A Women’s History of Theremins

In case you’re not already privy to the mysterious electronic instruments completing Leticia Bajuyo‘s Event Horizon, here’s a look into the history of the theremin and how women have had a unique and influential hand in its design and use.

An Austinaut performing at Event Horizon opening

The theremin is an early electronic instrument created by Russian inventor Leon Theremin in 1928. The playable part of the instrument is made of two antennae which sense the positioning of the player’s hand and control oscillators for frequency, from the vertical antenna and volume from the horizontal one.

Clara Rockmore from Clara Rockmore’s Lost Theremin Album

Clara Rockmore, a classically trained violinist from Latvia, took up the theremin shortly after its invention in 1928 as a way to continue her musical talents after a bone condition rendered her unable to continue playing the violin. She worked closely with Leon Theremin, making numerous suggestions for improving the design of the instrument, and inventing a finger technique for skillfully and precisely playing the instrument, though it has no physical markers for pitch and does not require actual contact from the player.

Lucie Rosen image from artmargins.com

Lucie Rosen was an American thereministe responsible for popularizing the instrument in the 1930s and 1940s through her solo performances and ensemble work.

Lydia Kavina image from moderecords.com

Russian thereministe Lydia Kavina began training under Leon Theremin (who was in his 80s by this time) at age nine. Her performances have spanned countless radio, television and live appearances, movie soundtracks including Ed Wood, a theatrical collaboration with Robert Wilson, a Russian experimental surf music band, and Moog instructional videos.

Pamelia Kurstin from cafeoto.co.uk

Contemporary American thereministe Pamelia Kurstin was the test musician for Moog’s final Etherwave Pro theremin design in 2005. Her background as a stand-up bass jazz musician led her to create the “walking bass” playing technique for theremin. She has performed with musicians including David Byrne, Richard Cheese and Bella Fleck.

Yvonne Lambert of Austin’s own indie/electronica band Octopus Project is a self-taught thereministe who plays with expanding the sound of the theremin with loops and effect pedals. Check out her performance of “I Saw the Bright Shinies” below, and don’t forget to stop by the gallery to try your own hand at the theremin!

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About Women and Their Work Gallery

Known for its pioneering spirit, embrace of artistic innovation, and commitment to Texas audiences and artists, Women & Their Work Art Space is a one of a kind statewide non-profit organization. Voted “Best Gallery” numerous times in the Austin Chronicle Readers Poll, Women & Their Work Gallery showcases exhibitions of contemporary art throughout the year and presents performances, readings, film screenings and educational outreach programs.
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