The theremin, the go-to instrument for cheesy sci-fi sounds, is getting an April Fools’ Day upgrade from Moog Music.
The PolyTheremin, introduced to the world in Moog’s prank video below, is played – like a regular theremin – by positioning the musician’s hands in close proximity to the instrument’s antennas. However, the PolyTheremin boasts five antennas rather than the original instrument’s two, allowing the player to coax polyphonic sounds out of the bizarre-looking device.
“Basically, it breaks the laws and rules of everything we know about theremin,” says Dorit Chrysler, director of the New York Theremin Society, in the video.
Dressed in a tunic that wouldn’t look out of place in a ’60s Star Trek episode, Chrysler waves her arms in front of the PolyTheremin, working through a warbly version of “Stairway to Heaven” and producing smears of otherworldly sound.
She also explains the PolyTheremin’s IsoDirectional Inductive Oscillator Technology, which “produces five voices separately at the same time.”
“You have to dismiss the original, monophonic, ancient, yesterday theremin technique, and just start from scratch,” Chrysler says.
The fondness for April Fools’ releases at Moog, which pioneered the analog synthesizer in the 1950s with company founder Bob Moog at the helm, dates back to 2005, when the company’s first prank press release went out. That was partially to assuage the fears of Moog President Michael Adams, who worried that the company had not introduced enough new products that year, said Emmy Parker, Moog’s commercial marketing manager, in an e-mail to Wired.com.
The tradition has continued ever since, with some people falling for Moog’s imaginative press releases (a situation made murkier by the fact that sometimes Moog releases actual products on the annual day of practical jokes).
“I’m sure people (individuals and dealers) will try to order [the PolyTheremin],” Parker said. “However, we will deactivate the ‘buy’ button on the product page on our website so people will not be able to really order it. I suspect we will have many e-mails in the morning inquiring about the PolyTheremin and asking why they could not place their order online. We still get orders for the MF-FM three years after it was ‘introduced.'”
The electronic music company’s theremin for the 21st century is the latest in a long line of products announced by Moog on April 1 over the years. Previous entries include Auto De-Tune, which came with presets like Drunk as a Sailor and Seattle Sensitive Alternative Warble.
Auto De-Tune (2010): Returns any previously auto-tuned track to its original, out-of-tune state.
Analog Time Compressor (2009): Much to the amazement and delight of Moog’s techs, this device lets them hear sounds up to 1,000 milliseconds before they are played.
Moog Guitar (2008): Just to keep everyone guessing, Moog has introduced two real products on April Fools’ Day. This is one of them.
MF-FM (2007): A Moogerfooger effect that switches radio stations automatically.
Little Phatty (2006): Also a real product, a monophonic analog synthesizer.
MF-433 (2005): Four minutes, 33 seconds of silence (a tribute to John Cage)
“The theremin is one of the oldest electronic musical instruments,” Parker said. “It was designed by Léon Theremin, a fascinating Russian scientist, in 1928. It is the only electronic musical instrument you play without touching, but it is somewhat limited because it is a monophonic device (only plays one note at time). To open the possibility of polyphony to a thereminist would really be an incredible scientific achievement.”
A polyphonic theremin might actually be possible, Parker said, but “it would be a significant engineering feat, as a theremin works on the basis of electromagnetic waves which surround the two antennas. The field is about 3 feet wide. If we were able to put them close together we would have to engineer how to isolate (or minimize) the size of the electromagnetic field. Thus the name of the technology – ‘IsoDirectional Inductive Oscillator Technology.'”
In case you can stand a monophonic space-age musical instrument, Moog sells its line of Etherwave theremins, available in a variety of models or as DIY kits for those interested in assembling their own.
ASHEVILLE, NC – APRIL 1, 2011: Introduced in 1928, the theremin is one of the earliest and most widely known electronic instruments. Played by artists manipulating the pitch and volume of invisible sound waves radiated from a single antenna with their hands, theremin music has distinguished hit records from such diverse artists as The Beach Boys, Devo, Yes and Alicia Keys.
Today (April 1st), Moog Music designers carrying on the legacy of visionary founder, Robert Moog, have announced the first major technical Theremin design advance in over 40 years. The PolyTheremin™ incorporates bleeding-edge IsoDirectional Inductive Oscillator Technology, to isolate space around five individual pitch antennas thus enabling each to be played simultaneously (finger by finger) without interference from its companion antennas. This revolutionary concept breaks the long-held belief that the theremin could only be a monophonic instrument.
The PolyTheremin ships with Dorit Chrysler’s instructional video “Playing the PolyTheremin Is Even Easier Than Playing a Monophonic Theremin.”
• POWER Rocker Switch – On and Off AC power control
• AUDIO OUT – Standard 1/4-inch phone jack delivers line level output to any compatible amplifier
• PITCH – Rotary controls (5) independently adjust pitch of each antenna
• VOLUME – Rotary control independently adjusts volume of each antenna (Note: reference to volume level not quantity)
• WAVEFORM – Rotary control adjusts audio output waveform
• BRIGHTNESS – Rotary control adjusts audio output brightness (audio not luminescence)
• ANTENNA CONNECTORS – (5) Threaded for easy disassembly, washing and shipping
Power supply included: Order 110-volt for use in U.S. or Canada or 220-volt for use in Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. Libya TBD. Also available in retro steam or (clean) coal engine power source models.
See Also:- Artist Plays Theremin With a Jellyfish