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A creative genius and prolific inventor, Leon Theremin almost single-handedly launched the field of electronic music in 1920. The theremin--the only musical instrument that is played without being touched--created a sensation worldwide and paved the way for the modern synthesizer. But the otherworldly sound that entranced millions was only part of Theremin's epic life.  As A creative genius and prolific inventor, Leon Theremin almost single-handedly launched the field of electronic music in 1920. The theremin--the only musical instrument that is played without being touched--created a sensation worldwide and paved the way for the modern synthesizer. But the otherworldly sound that entranced millions was only part of Theremin's epic life.  As a Soviet scientist, Theremin surrendered his life and work to the service of State espionage. On assignment in Depression-era America, he worked the engines of capitalist commerce while passing data on US industrial technology to the Soviet apparat. Following his sudden disappearance in 1938, Theremin vanished into the top-secret Soviet intelligence machine and was presumed dead for nearly thirty years. Using the same technology that spawned the theremin, he designed bugging devices and a host of other electronic wonders, including an early television and multimedia devices that anticipated performance art and virtual reality by decades.  Albert Glinsky's biography places the inventor at world events stretching from the Russian Revolution through the Cold War to perestroika. Throughout, he spins whimsy and treachery into an astonishing drama of one man's hidden loyalties, mixed motivations, and irrepressibly creative spirit.


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A creative genius and prolific inventor, Leon Theremin almost single-handedly launched the field of electronic music in 1920. The theremin--the only musical instrument that is played without being touched--created a sensation worldwide and paved the way for the modern synthesizer. But the otherworldly sound that entranced millions was only part of Theremin's epic life.  As A creative genius and prolific inventor, Leon Theremin almost single-handedly launched the field of electronic music in 1920. The theremin--the only musical instrument that is played without being touched--created a sensation worldwide and paved the way for the modern synthesizer. But the otherworldly sound that entranced millions was only part of Theremin's epic life.  As a Soviet scientist, Theremin surrendered his life and work to the service of State espionage. On assignment in Depression-era America, he worked the engines of capitalist commerce while passing data on US industrial technology to the Soviet apparat. Following his sudden disappearance in 1938, Theremin vanished into the top-secret Soviet intelligence machine and was presumed dead for nearly thirty years. Using the same technology that spawned the theremin, he designed bugging devices and a host of other electronic wonders, including an early television and multimedia devices that anticipated performance art and virtual reality by decades.  Albert Glinsky's biography places the inventor at world events stretching from the Russian Revolution through the Cold War to perestroika. Throughout, he spins whimsy and treachery into an astonishing drama of one man's hidden loyalties, mixed motivations, and irrepressibly creative spirit.

30 review for Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Anyone who has dabbled in electronic music in the past half century, with its synthesizers, drum machines, amplification circuitry, and such, perhaps owes a great debt to the spirit of Lev Terman, known in the West as he was by the name of Leon Theremin. The instrument Termen invented back in the 1920's in Sovet Russia, (known to us all by the name theremin) led on to the inspirations of Robert Moog, who of course, building on Termen's ideas, cobbled together the first modular sound generators i Anyone who has dabbled in electronic music in the past half century, with its synthesizers, drum machines, amplification circuitry, and such, perhaps owes a great debt to the spirit of Lev Terman, known in the West as he was by the name of Leon Theremin. The instrument Termen invented back in the 1920's in Sovet Russia, (known to us all by the name theremin) led on to the inspirations of Robert Moog, who of course, building on Termen's ideas, cobbled together the first modular sound generators into the eponymous Moog Synthesizer. There is really so much here in this book. Termen was a veritable Benjamin Franklin of ideas and practical devices. Returning to the USSR after a brief few years in the USA which allowed the expansion of his research and creating numerous prototypes for a number of devices, which included burglar alarms, variations on his (much earlier) television, and ingenious aids to department store window displays, Termen was incarcerated at the behest of former colleagues into an 8 year sentence in Siberia's gulags. There, he was forced with other engineers to work on top secret projects for the Soviets, one of which included a passive listening bug that was given (as a devious "gift") to the American ambassador in Moscow, enabling the Soviets to have a privileged view upon American policies and plans at a time when having an edge, on one side or the other, was a most coveted advantage. Early on in life, Lew Termen began it as a true believer in the cause of Lenin (something of a personal friend) and Communism. His lifelong search for inclusion as a member of the Communist party came only eight months before its dissolution in the rubble of perestroika, and only a few years before his death. But let his idealism not dissuade you from honoring his name. Without him, the world of electronic instruments could never have been realized so soon in the 20th C; and western culture itself would have never known the "Good Vibrations" for which his genius was responsible.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tara Brabazon

    A phenomenal book. Fifteen years of incredible archival research has created - I believe - the definitive biography of Leon Theremin (Lev Sergeyevich Termen). Glinsky has enacted a profound work of scholarship here, working the archive but also opening and understanding the (large) gaps and silences in the Theremin narrative. The Theremin biography is also a history of the twentieth century, modernity and the Soviet Union. All parts of this history are integrated, including an outstanding Forewor A phenomenal book. Fifteen years of incredible archival research has created - I believe - the definitive biography of Leon Theremin (Lev Sergeyevich Termen). Glinsky has enacted a profound work of scholarship here, working the archive but also opening and understanding the (large) gaps and silences in the Theremin narrative. The Theremin biography is also a history of the twentieth century, modernity and the Soviet Union. All parts of this history are integrated, including an outstanding Foreword by Robert Moog (we are not worthy). The Theremin - the instrument rather than the man - has always embodied modernity for me. Using electricity to play air - to play space. It is part of this world - but always sounds beyond it. This book provides the grounding for this remarkable instrument and shows how a man managed (or didn't) politics, invention, creativity, fame, decline and fame again. A privilege to read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mary Soderstrom

    A wonderful, incredibly researched biography of the man who invented a way to make music from radio waves--and much more.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Robin Tompkins

    The Theremin, the most amazing musical instrument ever invented. If you don't know what a Theremin is, if you have never seen one played, then go to You Tube at once. Amazed? Thought so. That's the closest thing to magic you will ever see... Music, from the air, conjured up by the wave of a hand. Leon Theremin, the Russian electrical genius who invented this incredible device is no less incredible himself. His life story is absolutely amazing, bordering on the unbelievable and would make a fanta The Theremin, the most amazing musical instrument ever invented. If you don't know what a Theremin is, if you have never seen one played, then go to You Tube at once. Amazed? Thought so. That's the closest thing to magic you will ever see... Music, from the air, conjured up by the wave of a hand. Leon Theremin, the Russian electrical genius who invented this incredible device is no less incredible himself. His life story is absolutely amazing, bordering on the unbelievable and would make a fantastic movie. If you want the full story, as close to the truth as you can get, with all the mythology that surrounds Theremin, then here it is. Without doubt, the most complete and exhaustive book on this subject you will find anywhere.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    This book is not just a fascinating and detailed biography of one of the earliest pioneers in electronic music and other strange and stealthy inventions. It is also a tale of life as a Soviet national in the US during the Great Depression and then his resulting gruesome life in Soviet Russia as a scientist and engineer convicted of being an enemy of the state during Stalin's reign of terror. I had either forgotten from history class, or never learned the grim details, but Stalin's Russia was cer This book is not just a fascinating and detailed biography of one of the earliest pioneers in electronic music and other strange and stealthy inventions. It is also a tale of life as a Soviet national in the US during the Great Depression and then his resulting gruesome life in Soviet Russia as a scientist and engineer convicted of being an enemy of the state during Stalin's reign of terror. I had either forgotten from history class, or never learned the grim details, but Stalin's Russia was certainly one of the darkest and most evil times and places of the 20th century. Theremin's clever intellect and rugged resolve somehow carries him out the other side of the collapse of the Soviet empire. His story is well told and documented, and is a must read for electronic music fans as well as students of history and technology during the cold war. Theremin playing his revolutionary instrument (YouTube) https://youtu.be/w5qf9O6c20o

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn

    Wild and wonderful!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    As one of its founding engineers/artists, Theremin set the world off on an interesting century at the birth of electronic music. This history of his life and his inventiveness is interesting to read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Djll

    It's kind of slow. Part of the slowness is due to the lack of raw materials about Theremin's personal life, since what there may have been such as letters, cables, etc were all swallowed up by the Soviet machine decades ago, never to be seen again. Where I'm bogged down now is around 1930. Theremin is in America, making deals, securing patents, putting on concerts and so forth -- all this is told through whatever public documents the author has managed to dig up, with a heavy reliance on marketi It's kind of slow. Part of the slowness is due to the lack of raw materials about Theremin's personal life, since what there may have been such as letters, cables, etc were all swallowed up by the Soviet machine decades ago, never to be seen again. Where I'm bogged down now is around 1930. Theremin is in America, making deals, securing patents, putting on concerts and so forth -- all this is told through whatever public documents the author has managed to dig up, with a heavy reliance on marketing documents from RCA, plus news stories (which were also it seems often reliant upon marketing froo-fraw), so it all gets a bit monotonous, like the tone of a Theremin that's been left on and unmodulated by the presence of a human. That said, the facts about the man's life are remarkable; the times he lived through monumental; the scope of his works, stunning.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nefariousbig

    I fell in love with the theremin when I was 12 years old. The ethereal and wavy sound of the nothing, creeping inside like a kitten, and growing stronger and more wild with each movement. This book is not about that at all. It's quite technical and if you are in to the behind the music scene, the inventive mind, and stories about intriguing real people, this is something to check out. If you want to hear and see the story, watch MOOG. You will get the homogenized cream, instead of the rich versi I fell in love with the theremin when I was 12 years old. The ethereal and wavy sound of the nothing, creeping inside like a kitten, and growing stronger and more wild with each movement. This book is not about that at all. It's quite technical and if you are in to the behind the music scene, the inventive mind, and stories about intriguing real people, this is something to check out. If you want to hear and see the story, watch MOOG. You will get the homogenized cream, instead of the rich version with all the ticks.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

    Absolutely fantastic. Readably and entertainingly piles fact upon biographical fact, incidentally making clear how much myth-making there is in the (admittedly awesome) documentary THEREMIN: AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY. Also - check out the bit where Theremin unsuccessfully pioneers the tech gamers now know as the Kinect - he wanted dancers' choreographed movements to generate music (in the 1920s)! And if anyone has forgotten the paranoia and horror of Stalin's Russia and the gulags, this book will vi Absolutely fantastic. Readably and entertainingly piles fact upon biographical fact, incidentally making clear how much myth-making there is in the (admittedly awesome) documentary THEREMIN: AN ELECTRONIC ODYSSEY. Also - check out the bit where Theremin unsuccessfully pioneers the tech gamers now know as the Kinect - he wanted dancers' choreographed movements to generate music (in the 1920s)! And if anyone has forgotten the paranoia and horror of Stalin's Russia and the gulags, this book will vividly remind them.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cassandra

    After seeing the documentary "Moog" by Hans Fjellestad, I wanted to know more about Lev Termen (Leon Theremin). While this book is very good and very thorough, be warned that it contains a lot of technical detail regarding Theremin's inventions and work so some parts could be a little dry or boring for those not familiar with/interested in those technical details. Still, it is well worth the read if you are at all curious about his fascinating life, Russia's violent and oppressive recent past, e After seeing the documentary "Moog" by Hans Fjellestad, I wanted to know more about Lev Termen (Leon Theremin). While this book is very good and very thorough, be warned that it contains a lot of technical detail regarding Theremin's inventions and work so some parts could be a little dry or boring for those not familiar with/interested in those technical details. Still, it is well worth the read if you are at all curious about his fascinating life, Russia's violent and oppressive recent past, espionage (as the title states) and electronic innovations of the early 20th century.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Sexton

    The story of Leon Theremin is incredible, but unfortunately the book's weighed down with too many superfluous details. Every time you get to a great, suspenseful part, there's a long tangent about something like the status of each of Theremin's patents. The details are interesting, but as a narrative, it gets to be a slog. The story of Leon Theremin is incredible, but unfortunately the book's weighed down with too many superfluous details. Every time you get to a great, suspenseful part, there's a long tangent about something like the status of each of Theremin's patents. The details are interesting, but as a narrative, it gets to be a slog.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Will

    This is a well-researched book about a man who lived a fascinating life. Some sections dragged on a bit much with arcane details and could have been edited down but this did not detract from the overall quality of the story. 4.5*

  14. 5 out of 5

    Danny

    It was a really good book.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Liz Brau

    i wanted really to learn about the theremin, not a huge-ass damn boring detailed history of who said what when and who stopped whom from going where. ugh.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dylan Benito

    Amazing book. If you are interested in Russian history or music history, read this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    Must read-1 Meaningful-1

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lars

    He invented the TV, made "Good Vibrations" possible and may have been a commie spy. What have you done with your life? He invented the TV, made "Good Vibrations" possible and may have been a commie spy. What have you done with your life?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert Lauriston

    This could be ***** if it had been edited with a heavier hand. Too many passages read like raw notes.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Polashek

    Super book-- lots of great Russian, American, and Music History. It's fun to read about all the fascinating interactions he had with American artists and musicians. Super book-- lots of great Russian, American, and Music History. It's fun to read about all the fascinating interactions he had with American artists and musicians.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeremiah Genest

    Very interestiong bio, I wasn't aware Theremin had such a crazy life. Very interestiong bio, I wasn't aware Theremin had such a crazy life.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Keri Latimer

  23. 5 out of 5

    Keith

  24. 5 out of 5

    Hnerd

  25. 5 out of 5

    righteous harmony

  26. 4 out of 5

    Gergely Takács

  27. 4 out of 5

    David

  28. 5 out of 5

    Devowasright

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tsolomon

  30. 4 out of 5

    Siggimaggi

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