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Editor’s Pick #200: The Theremin by Eric Vilas-Boas

So November 4, 2009, I gained another year of experience in life. Throughout my day of yearly reflection and festivity, I wondered what my dear friends would do for me on this particular day of days. One of my fellow editors here chipped in with a few others and handed me an origami card. Upon opening it, I found a picture of the inimitable Léon Theremin working his magic and a speech bubble coming out of his theremin and saying: “I am coming for you in the mail.”

What is a theremin, you might ask? It’s a box (mine is white) that senses the position of its players hands relative to two antennae, one vertical, the other horizontal and looped, and emits sounds at varying frequencies and volumes to correspond to it.

The theremin is well-known for being the instrument used to make those really weird, oscillating noises in scary movies. Its filmography includes The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Red House, Spellbound, Ed Wood, The Machinist, and Hellboy. Moreover, pop musicians the world over have used it throughout music history, including The Beach Boys, The Flaming Lips, The White Stripes, Pink Floyd, Pixies, and Of Montreal, among others.

Because of the method behind its operation (waving your hands around the antennae), the theremin is notorious for being difficult to play properly. I know I can’t wait to start learning!

— Eric Vilas-Boas, Managing Editor

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