Radio Craft Theremin Article, December 1936


Theremin "Terpsitone," An Electronic Novelty

This article from the December, 1936 issue of Radio Craft magazine describes the "Terpsitone," a Theremin that creates music from the movements of a dancer's body.

This is a modification of the original Theremin, a 1920s electronic music instrument invented by Prof. Leon Theremin. You can read more about Theremins in two other magazines presented in this website, Popular Electronics from April, 1955 and Electronics Illustrated from January, 1961.

A conventional Theremin is played by waving your hands around two metal antennas, which modify the music's pitch and volume based on your body's changing capacity.

Here, the instrument's antenna is a metal plate in the floor. The musical pitch plays higher or lower as dancer's body stretches up or moves down.

In Greek mythology, Terpsichore was one of the Nine Muses, inspiring dance and choral song. Thus, a "Terpsitone," is a musical instrument controlled through dance.

A conventional Theremin can change volume as well as pitch, but evidently this instrument plays at a constant volume.

Special phonograph records were played in the background as accompaniment to the dancer's performance. The Terpsitone also offered a rudimentary sort of light show, lighting a row of colored lamps corresponding to certain notes.

Although ingenious, the Terpsitone seems somewhat impractical, and the one-note music couldn't have been terribly interesting. I wonder how many times it was actually used in a public performance?

Creating music by moving one's entire body remains an elusive goal. Recently, the Wii system introduced Wii Music, which allows you to control dozens of musical instruments, including an entire orchestra, by waving one or more remotes. Reaction to this sytem has been mixed; one reviewer noted that it's more in the nature of an interesting experiment than a serious music-maker.

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