Danger! Retro-affectivity! The cultural career of the theremin

Philip Hayward*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Invented in 1917, the theremin was one of the first musical synthesisers to be used in public performance. Largely forgotten in the 1980s, its 'lost history' was re-examined by Steven Martin's acclaimed documentary Theremin - An Electronic Odyssey (USA 1993). The success of the film, and the re-emergence of the theremin onto the retail market, has stimulated a revival of interest in the instrument. This article examines aspects of the theremin's history, its sonic affectivity and the manner in which it has, through its various uses in music production and cinema soundtrack, become a shifting signifier of modernity, futurism, other-worldliness and, more latterly, a nostalgia for such concepts and perceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-53
Number of pages26
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1997


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