The Theremin is the only musical instrument you can play without touching. Artist and Entrepreneur, Edward Sussman, Los Angeles is an accomplished Theremin musician. He also founded The Pure Imagination Co., a self-made, creative and artistic company. He has been involved in all facets of the entertainment industry and house-craft. “We take great pride in our work, our clients and our clients’ needs and input,” he said. Sussman also takes great pride in his passion for playing the Theremin. Over the past two decades, the Theremin has had a major resurgence and has been surfacing in numerous rock bands performances, Youtube videos, and on the classical concert circuits.
“The Theremin uses radio frequencies with two antennas, one for pitch and one for volume,” explained Sussman. “It was invented more than 100 years ago by a Russian named Leon Theremin. He believed he could do something with the AM radio pitches and whistle sounds when he tried to tune an AM radio. After analyzing everything he discovered that he could build an apparatus that would sound like a woman singing. Or like something from outer space,” he said.
During his time in the United States, he was called Leon Theremin and the instrument took on his name. It consists of a box-like body with two antennas: one is a straight vertical rod which controls the pitch (usually on the right for right-handed players), the other is a horizontal loop (usually on the left) shaped somewhat like a cane handle which controls the volume. The pitch and volume of the note are controlled by the distance of the hands from the antennas which generate an electromagnetic field.
“Moving the hand closer to the pitch antenna causes the pitch to raise,” said Sussman. “and moving the hand closer to the volume loop decreases the volume and eventually silences the instrument. Your distance to the pitch antenna tunes the Theremin. Any motion of the body or any solid object in the playing fields will affect the note. This field extends outward about two feet in any direction from the antenna. Thereminists generally need to be a little bit away from any other performers or listeners, who might interfere with the radio signals. There have been many different designs, and Moog Music remains the longest continuous builder of Theremins and their instruments are the most used by Thereminists around the world.
Sussman also is a technical craftsperson or specialist for themed entertainment, major studio projects, commercials and aerospace, including McDonald Douglas Aviation (Boeing Aerospace), where he worked as a model shop fabricator and improved his creative engineering skills. For four years he performed fabrication of display and concept models for the military and airline marketing. Additionally, he created in miniature the assembly line processes and plant layouts for line production of DC-10/MD11 and C-17 aircraft. Later he worked for Walt Disney Imagineering for nearly two years on concept model fabrication and sculpting.
Sussman also lead sculpting department at Spectra F/X, where he interfaced with the engineering department with structural and mechanical issues for animated and lighted sculptures and set pieces for themed installations. He has even worked on such famous movie miniatures as theTitanic. At Foam Tech, Inc., Sun Valley, Sussman worked on client concerns such as foam materials and local fire safety issues when introduced into themed, permanent installations for restaurants, store interiors, and exteriors. The installations were made with custom molds, foam spraying, hard coating and sculpting with steel or wood substructures.
For three decades Sussman has been tinkering and creating original artwork, which includes his most recent Musical Muse series. Musical Muse is a collection of salt and pepper shakers, ornaments, teapots and “all around fun,” ‘lively’ musical characters. Musical Muse is made under license and is available from merchants, e-stores or directly from Sussman. “From small-scale renders to full-scale models, we provide end-to-end needs for our clients such as sculptures, mold-making, props, miniatures, and objects of art. Our Musical Muse Collection e-store provides a personal touch for your home and also make excellent gifts,” he said.
Sussman’s found his passion more than 20 years ago with the Theremin, and even created a slick, black, vacuum formed plastic sculptural body, to cover the standard Theremin box case giving it more personality/sensuality. Sussman, who still does concerts and prop work also talks about movie sets and TV series, such as his prop work on JJ Abrams 2009 reboot of Star Trek, and how he gets cheers from an audience when they hear him play the original TV Star Trek’ theme song, “The Theremin sounds like a high pitched woman’s voice you hear in the theme song,” explained Sussman, who met several times with Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer and plays one of his manufactured Theremins. With Moog’s assistance, Sussman built a prop replica of what was played to make the Theremin-like sounds for the song Good Vibrations for the TV movie “The Beach Boys: An American Family”. “Many people associated the Good Vibrations song with a Theremin,” he said. Sussman also said he made a prop instrument replicating the one the Beach Boys used on tour. It was a variation (a strip of wire when pressed down made a mechanical connection and a Theremin-like sound) because the Theremin was too difficult for them to play. As a side note Keith Emerson, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, who died this month, was one of the first musicians to use the then new Moog synthesizer in the song “Lucky Man.”
Sci-Fi movies were popular for Theremin fans, including, the Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing (1950), dramas such as Spellbound, The Lost Weekend, to a documentary, Theremin – An Electronic Odyssey by Steve Martin, which includes rare footage with Leon Theremin.
The song Over the Rainbow was written by Harold Arlen for the 1939 MGM classic The Wizard of Oz. It is widely believed to be the most loved and enduring popular song of the 20th century. It has been played on a 1929 RCA Theremin and Ed plays a beautiful rendition of “Over the Rainbow” on his redesigned Moog Theremin.
The Theremin was originally used to play classical music, transcriptions, and original compositions. Lev Theremin and his students performed classics both as solos and ensemble pieces. In the mid-20s Clara Rockmore, then a young violinist, met him and soon became the greatest player of the Theremin.
The Theremin is a monophonic instrument, i.e. it only plays one note at a time. It has a very wide range, about eight plus octaves. The quality of the sound is usually set by the individual player and combined with their playing style, which can bring a wide variety of sonic qualities ranging from sounding like the human voice or cello or clarinet to something from outer space.