Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey

Director: Steven M. Martin
Screenwriters: Steven M. Martin

Institute History


What at first glance seems to be an incredibly esoteric subject is instead a fascinating tribute to a remarkable inventor and artist whose life is as interesting as his work. Leon Theremin was born in St. Petersburg in 1895. After excelling in school at both physics and the cello. he invented the theremin, an electronic instrument played by moving one's hands through a field, changing the vibrations, and creating an eerie and distinctive tone. Certainly anyone who has heard music ranging from the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" to the sound track of The Day the Earth Stood Still will instantly recognize it.

But for Theremin and some devoted musicians, the instrument wasn't marginal or formulaic, but intended to be used as part of a classical repertoire. And indeed for a period it was. Throughout the 1920s and '30s, a number of recitals were given at Carnegie Hall and across the nation. As one of the first electronic musical instruments, the theremin was of course a novelty, but its haunting sound and range captured the imagination of such well-known modern composers as John Cage and Edgard Varese. Then suddenly in 1938, Theremin disappeared from his New York home, apparently kidnapped by Stalin's agents. His friends assumed the worst and so do we. Which is what makes his reappearance on screen all the more surprising.

Director Martin's interviews with his subject serve as an amazing backdrop to what is already a story that embodies the old adage, "Truth is stranger than fiction." Complete with marvelous newsreel footage, interviews and personal anecdotes, this is visual biography at its best. Robert Moog and others testify to Theremin's importance as a central influence in the development of electronic music. but even more compelling is the capacity of this saga of science and art, of the personal and the political, to chronicle the history of our century.

Friday Jan 21 10:00 pm
Holiday Village Cinema I

Tuesday Jan 25 10:00 am
Holiday Village Cinema I

Thursday Jan 21 4:00 pm
Egyptian Theatre

Saturday Jan 29 10:00 am
Holiday Village Cinema I


— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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