of X-ray analysis of crystals; using hypnosis to improve measurement-reading
accuracy; working with Ivan Pavlov's laboratory; and using gas-filled lamps as
measuring devices. He built a high frequency oscillator to measure the dielectric
constant of gases with high precision; Ioffe then urged him to look for other
applications using this method, and shortly made the first motion detector for use as a
While adapting the dielectric device by adding circuitry to generate an audio tone,
Theremin noticed the pitch changed when his hand moved. In October 1920 he first
demonstrated this to Ioffe who called in other professors and students to hear.
Theremin recalled trying to find the notes for tunes he remembered from when he
played the cello, such as the Swan by Saint-Saëns. By November 1920 Theremin had
given his first public concert with the instrument, now modified with a horizontal
volume antenna replacing the earlier foot-operated volume control. He named it the
"etherphone"; to be known as the Терменвокс (Termenvox) in the Soviet Union, as the
Thereminvox in Germany, and later as the "theremin" in the United States.
During this time Theremin was also working on a wireless television with 16 scan lines
in 1925, improving to 32 scan lines and then 64 using interlacing in 1926, and he
demonstrated moving, if blurry, images on June 7, 1927.
After being sent on a lengthy tour of Europe starting 1927 – including London, Paris
and towns in Germany – during which he demonstrated his invention to full audiences,
Theremin found his way to the United States, arriving December 30, 1927 with his first
wife Katia. He performed the theremin with the New York Philharmonic in 1928. He
|If you have a picture you'd like us to feature a picture in a future quiz, please
email it to us at CFitzp@aol.com. If we use it, you will receive a free analysis of
your picture. You will also receive a free Forensic Genealogy CD or a 10%
discount towards the purchase of the Forensic Genealogy book.
|If you enjoy our quizzes, don't forget to order our books!
|Answer to Quiz #276
October 9, 2010
1. A Theremin
2. It's one of the first electronic musical instruments,
the predecessor to the Moog Synthesizer.
You control the volume and pitch by waving your hands in front of it
without touching it.
3. This rendition of the Great Seal of the United States
concealed a listening device invented by the same Leon Theremin
who invented the theremin musical instrument.
1. What is the item on the left?
2. What was innovative about it?
3. What does it have in common with the item on the right?
Click here for hint.
|Congratulations to Our Winners!
Susan Skidmore Sharon Cleveland
Karen Kay Bunting Liz Rector
Bill Utterback Collier Smith
Peter Norton Debbie Ciccarelli
Mary South Stan Read
Jim Baker Mike Dalton
Daniel E. Jolley Mike Swierczewski
Judy Pfaff Brian Kemp
Roberta Martin Frank Nollette
Carl Blessing Jim Kiser
John Chulick Deborah Lee Stewart
Robert W. Steinmann Jr Nicole Blank
Marilyn Hamill Diane Burkett
|Comments from Our Readers
Fascinating history lesson! Eric Goforth
I had seen a story about the Theremin and its inventor on a PBS show, but I had seen a
story about the Theremin and its inventor on a PBS show, but I do not remember
connecting the two stories. I have known about the US Seal listening device since I
was a kid but never knew of the connection. Thanks for another great quiz.
Photo flash on it - not professional. What got my attention was that the star of david
arrangement was not perfectly straight vertical- a slight cant to the left and 18 clouds
surrounding it. On the great seal design= star are perfectly vertical and 19 clouds. The
word in banner held in beak of eagle are not clear as would be with great seal design.
Clearly a nuisimatic or design error.
I initially thought this would be the cover to cabinet or box holding great seal and that
device shown was some sort of early alarm system protecting it. By googling on alarm
system and other related words I got to the theremin.
Comments: gifts are bestowed and accepted as a gesture of goodwill, even if it is a
soviet or a trojan horse. An alert right minded US official should have noticed
something was not quite right about the design, and thought about its relationship to a
trojan horse. Mike Dalton
Very interesting! I did see the musical connection for the theremin too - I jumped too
fast when I found the Great Seal Bug info. I actually have an album (yes, I am really
dating myself!) of music by Bach called "Switched on Bach" and it was all done using
the Moog Synthesizer. Your story [about being asked about the theremin right after you
found out about it] is great! Life is full of these coincidences. We also went to the
International Spy Museum when we were in DC. Fascinating place! Liz Rector
Well, I'll be doggoned! I'm afraid I never would have made the connection. I've seen
photos of bug detectors that very much resemble the theremin you pictured, but I've
not run into that sort of musical instrument before, except in some history show on
PBS where one could wave their hand over the top of some type of instrument(not the
theremin) and it would make music, if you knew how to play it. I'll definitely read that
piece on it....... Bill Utterback
Quiz for spy suitability -- I would not be a good one. Judy Pfaff
I happen to have a friend who has a Theremin, although we've never been able to make
it sound like anything other than the Three Stooges. I also recently saw a History
Detectives feature talking about the Theremin and The Thing, so this was a fairly easy
quiz to answer. Brian Kemp
This wasn't specifically asked in the quiz, but it's been "bugging" me, concerning the
listening device. Some sources talk about radio waves, some say microwave; at least
one source says 300 MHz. One source says 300 MHz is the low end of microwave,
another says its radio, somewhere between VHF and UHF. I'm inclined to say that the
KGB used electromagnetic radiation, and leave it at that! Peter Norton
Cool Quiz but this one did not "Bug" me too much. Thanks again. Jim Kiser
I was so fascinated by Moog Synthesizers. I wanted one badly!!! Besides languages, I
love musical instruments. Mary South
I wonder how many of his bugs no one ever found... Karen Kay Bunting
This was a very good quiz. I learned a bit about how some weird sounds have been
generated. John Chulick
N.B. Well you never know when that will come in handy. - Q. Gen.
Isn't it funny how those "coincidence" things show up?! I was at the Ancestry/NEHGS
conference in Boston today and we were talking about that very subject. It makes you
My husband had heard the story of the Theremin bug, but I had not. This is a fun way
to learn a little history! Looking forward to the next quiz! Deborah Lee Stewart
N.B. So are you saying you were coincidentally talking about coincidences, or are
you saying you were coincidentally talking about the Theremin? - Q. Gen.
HA! We were coincidentally talking about coincidences that happen while doing
research. :) Deborah Lee Stewart
Serendipity? Rather a neat 'coincidence' of being able to answer the prof's poser about
Theremin [after having just learned about it a couple of days earlier]. I'd heard of
Theremin's activities during a session at "The Farm" when attending some specialized
training - which included display and demonstrations of some of the more exotic
devices. Frank Nollette, still active as KH6TX/7
Great Quiz !!!!!!!, I had never heard of this before....COOOOOL!!!!!!!
Robert W. Steinmann, Jr.
They have a Spy Museum in D.C.? I had no idea - we are not too far from there, I
must visit that! So fascinating and I think even the kids would like it. Totally cool that
you had all the info on Theremin handy when your friend brought him up - how many
times can that happen (and how many times would we like it to happen and it
doesn't?)? Next week he'll probably be mentioned on Jeopardy too. :) Nicole Blank
|How Heschel Solved the Puzzle
|When first confronted with this week's quiz, I was at a loss. The
device on the left looked vaguely familiar, but I had no idea what it
was. The Great Seal suggested the White House to me, and since the
item on the left seemed obviously something electronic, I went down
the Nixon Watergate tapes path, which unfortunately led nowhere
useful. Then I thought, give Google what you know, which was
"Great Seal" and "electronic device", and the top result was "The
Great Seal Bug Story - Russian Eavesdropping - Leon Theremin". Go
Robert Moog marketed Theremin kits before inventing his own
electronic music synthesizer, and the company that bears his name
still sells an instrument called the Moog Etherwave Theremin. The
image used in this quiz is, I believe, a picture of the Moog Etherwave
Theremin, flipped (the loop antenna is really on the left) and with the
name Moog obscured. (The jpeg name is instrument_blocked_flipped,
which seems to confirm this.)
out, and Paul Tanner was being used on more and more projects. One such project was
the new TV show, My Favorite Martian.
Tanner recalls having to be flown in just to do that one show. He was the only one with
the instrument. Not only is the instrument featured on the theme tune, it was used every
time Ray Walston (the Martian) would levitate items, extend his antennae or meditate.
Tanner recounts that pitch had to be exact, because of the chord structure under him.
If you want to hear the Electro-Theremin really put through the paces, tune into re-runs
of this show. It's amazing just how much the instrument was used.
Another TV show that used Tanner was one called Ford's Startime Theater. Tanner
was featured in a short sketch of sorts, spanning about every type of musical style.
Most interesting are the human-like qualities Tanner got from his instrument. The "Hi
Honey, I'm home!" phrase coming from the Electro-Theremin is sound to behold. In
those several minutes, Tanner gives the instrument a workout. I'm sure it was
something too that took considerable practice and rehearsal on Tanner's part.
An Electro-Theremin is the creation of
actor/electronics wizard, Bob Whitsell. It is
a mechanical controller of an audio
oscillator. Whitsell invented the first one in
1958 and it was with this instrument that
|Opening of Theme
from The Green Hornet
Paul Tanner recorded Music from Heavenly Bodies. Several weeks later, Whitsell began
designing an improved version, one that was played in a straight, linear movement of
the hand (as opposed to the first version's arc-like movement). It was with this
instrument that Tanner recorded the numerous TV and movie soundtracks as well as
the LP, Music from Outer Space and the three Beach Boys' tunes.
The Electro-Theremin is a mechanically controlled electronic musical instrument. It
uses a mechanical linkage to control an audio oscillator. This makes the instrument
extremely accurate. The traditional theremin is a space-controlled electronic musical
instrument. It has two antennas, one for pitch, the other, for volume. It is the distance
of the performer's hands from the antennas which determines how high or low the
notes are, and how loud or soft the instrument is.
In addition to the physical differences, the Electro-Theremin and traditional theremin
differ in the tones they produce. The traditional theremin's tone is rich in harmonic
content, producing an almost string-like quality in the low to mid registers, and a human
soprano-like quality in the upper register. The Electro-Theremin, on the other hand,
utilizes a sine wave as its tone. The theremin's tone is earthy and organic. The
Electro-Theremin's tone more easily conjures up imagery of space and of the heavens.
More TV Themes and Background Tracks
When you play lead trombone for the ABC
Orchestra, the likelihood of being called
other projects is quite high, particularly if
you happen to be the only one around with a
theremin-like instrument. So the word got
The Beach Boys
|Leon Theremin led a life of flamboyant
musical invention laced with daring
electronic stealth. A creative genius and
prolific inventor, Theremin launched the
field of electronic music virtually
singlehandedly in 1920 with the musical
instrument that bears his name. The
theremin-–the only instrument that is
played without being touched-–created a
sensation worldwide and paved the way
for the modern synthesizer. Its
otherworldly sound became familiar in sci-
fi films and even in rock music. This
magical instrument that charmed millions,
however, is only the beginning of the story.
As a Soviet scientist, Theremin
|surrendered his life and work to the service of State espionage. On
assignment in Depression-era America, he became the toast of New York
society and worked the engines of capitalist commerce while passing
data on U.S. industrial technology to the Soviet apparat. Following his
sudden disappearance from New York in 1938, Theremin was exiled to a
Siberian labor camp and subsequently vanished into the top-secret Soviet
intelligence machine, presumed dead for nearly thirty years. Using the
same technology that lay behind the theremin, he designed bugging
devices that eavesdropped on U.S. diplomatic offices and stood at the
center of a pivotal cold war confrontation. Throughout his life, Theremin
developed many other electronic wonders, including one of the earliest
televisions and multimedia devices that anticipated performance art and
virtual reality by decades.
In this first full biography of Leon Theremin, Albert Glinsky depicts the
inventor's nearly one hundred-year life span as a microcosm of the
twentieth century. Theremin is seen at the epicenter of most of the major
events of the century: the Russian Revolution, two world wars,
America's Great Depression, Stalin's purges, the cold war, and
perestroika. His life emerges as no less than a metaphor for the
divergence of communism and capitalism.
Theremin blends the whimsical and the treacherous into a chronicle that
takes in everything from the KGB to Macy's store windows, Alcatraz to
the Beach Boys, Hollywood thrillers to the United Nations, Joseph Stalin
to Shirley Temple. Theremin's world of espionage and invention is an
amazing drama of hidden loyalties, mixed motivations, and an
irrepressibly creative spirit.
"Glinsky has traced the fascinating story of Lev Termen, Russian
scientist, radio engineer and inventor of the first electronic musical
instrument. The haunting wail of the 'theremin' is perhaps best known
from the Beach Boys' 1966 hit 'Good Vibrations', but Glinsky
demonstrates that its inventor deserves to be more than a footnote in the
history of modern music. . . . A fascinating rediscovery of a forgotten
man, and a valuable contribution to the history of the future."--London
"Glinsky unfolds an impossibly rich narrative with clarity, breadth, and a
contagious sense of excitement. . . . A barely imaginable life, lived, to the
last, by a true enigma."--David Toop, Bookforum
"Albert Glinsky's splendid and authoritative biography of Leon Theremin
is the first complete recounting of an amazing life that spanned--and
changed--the twentieth century."--Tim Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning
author and journalist
"With Theremin, Albert Glinsky has created an amazing new thriller
biography. As a guide book through the twentieth century, Theremin is
an incredible story of invention, music, history, science, and
espionage--a celebration of pure creativity."--David Harrington, Kronos
In 1946, Soviet school children presented
a two foot wooden replica of the Great
Seal of the United States to Ambassador
The Ambassador hung the seal in his
office in Spaso House (Ambassador's
residence). During George F. Kennan's
ambassadorship in 1952, a secret technical
surveillance countermeasures (TSCM)
inspection discovered that the seal
contained a microphone and a resonant
cavity which could be stimulated from an
outside radio signal.
On May 26, 1960, U.S. Ambassador to
the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.
unveiled the Great Seal Bug before the UN
Security Council to counter Soviet
denunciations of American U-2 espionage.
The Soviets had presented a replica of the
Great Seal of the United States as a gift to
Ambassador Averell Harriman in 1946.
The gift hung in the U.S. Embassy for
many years, until in 1952, during George
F. Kennan's ambassadorship, U.S.
security personnel discovered the listening
device embedded inside the Great Seal.
|Henry Cabot Lodge reveals
the bug in the Great Seal at the UN
May 26, 1960
Lodge's unveiling of this Great Seal before the Security Council in 1960 provided proof
that the Soviets also spied on the Americans, and undercut a Soviet resolution before
the Security Council denouncing the United States for its U-2 espionage missions. – U.
S. Department of State
The triumph of the Great Seal bug, which was hung over the desk of our Ambassador
to Moscow, was its simplicity. It was simply a resonate chamber, with a flexible front
wall that acted as a diaphragm, changing the dimensions of the chamber when sound
waves struck it. It had no power pack of its own, no wires that could be discovered,
no batteries to wear out. An ultra-high frequency signal beamed to it from a van parked
near the building was reflected from the
bug, after being modulated by sound
waves from conversations striking the
The Great Seal launched electronic
snooping as no other incident could. The
feeling in many circles seems to be that if
such appalling tactics are employed by
major world powers, lesser applications
would hardly be as startling, if indeed not
The theremin, originally known as the aetherphone / etherophone, Thereminophone or
termenvox / thereminvox is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without
contact from the player. It is named after its Russian inventor, Professor Léon
Theremin, who patented the device in 1928. The controlling section usually consists of
two metal antennas which sense the position of the player's hands and control
oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other, so it
can be played without being touched. The electric signals from the theremin are
amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.
The theremin is associated with a very eerie sound, which has led to its use in movie
soundtracks such as Miklos Rozsa's for Spellbound and The Lost Weekend and
Bernard Herrmann's for The Day the Earth Stood Still and as the theme tune for the
ITV drama Midsomer Murders. Theremins are also used in concert music (especially
avant-garde and 20th- and 21st-century new music) and in popular music genres such
as rock. Psychedelic Rock bands in particular, such as Hawkwind, have often used the
theremin in their work.
Léon Theremin (born Lev Sergeyevich Termen,
Russian: Лев Сергеевич Термен) (27 August [O.S. 15
August] 1896, Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire – 3
November 1993, Moscow, Russia) was a Russian and
Soviet inventor. He is most famous for his invention of
the theremin, one of the first electronic musical
instruments. He is also the inventor of interlace, a
technique of improving the picture quality of a video
signal, widely used in video and television technology.
His invention of "The Thing", an espionage tool, is
considered a predecessor of RFID technology.
In 1919, Professor Abram Fedorovich Ioffe invited
Theremin to come to his newly founded Physical
Technical Institute in Petrograd. There, he worked in
diverse fields: applying the Laue effect to the new field
patented his invention in the United States
in 1928 and subsequently granted
commercial production rights to RCA.
Theremin set up a laboratory in New York
in the 1930s, where he developed the
theremin and experimented with other
electronic musical instruments and other
inventions. These included the
Rhythmicon, commissioned by the
American composer and theorist Henry
In 1930, ten thereminists performed on stage at Carnegie Hall. Two years later,
Theremin conducted the first-ever electronic orchestra, featuring the theremin and
other electronic instruments including a "fingerboard" theremin which resembled a cello
Theremin's mentors during this time were some of society's foremost scientists,
composers, and musical theorists, including composer Joseph Schillinger and physicist
(and amateur violinist) Albert Einstein.[clarification needed] At this time, Theremin
worked closely with fellow Russian émigré and theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore.
Theremin was interested in a role for the theremin in dance music. He developed
performance locations that could automatically react to dancers' movements with varied
patterns of sound and light. After the Soviet consulate had apparently demanded he
divorce Katia and while working with the American Negro Ballet, the inventor fell in
love with and married the young prima ballerina Lavinia Williams. His marriage to the
African-American dancer caused shock and disapproval in his social circles, but the
ostracized couple remained together.
Theremin abruptly returned to the Soviet Union in 1938. Although it was believed by
some that he had been kidnapped by Soviet officials, he later revealed that he returned
home due to financial difficulties. Shortly after he arrived, he was imprisoned in the
Butyrka prison and later sent to work in the Kolyma gold mines. Although rumors of his
execution were widely circulated and published, Theremin was, in fact, put to work in
a sharashka (a secret laboratory in the Gulag camp system), together with Andrei
Tupolev, Sergei Korolev, and other well-known scientists and engineers. The Soviet
Union rehabilitated him in 1956.
During his work at the sharashka, where he was put in charge of other workers,
Theremin created the Buran eavesdropping system. A precursor to the modern laser
microphone, it worked by using a low power infrared beam from a distance to detect
the sound vibrations in the glass windows. Lavrentiy Beria, the head of the secret police
organization NKVD (the predecessor of the KGB), used the Buran device to spy on the
U.S., British, and French embassies in Moscow. According to Galeyev, Beria also spied
on Stalin; Theremin kept some of the tapes in his flat. In 1947, Theremin was awarded
the Stalin prize for inventing this advance in Soviet espionage technology.
Theremin invented another listening device
called The Thing. Disguised in a replica
ofthe Great Seal of the United States
carved in wood, in 1945 Soviet school
children presented the concealed bug to U.
S. Ambassador as a "gesture of
friendship" to the USSR's World War II
ally. It hung in the ambassador’s
residential office in Moscow, and
intercepted confidential conversations
there during the first seven years of the
Cold War, until it was accidentally
discovered in 1952.
I already submitted my answers to the
quiz about the Theremin through the
web site, but I'd like to add this little
bit of trivia:
The movie called "The Thing from
Another World" from 1951 used the
Theremin in the sound track.
Coincidence? Ha ha ha Maybe not!
It's one of my husband's favorite
movies. I guess we will be watching it
again soon. ha ha ha
Susan E. Skidmore
Wanna hear something else interesting?
We just visited the Intl Spy Museum in Washington DC two weeks
ago where I found out about Theremin and his bug. Two days later I
met an old friend at a party who is a physics teacher at Furhman
College in SC. He was talking abt musical instruments and brought up
this guy Theremin who invented the first electronic instrument
(predecessor to the Moog Synthesizer). The friend remarked that after
Theremin invented his instrument he disappeared from sight for 40
years- then suddenly one day someone ran into him walking down the
street in NYC.
Of course I was ready with the info abt where he had been and what
he had been doing!
Another coincidence is that two weeks ago my husband was playing a
Theremin at a small museum that we went to! This is fun AND funny
I really get a kick out of the quizzes and you. Be safe in your travels
and I know something interesting will happen along the way.