Monday, August 15, 2011

Music for Aliens and Oddities

Flying Saucers from Mars Attacks! (1996)

We can't let the birth date of Leon Theremin pass without celebrating his great invention, the Theremin! An electronic instrument, the theremin is played without being touched by the performer. Here's Wikipedia's description of how it is played:

The theremin is almost unique among musical instruments in that it is played without physical contact. The musician stands in front of the instrument and moves his or her hands in the proximity of two metal antennas. The distance from one antenna determines frequency (pitch), and the distance from the other controls amplitude (volume). Most frequently, the right hand controls the pitch and the left controls the volume, although some performers reverse this arrangement. Some low-cost theremins use a conventional, knob operated volume control and have only the pitch antenna. While commonly called antennas, they are not used for receiving or broadcasting radio frequency, but act as plates in a capacitor.
The sound is weird and unearthly, yet with a distinct and authentic quality. It has been featured in science fiction soundtracks ever since the '50s, most notably in Bernard Herrmann's score for The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Leon Theremin demonstrating his electronic invention.

Let's listen to some examples.

Here's Theremin performing:

Although the original Star Trek theme did not utilize the theremin, it has since become a popular piece within the instrument's repertoire.

Tim Burton's movies often celebrate the "weird" and theremins make frequent appearances. Here's Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!

Let's not neglect to feature the theremin's role within classical concert music. Here's a lovely performance featuring Carolina Eyck.

But it goes beyond concerts and movies. If you want to create an "alien" sound, you need a theremin. Even the Destroy All Humans! series features the theremin within the games' scores.

I can go on and on. . .


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