Resident archivist Jack Dangers waves his hands at the antennas of his collection of theremin records and pulls out three of his favourites
In 1993, Channel 4 showed a film called, ‘Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey’. It’s a great documentary and an incredible tale. There are interviews and footage with almost everyone associated with the theremin, including Leon Theremin himself, Brian Wilson (who was really wacky), the theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore, and Bob Moog.
Big Briar, Moog’s company at that time, was making theremins based on the original RCA design from the 1920s. They were building them to order, so I got in touch and put my name down. The two people ahead of me on the waiting list were Roger Waters and Brian Eno, because they’d also just watched the film! I had to wait a year before they delivered my theremin, by which time I’d moved to the US. I used it on the Meat Beat Manifesto album ‘Subliminal Sandwich’, which I was working on at the time, and it appears in the video for ‘Asbestos Lead Asbestos’. It’s now upstairs with a blanket over it to stop my cat from using it as a scratching post.
My favourite theremin record is the Bernard Herrmann score to the 1951 film, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’. He used two theremins, played by Dr Samuel Hoffman and Paul Shure. The score wasn’t released as a record at the time, and it first came out as an unofficial release in the 1990s on a 10-inch disc. There was a 2018 picture disc version too. They’re all pretty easy to find, although the 1993 10-inch is blocked for sale on Discogs.
The earliest theremin record I have is a 78 rpm from 1935 called ‘Love Sends A Little Gift Of Roses’ by Lennington H Shewell. He was a pianist and songwriter, and was paid by RCA in the 1930s to demonstrate the theremin with live performances and recordings. There is also an earlier theremin record by Shewell from 1930 called ‘Lover, Come Back To Me’.
Finally, I would draw your attention to ‘Theremin’ by Clara Rockmore on the Delos label from 1977. It’s made up of classical pieces performed by Rockmore herself. Robert Moog produced it, and he wrote the sleevenotes too. An original pressing in good condition could set you back £70 or £80, but it was remastered and re-released in 2009 on a label called Mississippi Records, and you should be able to pick up one of those for around £40.