Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage by Albert Glinsky (University of Illinois Press/ Footprint Books)



Once in a while a creative genius comes along and revolutionises preconceived practices. The early 20th Century had it’s fair share of revolutionary thinkers, and Lev Sergeyevich Termen was one of them. Born in 1896, Termen, or Leon Theremin as he came to be known by the Western World, lived in the multiple worlds of science, art and commerce, living through the Soviet Revolution and progressing through to a tenuously sustained career in the United States before returning to Soviet life.

Glinsky’ book takes us though every step of Theremin’ life, from his earliest days of academia and his mentors in the days of the early Soviet Union, though to his development and invention of his “Termenvox’ and it’s progression and refinement to the Theremin, through business deals, espionage, performances and romance. No stone is unturned in this exhaustive tome dedicated to one of electronic music’ true pioneers.

Unfortunately, for the non-academic reader this mass of information becomes overwhelmingly dense. Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage is meticulously researched. Theremin’ life has been exposed in the most compete way. Glinsky’ book is academic research par excellence, but to me I was left wishing for an abridged version to be published. By no means do I want to take anything away from Glinsky’ research, but I am not sure that the reader needs to know every detail about every Theremin performance that was ever recorded. Glinsky seems desperate to show the depth of his research by including as many quotes as possible for each public event in Theremin’ life. This becomes overwhelming and fatiguing. The excessive amount of detail seems to reduce the effectiveness of the actually fascinating events that made up Theremin’ life.

Elements of espionage are downplayed, and his romantic liaisons are played up, as are his dodgy business dealings. Semi-fictional, overly dramatic sequences are inserted randomly, which sit awkwardly against the generally formal text. Perhaps this was an editors suggestion to try to lighten it up somewhat, but it falls flat.

Overall Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage is a worthwhile addition to the electronic music aficionado’s collection, and die-hard Theremin fans will probably devour each minute detail tirelessly. For me, I found it a little too dry, too exhaustive. Perhaps if much of the excess detail was contained within footnotes, then the actual story could have breathed more freely.


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