MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE #7 Léon Theremin

Technology delineates the background of much of the history of both MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE. And at the crossroads of technology, music and surveillance, stands out Léon Theremin.

Lucie_Rosen_playing_thereminLéon Theremin was the American name used by Lev Sergeyevich Termen, a Russian inventor who designed the theremin, one of the first electronic musical instruments ever produced. Patented in 1928, the theremin consists of two metal antennas played without any physical contact: the position of the performer’s hands controls the frequency and amplitude of sound. During the 1930s, Theremin lived in the United States and was supported in developing the instrument by early adopters such as Lucie Bigelow Rosen. Since then, the theremin has been used both in avant-garde and popular music, and eventually became especially popular in film and TV soundtracks.

theremin_bugTheremin moved back to the USSR in 1938 in unclear circumstances. After being imprisoned, he was put to work on different secret projects related to surveillance technology. He invented then ‘The Thing’, a seminal covert listening device which allowed to gather audio signals without the need of any power supply, and was used as an espionage tool by the Soviet Union. Due to its use of passive techniques to transmit signals, Theremin’s bug is commonly regarded as a predecessor of nowadays widespread Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, which also allows for the transfer of data from passive, unpowered devices.  Text by Gloria González Fuster

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