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June 9th, 2009
04:23 pm

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Leon Theremin, Re-Animator

(Part of my notes for last week's lecture I gave at the Nasher Museum of Art on the theremin)

Despite the initial efforts of Leon Theremin to establish the theremin as an instrument of serious music, thanks to the film industry the theremin has been stereotyped as the voice of aliens, mutants, and mad scientists. While rereading the definitive biography Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage I came across the following passage from his work in the winter of 1921-1922:

"When a young student at the institute, one of Lev's former X-ray lab assistants, died of pneumonia, Lev refused to mourn.

At that time I was studying how cells taken from the glacier could be restored to life. I was convinced that something of that nature was possible, and if so, I must try to save my assistant's life. I wanted to cool her body slowly, and for some time, not more than a year, bury her in the eternal frost. I believed I could do the job and return her to life."

Theremin was persuaded not to disturb the grieving parents' misery over the loss of their daughter. But back to my point: if he believed he could resurrect the dead with a year's research, his invention's traditional use in film seems to me somehow appropriate.

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