The spooky music of the theremin - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

The spooky music of the theremin

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On a dark Halloween night on the ground floor of a dark house with an overgrown garden, on a dark street in Prospect Heights, Fox 5 found two musicians creating strange music without touching their instruments.

"You're carving the sound out of air," 18-year thereminist Rob Schwimmer said.

Witchcraft! Blasphemy! The dark arts!


The manipulation of electro-magnetic fields connected to amplifiers?


"Just the etherealness of not touching anything," Schwimmer said. "You know, there's a total freedom that you are in space."

"It's a very emotional if not hysterical instrument," 10-year thereminist Dorit Chrysler said, "so I really just wanted to get my hands on it."

Leo Theremin, a Russian engineer, gave life to this beast, naming it for himself in 1928.

Hollywood discovered the theremin shortly thereafter and with it gave us the soundtrack to decades of horror movies.

If one's right-handed, he controls the volume of the theremin with his left hand and the pitch with his right. Fewer than 20 people in the world can play a theremin in tune.

For first-timers the Theremin seems funny, maybe eerie and definitely very weird, but for thereminists (yes, that's the official term) like Schwimmer and Chrysler the theremin creates more than just spooky themes for grainy old horror flicks.

"You know," Schwimmer said, "if you say something and you kind of move your hands like that, the instrument almost talks like what you're gesturing."

But with so few able to make a theremin say exactly what they want, Schwimmer and Chrysler's skill is a rare one. And because dead instruments play no notes, these two and their New York Theremin Society work to maximize the instrument's reach while mastering its potential.

"You can whip it," Chrysler said. "You can send it through effects. It can be spooky. It can be sugar sweet."

Or it can remind a listener on a dark Halloween night of their most ghostly, grisly, gruesome nightmares.

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