Google Celebrates the Virtuoso Who Pioneered the Sound of Science Fiction


By Karen Valenzuela, @VictoriaNoir89


Today would have been Clara Rockmore’s 105th birthday. Thanks to today’s Google doodle, millions and millions of people have played an internet version of the theremin, an instrument created and patented by Russian inventor Léon Theremin in 1928.


Maybe you’ve never heard of the theremin, but no doubt you’ve heard its sound in nearly every single 1950s and 60s science fiction film theme that exists. It’s that eerie weeee-oooooo sound that happens when the alien in The Day The Earth Stood Still finally steps off of its spaceship to tell Earth’s people that it comes in peace (It’s a trap!), that music that sends a chill down your spine when you’re watching old reruns of The Twilight Zone.




While Theremin might have created the touchless instrument, it was young Clara Rockmore who brought the instrument to life in front of American audiences in the 1930s, even popularizing it by touring across the states and playing classical masterpieces.


The thereminist looks like a magician, standing over the instrument, moving their hands in ways that resemble the movement of a spellbinder bewitching their audience. You play by moving your hands through the air, interrupting the magnetic field that is produced by the two antennas on the instrument. One antenna controls the volume and the other controls the pitch. You move your hand up and down over the volume antenna, and control the pitch with your other hand, thus creating the most aesthetically pleasing show you can possibly imagine, if you can get past the chilling beauty of the theremin’s sound.



Rockmore gained fame by doing something new with the theremin. She discovered that she could move her fingers over the pitch antenna a certain way to have more control over the sound the theremin produces. Rockmore even worked with its inventor to expand the instrument’s range from three octaves to five.


The theremin is widely considered to be the first synthesizer, the birth of electronic music. It pioneered electronica, house, dub, et cetera, while becoming the quintessential sound of horror and science fiction theme music.


Clara Rockmore passed away at the age of 87 in 1998, leaving in her wake a massive legacy in both the music world and the science fiction world.


And just because, here’s thereminist Lydia Kavina (who studied under Rockmore) performing the Doctor Who theme:


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