Theremin was researching the detection of motion when he invented his musical instrument. The company he founded in the United States, Teletouch Corp used this technology to develop alarms that were employed in various US prisons. He also created a closed circuit colour television to monitor his laboratories.
León Theremin also invented the passive microphone. This was an almost undetectable listening device that was activated remotely without the need for an electronic system. The invention was used by the Soviet Union to spy on the United States.
In August 1945, some children from a Moscow school presented the United States ambassador in the city with a shield bearing the American eagle carved in wood. The ambassador hung it in his office where it stayed until 1952, when the State Department discovered, quite by chance, the hidden microphone inside. The United States kept the discovery secret until 1960, the year that it was taken to the United Nations in response to a charge of espionage by Russia against the United States.
Whatever the case, his real passion was music. He invented variations on the theremin, such as the theremin cello or the ‘rhythmicon’, which was considered to be the world’s first drum machine. He also invented the Terpsitone, a variety of theremin that was activated by the movement of the whole body.
The theremin in popular culture
The theremin has been very present in the music of recent decades. Gary Numan, Radiohead, Alice Cooper, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Kitaro, Blur, Marillion, Cyndi Lauper, Simon & Garfunkel, Elvis Costello, King Crimson, Talking Heads, Led Zeppelin, Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Rita Lee, Spice Girls, Uriah Heep, Spanish bands like La Oreja de Van Gogh and Argentinian groups such as Los Súper Ratones and Babasónicos have used the theremin for studio work and during live performances.
It has also had a presence in the cinema and on television. The first science fiction film soundtracks took advantage of its electronic and almost futuristic sound. The first person to use the theremin in a film was Billy Wilder in The Lost Weekend, which premiered in March 1945, although just a few months later the genius of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, also used its distinctive sound for the film Spellbound.In both cases the composer Miklós Rózsa was responsible for the soundtrack. The theremin is also used in films such as It Came from Outer Space, The Thing, The Ten Commandments, Ed Wood, Batman Forever and Mars Attacks! It has also appeared in television series like The Simpsons, The Big Bang Theory and American Horror Story.