpler, more traditional version was used. Gas & Steam Bass, Bells, Tambourine, Mark Franklin; Dulcimer, Bowed Dulcimer, Khaen, Gongs, Flute, Randy Raine-Reusch; Hydro-electric Guitar, Custom-made Theremin, Aura, Wall Of Oscillation, George McDonald; Percussion, Tablas, Brass Tank, Glockenspiel, Roland SH5 Synthesizer, Organ, Paul Franklin; EMS Synthi AKS, Delatronics, Electric Guitar, Del Dettmar; Wordy Voice, Guitar, Piano, Organ, Roland SH 1000 Synthesizer, Gongs, Vibraphone, Kalimba, Stone Drum, Egyptian Shepherd's Pipe, Xaliman. 6:13
9. The Nihilist Spasm Band, “Elsinore” from Vol. 2 (1979 Music gallery Editions). Canadian group that used all hand-made instruments, including the kit-made Theremin by Bill Exley. Bass, Hugh McIntyre; Drums, Greg Curnoe; Guitar, John Clement, Murray Favro; Kazoo, John Boyle; Pratt-a-various, Art Pratten; Vocals, Theremin, Bill Exley. Recorded live at the Toronto Music Gallery, February 4th 1978. 5:14
10.Yuseff Yancy, Garret List, “Sweetness” Garrett List / A-1 Band, “Sweetness” from Fire & Ice (1982 Lovely Music). Alto Saxophone, Byard Lancaster; Maestro Theremin, Electronics, Youseff Yancy; Vocals, Genie Sherman. 4:11.
11.Todd Clark, “Into the Vision” from Into The Vision (1984 T.M.I. Productions). Guitar, Cheetah Chrome; Theremin, Bat-wing Guitar with ARP Avatar, Todd Clark; Found Vocals, William Burroughs. 8:38
12.Danielle Dax, “Yummer Yummer Man” from Yummer Yummer Man (1985 Awesome). UK artist Danielle Dax. Wah Guitar, Steve Reeves; Guitar, Slide Guitar, Organ, David Knight; Producer, arranger, lyrics, Vocals, Theremin, Tapes, Danielle Dax; Drums, Martyn Watts; Music by Danielle Dax, David Knight. Dax is an experimental English musician, artist, and producer, born as Danielle Gardner. 3:16
13.Mars Everywhere, “Attack of the Giant Squid” from Visitor Parking (1989 Audiofile Tapes). Cassette release from this space-rock band from the 1980s. Electric Guitar, Electronics, Tape, Ernie Falcone; Synthesizer, Theremin, Keyboards, Tom Fenwick. 5:03
14.Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, “Vacuum of Loneliness” from The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (1992 Caroline). This NY band uses an original Moog Vanguard (circa 1960). This rock and blues band was active from 1991 until 2016. Baritone Saxophone, John Linnell; Drums, Russell Simins; Guitar, Vocals, Judah Bauer; Tenor Saxophone, Kurt Hoffman; Trumpet, Frank London; Vocals, Guitar, Moog Vanguard Theremin, Jon Spencer. Here is a video of a live performance of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with a Moog Vanguard Theremin (just after the 39-minute mark). 3:02
15.Calvin Owens and His Blues Orchestra, “Vincent Van Gogh” from That’s Your Booty (1996 Sawdust Alley). Trumpet solo and vocals, Calvin Owens; Maestro Theremin, Youseff Yancy; Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Eddy De Vos, Kurt van Herck, Peter Vandendriessche; Backing Vocals, B. J. Scott, Frank Deruytter, Mieke Belange, Yan De Bryun; Baritone Saxophone, Bo Vander Werf, Johan Vandendriessche; Bass, Ban Buls, Roman Korohek; Cello, B. Piatkowski, X. Gao; Drums, Cesar Janssens, Laurent Mercier; Guitar, Marty Townsend, Yan De Bryun; Keyboards, Rafael Van Goubergen; Organ, Peter Van Bogart; Saxophone, Jimmy Heath; Tenor Saxophone, David "Fathead" Newman, Shelly Caroll Paul; Trombone, Marc Godfroid, Yan De Breker; Trumpet, Andy Haderer, Rüdiger Baldauf; Violin, D. Ivanov, E. Kouyoumdjian; Vocals, Archie Bell, Otis Clay, Ruby Wilson. 6:23.
16.David Simons, “Music For Theremin And Gamelan (1998-1999), parts I and II” from Fung Sha Noon (2009 Tzadik). Theremin, Rob Schwimmer; Gamelan, Theremin, Sampler, MIDI Controller, Percussion, Marimba, Zoomoozophone, 43 Pitch Zither, Harmonic Canon, Slide Guitar, Chromelodeon harmonium, David Simons; Gamelan, Barbara Benary, Denman Maroney, John Morton, Laura Liben. 6:09 (part I) and 6:29 (part II)
17.Lydia Kavina, “Voice of the Theremin,” composed by Vladimir Komarov from Music from The Ether, Original Works For Theremin (1999 Mode). TVox Tour model theremin, Lydia Kavina. Arranged, mixed, performed by Lydia Kavina. 8:11
18.Lydia Kavina, “Free Music #1,” composed by Percy Grainger from Music from The Ether, Original Works For Theremin (1999 Mode). TVox Tour model theremin, Lydia Kavina; mixed and spatialized, Steve Puntolillo. This work was originally written for theremin although Grainger had many ideas around how this type of “free music” should be played. This native Australian was fascinated by the sounds of the real world and invented a mechanical machine for making such sounds. In 1938, Grainger said, "...Out in nature we hear all kinds of lovely and touching 'free' (non-harmonic) combinations of tones, yet we are unable to take up these beauties and expressiveness into the art of music because of our archaic notions of harmony.” His adaptation of free music for theremin was an attempt to create sounds that were new to music. This version was multitracked by Kavina and an old acquaintance of mine, sound engineer Steve Puntolillo, to recreate the parts for four theremins. 1:19
19.The Kurstins, “Sunshine” from Gymnopedie (2000 Rouge Records). Composed by Roy Ayers; Minimoog, ARP String Ensemble, Organ, Guitar, Sampler, Drums, Rhodes Electric Piano, Greg Kurstin; Moog Theremin, Theremin Vocoder, Moogerfoogers, Pamelia Kurstin. 3:47
20.The Kurstins, “Outside” from Gymnopedie (2000 Rouge Records). Composed by Greg Kurstin; Minimoog, ARP String Ensemble, Organ, Guitar, Sampler, Drums, Rhodes Electric Piano, Greg Kurstin; Moog Theremin, Theremin Vocoder, Moogerfoogers, Pamelia Kurstin. 3:55
21.Hecate’s Angels, “Shrink-Wrapped Soul” from Saints And Scoundrels (2004 redFLY Records). Los Angeles-based Pietra Wexstun is a composer, singer, keyboard and theremin player. Vocals, Farfisa organ, piano, theremin, sound effects, Pietra Wexstun; bass, Bill Blatt; guitar, Stan Ridgway; drums, Elmo Smith. 3:52
22.Pamelia Kurstin, “Barrow In Furness” from Thinking Out Loud (2007 Tzadik). From Kurstin first solo record. Composed, Produced, Theremin With L6 Looping Pedals and Microsynth Pedal, Guitar, Piano, Pamelia Kurstin. She played the Etherwave Pro Theremin by Moog fo this recording. Pamelia Kurstin, video with she and Bob Moogdiscussing the Etherwave Pro when it was introduced. Kurstin uses the Etherwave Pro Theremin by Moog Music. 5:12
23.Barbara Bucholtz, “SixEight” from Moonstruck (2008 Intuition Records). Bucholtz was a German theremin player and composer. She played a TVox Tour model theremin. Drums, Sebastian Merk; Music By, Contrabass Flute, Sampler, programmed, engineered, produced, and recorded by Tilmann Dehnhard; Trumpet, Arve Henriksen. 4:01
24.Herb Deutsch, “Longing” from Theremin One Hundred Years (2020 Electronic Sound). Composer, Herb Deutsch; Piano, Nancy Deutsch; Moog Melodia Theremin, Daryl Kubian. Recording from 2012. The beloved Herb Deutsch, who died recently at age 90, was an early collaborator with Bob Moog on the creation of the synthesizer. Herb became acquainted with Bob by purchasing a Theremin kit—a Moog Melodia model, in the early 1960s. He was primarily responsible for convincing Moog to add a keyboard to his modular unit. Also, this is taken from a terrific compilation of modern Theremin artists to benefit the New York Theremin Society. Check it out. 3:38
25.M83, “Sitting” from M83 (2016 Lowlands Festival). This is a live recording from Holland. “Sitting” was a song on M83’s first album in 2001. But it didn’t have a theremin part until they decided to spice-up the live interpretation of the song in 2016. Jordan Lawlor uses a Moog Theremini when M83 performs this in concert. He puts down his guitar, grabs some drum sticks, beats a rhythm on some electronic drums while dancing in place and moving his hands around a theremin. You can hear the theremin in this track but don’t mistake it for the keyboard tones that Gonzalez is playing on his modular system. A longer sequence of theremin begins at 1:38 in the audio. You can view the video here, beginning at 26:54 into the show. M83 is a French electronica band founded in 1999 by Anthony Gonzalez, who remains the only sole member from the original outfit. Performing members on this live tour included: Anthony Gonzalez, lead vocals, modular synthesizers, keyboards, guitars, piano, bass, drums, percussion, programming, arrangement, mixer, production; Loïc Maurin, drums, percussion, guitar, bass, keyboards; Jordan Lawlor, guitars, vocals, multi-instrumentalist; Kaela Sinclair, Dave Smith and M-Audio keyboards, vocals; Joe Berry, piano, synthesizers, electronic wind instrument, saxophone. 4:03
26.Radio Science Orchestra, “Theme from Doctor Who” (2019). This UK-based band unites theremin, ondes martenot, Moog and modular electronics, for its performances. They’ve played such events as the TEDSummit, the British Library, and Glastonbury Festival. They made a concert recording with Lydia Kavina in 2009 of the Theme from Doctor Who. This version was made more recently and appears to also include Kavina. She plays the TVox Tour model theremin made by her husband G. Pavlov. 2:18
27.Thorwald Jørgensen, Kamilla Bystrova, “Moderato” from Air électrique: Original Music For Theremin And Piano (2020 Zefir). Jørgensen is an accomplished Dutch classical theremin player. Piano, Kamilla Bystrova; Liner Notes, Design, Moog Etherwave Pro Theremin, Thorwald Jørgensen. 2:10
28.Dorit Chrysler, “A Happy Place” from Theremin One Hundred Years (2020 Electronic Sound). Issued with the magazine’s 7” vinyl and magazine bundle Electronic Sound Magazine, issue 70. Written, produced, and performed by Dorit Chrysler. 2:06
29.Dorit Chrysler, “Calder Plays Theremin Side A” from Calder Plays Theremin (2023 NY Theremin Society/Fridman Gallery) Written for Theremin Orchestra in 5 Movements, Chrysler’s work is based on a commissioned sound piece by The Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with the exhibition Alexander Calder: Modern from the Start. Chrysler identified two of Alexander Calder’s sculptures, Snow Flurry, I (1948) and Man-Eater with Pennants (1945), to interact and “play” multiple Theremins on site. I believe the Theremin are various Moog models. Calder Plays Theremin is a co-release of the NY Theremin Society and Fridman Gallery. 8:48
Opening background tracks:
Ronnie Montrose, “Open Fire” (excerpt) from Open Fire (1978 Warner Brothers). Bass, Alan Fitzgerald; Drums, Rick Shlosser; Guitar, Custom-built Theremin mpounted to his electric guitar, Ronnie Montrose; composed by Edgar Winter, Ronnie Montrose. 2:09
Hooverphonic, “L'Odeur Animale” from The Magnificent Tree (2000 Columbia). Guitar, Raymond Geerts; Keyboards, Bass, Programmed by Alex Callier; Vocals, Geike Arnaert; Maestro Theremin, trumpet, Youseff Yancy; Fairlight, Effects, Dan Lacksman. 3:46.
Opening and closing sequences voiced by Anne Benkovitz.
Additional opening, closing, and other incidental music by Thom Holmes.
See my companion blog that I write for the Bob Moog Foundation: