Can you name a musical instrument that you play without touching it? Probably not unless you are familiar with a Theremin. This device was accidentally invented by a Russian named Léon Theremin who was doing research on something called proximity sensors. He noticed that when he approached this device it made a sound that changed pitch. He was intrigued with the device, and soon learned how to control the sound that issued from it. He could even use it to play music.
Rather than being simply an oddity, it was used in movies to create a mood. Movie music composer Miklós Rózsa used it in the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock movie Spellbound to capture the feeling of the main character, Dr. Anthony Edwardes, who was suffering from amnesia and having weird dreams. It was used in the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still by composer Bernard Hermann to set the mood for the other-worldly visitor from outer space who arrived in a flying saucer. All of this is in a well done CBS Sunday Morning segment that recently aired.
Another very strange instrument is the Ondes Martenot which was invented by a French cellist named Maurice Martenot in 1928. A YouTube clip describes this instrument which looks much like a piano, but produces a sound that can be very similar to that of a theremin. Like the theremin, the Ondes Martenot has been used by many movie music composers. Elmer Bernstein used it in his 1964 movie Ghostbusters where once again it created a mood to match the weird things being done by the ghosts.
Next time you watching a movie with friends and hear weird music, you’ll be able to narrow down the instrument that produced it to either a theremin or an Ondes Martenot. Your friends will be quite impressed.