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Ether Music and the Man who Lived 20th Century Russia

by Masami Takeuchi.
Gakuyosha: Tokyo, 2000.
183 pages.
ISBN: 4-907737-15-7 (Japan).

Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage

by Albert Glinsky.
University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 2000.
403 pages.
ISBN 0-252-02582-2.

Reviewed by Irina L.Vanechkina, Institute "Prometheus", 10, K.Marks, Kazan, 420111, Russia. E-mail: galeyev@prometey.kcn.ru

The long (nearly century) life of the pioneer of electronic art, famous inventor and musician L.Theremin, came to its end in 1993 [1]. The first biography of this unique person appeared in 1995 (author B.Galeyev, Russia) under remarkable title "Soviet Faust: Lev Theremin - a Pioneer of Electronic Art" [2]. And in 2000 two more books on Theremin have been published, one in Japan, another in USA.

Japanese musician Masami Takeuchi is an active enthusiast of "thereminvox" and he popularizes this wonderful instrument in the land of rising Sun. Being a head of Japanese "ether music" society, he plays "thereminvox" himself, published many articles on this subject, arranged Japan concert tour of Lidya Kavina, a thereminvox virtuozo from Moscow. M.Takeuchi more then once visited Moscow, having a meetings with Theremin's relatives and friends (including L.Kavina). Also he was in Kazan, discussing with B.Galeyev their common personage. Speaking and reading Russian rather well, he studied all available Russian publications, including, of course, "Soviet Faust" (the drawing from th cover f this book was reprinted in Japanese edition). Naturally, he also used literary sources in other languages.

All this allowed him to present rather detailed story of Theremin's life, involving the invention of "thereminvox", the meeting of the musician with Lenin, long period of life in USA, and the work in prison institute after his return to USSR. The author assigned a separate section of the book to inventor's family, his daughters - Nataly and Helene. He never forgot to mention that Theremin was "the last communist" (he joined the Communist party as late as 1991). At the end of the book there is an interview with Helene Theremin. In a supplement one can find a discography of "thereminvox" music. The book contains a number of illustrations, though the majority of them have been already published in other editions (for example, V.I.Lenin portrait).

Albert Glinsky is American composer and musicologist. He defended a thesis on Theremin in 1991, when the inventor was still alive [3]. At present, the book of A.Glinsky is the most complete and "academic" investigation among the variety of Theremin studies. If B.Galeyev wrote his book in a genre of philosophic memories, if M.Takeuchi had chosen a genre of popular biography, then A.Glinsky scrupulously collected any information that appeared to be available up to this moment - journal and newspaper publications, films on Theremin from around the world, memories of his colleagues (of course, mainly American ones). Naturally, his life in America is described in more detail (unlike Russian book, where this period was shown rather briefly). The book is provided with a preface by Robert Moog, the well-known Theremin's disciple, who still goes on modifying and developing the idea of "thereminvox". In fact, the book of A.Glinsky is based upon his thesis of 1991, supplemented with new events of the last decade (Theremin's death, centenary memorial celebration, etc). In writing this section A.Glinsky probably could be assisted, to some extent, by the recent publications [4,5,6]. Unlike thesis, the book contains new intriguous motif - Theremin's espionage for Soviet country during his residence in USA (1928-1938). Here the author mainly refers to Russian mass-media and "Soviet Faust" book (in the latter these "secret" facts are presented as Theremin's own old narratives to B.Galeyev). No doubt that further opening of USA and USSR secret archives would lead to new interesting publications on Theremin's life. From the other hand, A.Glinsky was able to supplement with new details the stories of Russian editions about Theremin's work in the prison institutes on the overhearing device project (including device for "processing" of American Embassy at the end of World War II). He has found and published even some unique photos related to this delicate aspects of inventive activity of Theremin. But, unfortunately, just as in the previous books on Theremin, the following 15-20 years of Theremin's voluntary collaboration with KGB (1947-1964), remained "blank space" for A.Glinsky as well.

The book contains the utmost complete description of all available facts of the last years of Theremin's "open" life. It includes descriptions of practically all his "civil" inventions (e.g., valuable data on his light-music device). Of course, technical details and diagrams are omitted, proving that the book is written by musician, though an inquisitive one, who is arrested by his subject. The book's design is excellent. It contains many illustrations, some of them being published for the first time. The book is a worthy gift to the bygone XX century.


1. Galeyev B. "In Memoriam: Leon Sergeyevich Theremin (1896-1993)". - Leonardo, v.27, 1994, N 2, pp. 91-93.

2. See Linnik Yu. Review: "Soviet Faust" (by B.Galeyev). - Leonardo Music Journal, v.6, 1996, pp. 70-71.

3. See Sauer M. Review: "The Theremin in the Emergence of electronic music (diss., by A.Glinsky). - Leonardo Music Journal, v.6, 1996, pp. 71-72.

4. See a sizeable edition "Electronics, Music, Light" (materials of International Conference, devoted to 100-th anniversary of L.Theremin). - Kazan: FAN, 1996. - 299 pp. (in Russian).

5. See Theremin special section in Leonardo Music Journal, v.6, 1996, pp. 45-83 (ed. by B.Galeyev).

6. Kavina L., Belonenko A. and Zalivadny M., Vanechkina I. "Theremin Jubilee Events. - Leonardo, v.31, 1998, N 4, pp. 322-324.


Updated 6 March 2001.

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