The Mind Behind the Theremin
Cornelia Street Cafe (20 Cornelia St., Manhattan)
$10, includes a drink
“Genius” is the category we have peopled with exceptional humans—beings who have revolutionized every area of endeavor throughout the ages. Our collective fascination with genius has spawned studies, books, workshops, exercises, and how-tos, all claiming that we each have a genius inside of us. It is time for a musical cautionary tale, a tale of genius at the dawn of the technological revolution.
In 1919, Lev Sergeivitch Termen, known throughout the world as Leon Theremin, invented the first synthesizer. Originally dubbed the Aetherphone, the Theremin remains the only musical instrument played without being touched. His genius did not stop there. A prodigious inventor and visionary, he went on to revolutionize the fields of communications, surveillance, and even Macy’s window displays.
Theremin suffered (and miraculously survived) the pitfalls that brought down many of history’s geniuses, a classic combination of volatile personality traits, poor judgement, and the striking of an almost Faustian bargain with those in a position to help him.
In addition to his own story, we’ll observe how Theremin’s creation has influenced the lives and career trajectories of contemporary electronic music’s geniuses such as synthesizer pioneers Dr. Robert Moog and Don Buchla, Theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore, and legendary composers Wendy Carlos and Morton Subotnick.