Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage (Music in American Life)

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9780252025822: Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage (Music in American Life)

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.

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Review:

"Glinsky has traced the fascinating story of Lev Sergeivitich 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." -- Times Literary Supplement "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 "Glinsky tells the tale of Termen's two lives with spirit and empathy, describing the horrors of the Soviet state and Termen's tenacity in continuing to create electronic instruments. Meanwhile, the original theremin inspired Robert Moog to develop his influential electronic synthesizers in the 1960s... The inspiring story of an inventive genius who launched a revolution in music making." -- Booklist "[The] first full biography on Theremin. The fascinating crosscurrents in his life -- and in that of the theremin -- are engagingly told in rich detail. Glinsky's greatest accomplishment, besides his lucid descriptions of the technical aspects of the theremin, is his ability to paint a contextual scene both vividly and compellingly... Highly recommended." -- Library Journal "Accurate, factual, imaginative, and current; its organization is logical and coherent... Highly recommended." -- Choice "Glinsky has told this tale extremely well -- the tale of a hollow man... It's the fascinating account of a life thwarted and generations of people subjected to incalculable suffering. Someone might say it was the saddest story he had ever heard." -- The Bloomsbury Review "[Glinsky] unveils the elusive Termen while detailing the evolution of electronic instruments... Captures the impossibly convoluted, constrained and threatened lives of Soviet scientists." -- Washington Post Book World "Well-researched and well-written biography." -- Hans-Joachim Braun, Technology and Culture "What makes Glinsky's Thermin a first-rate biography is his elevating our knowledge of a previously hidden unique figure." -- The Weekly Standard "Through indefatigable research, Glinsky has ... managed to provide a nuanced, comprehensive portrait... His biography is a triumph. The tale is so bizarrely dramatic that the book is nearly impossible to put down." -- Wilson Quarterly "Theremin not only brings into focus the astonishing events in the life of its subject, presenting him as an inventive genius, persecuted innovator, and citizen of the world. Theremin's life story tells the tale of tsarist Russia, the Revolution, Stalinism, the Cold War, perestroika, and the end of communism... A grand biography of a fascinating man as well as a capsule history of a complicated century." -- Rob Hardy, The Times of Acadiana

From Publishers Weekly:

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' manAmarried 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 freedAonly 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 nuanceAGlinsky himself notes that U.S. leftists were persecuted, albeit on a much lesser scale, during the McCarthy eraAbut 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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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