Theremin in the (a)ether(wave)

Okay, what the hell is going on? Everywhere I look it’s theremin (TV), theremin (film), theremin (novel). Is theremin the new ukelele? The new black? Or is it just out there in the (a)ether(wave), morphically resonating?


Theremin on television

All over Twitter this last week was the episode of American Horror Story: Coven titled “The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks”. Yes, Stevie Nicks made an appearance. (That’s up there in a sort of alternate universe way with Kim Gordon‘s recent (non-singing) appearance in the season 3 premier of Girls. These viewing treasures still await those of us not in North America.)

I’ve not seen AHS, but it looks, er, intriguing and witch-y, and has some fine actors (including Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates). In the Stevie Nicks ep, Frances Conroy – as witch Myrtle Snow – plays theremin. In a greenhouse. The theremin scene has even generated a much-circulated quote:

Cordelia: What is that thing? It’s hideous and weird.
Myrtle: Don’t be a hater, dear. It’s a theremin.

Genius. Can’t wait to see it.


Theremin on film

This looks great: showing at Sundance Film Festival this week, Frank ticks all the boxes for me. Michael Fassbender in a giant papier-mâché head. “Weird and wonderful” musical comedy. And best of all:

mystery woman Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal), an ice-cold theremin player deeply suspicious of everyone else’s motives.

More details in this review. Hopefully it’ll hit our local New Zealand International Film Festival later this year.


Theremin on the page

You wouldn’t read about it…two novels about theremins published within six months of each other! In my novel, The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt, the central (fictional) character’s enduring relationship is with music, and with the instrument she plays, the theremin. In creating Lena, I was inspired by Clara Rockmore. I’ve written a little about Clara, the theremin and my novel here. As I say in that post:

…I knew I didn’t want to base my character, Lena, strictly on Clara; I had my own plans for Lena, and I wanted the fun of making her up. Film and still images of Clara — from a young girl to an old woman — in the documentary gave me some strong visual cues for Lena. As I developed the character, I aimed to distance myself and Lena from the film, and from Leon Theremin, and from the real life story of the theremin. Clara Rockmore was a starting point for Lena, rather than a model.

This week I was intrigued to find – again via Twitter (thank god for Twitter) –  that Canadian writer and music critic Sean Michaels has his debut novel, Us Conductors, due out this northern spring. Quoting him:

It’s about love & the theremin

Snap! Mine too (well, I’d say mine’s about love, loss and the theremin).

Michaels’ novel focuses on Lev Termen (aka Leon Theremin), the inventor of the instrument that came to be known as the theremin, and his relationship with Clara Rockmore. I can’t wait to read Michaels’ novel, and see how he’s handled the characters.

If you’re a theremin fan (or just like your novels rich with music), you might like to read both novels. Feel free to compare and contrast, and let us know what you find (Sean Michaels is on Twitter @stgramophone, and I’m @hissingswan). I can imagine an intriguing head-to-head session at writers festivals – any takers?



The photo heading this post shows Nell Thomas playing theremin at the Wellington launch of my novel The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (photo: Matt Evans). Read more about the launch

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