Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage

Albert Glinsky, Author, Robert Moog, Foreword by University of Illinois Press $34.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-252-02582-2
For this biography, Glinsky admirably resurrects the name of Leon Theremin, the Soviet inventor of an electronic musical instrument played by moving one's hands in the space between two antennae, but his use of Theremin's life as a metaphor for the Cold War leads him astray. An engineering prodigy, Theremin (1896-1993) invented his instrument early in the 20th century. The synthesizer's forerunner, the theremin was most often used in soundtracks for science fiction films; an advanced version was also used in the Beach Boys' ""Good Vibrations."" According to Glinsky, Theremin was also a ladies' man--married several times, he was rumored to be looking for female companionship when he was in his 90s. The inventor lived in the U.S. during the 1930s, where for a short time he was the toast of the town, but he quickly fell into debt. After he returned to the Soviet Union in 1938, he was arrested and spent time in a labor camp before he was freed--only to be forced to remain in service to the state. Glinsky, a composer and professor at Mercy Hurst College in Pennsylvania, is unable to resist the temptation to use Theremin as a metaphor for the political clash between communism and capitalism. Not only does this allegory lack nuance--Glinsky himself notes that U.S. leftists were persecuted, albeit on a much lesser scale, during the McCarthy era--but the political focus clouds the author's portrait of Theremin's personality and prevents him from using his talents to evaluate Theremin's musical legacy. Photos not seen by PW. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 480 pages - 978-0-252-07275-8
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