Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The theremin - A short introduction to a unique instrument


I had never heard of the Theremin before reading this book. Here is a video showing how it works. A bit annoying that the player is female and the narrator keeps saying "he" but fascinating how it works.

In a finely woven series of flashbacks and correspondence, Us Conductors takes us from the glitz and glam of New York in the 1930s to the gulags and scientific camps of the Soviet Union.Us Conductors is "a beautiful, haunting novel" inspired by the true story of the Russian scientist, inventor and spy Lev Termen - creator of the theremin - and of Clara Rockmore - its greatest player.
Sean was born in Stirling, Scotland in 1982.
He grew up in Ottawa, Canada. Apart from stays in Edinburgh and Kraków, he has lived in Montreal since 2000.
Sean founded Said the Gramophone in 2003. This was one of the earliest music blogs. His writing has also appeared in The GuardianThe Believerthe WalrusPitchfork and at McSweeney's.

I read The Conductor by Sarah Quigley for my Thursday bookclub and am part way through Us Conductor by Sean Michaels. I am liking both stories but am intrigued that these authors, one from England and the other from Canada wrote books with similar titles and partially set in Russia and of course have a connection to music. Is there a collective unconscious between writer's minds that connects their brains without them being aware?


Quigley is a New Zealander living in Berlin for whom these leaps of time and place seem to come easily. In her account, Shostakovich emerges – as all great Russian composers should – as possessed, possessing, magical, intolerable. Karl Eliasberg, his opposite, is a stifled man still living with his mother who is considered by his musicians to take an entirely heartless approach to music. "Of course I have no heart!" he tells the reader. "Many years ago, in that Leningrad stairwell, I gave my heart to Shostakovich."

Both these books are worth a look even if you have no particular knowledge of or interest in classical music. They open up a world of creative minds in the arts and sciences trapped by a totalitarian regime. Both books claim to be fiction but stay true to most of the reality of these characters real lives.

Lots to learn.


  1. Thanks for the review! I am dying to read us conductors - is on the list!

  2. Your hands will start to flutter as you read guaranteed!

  3. And did you know that the theme music to Midsomer Murders is played on the theremin---that haunting, windy sound? And, I believe Sean Michaels is coming to Fredericton in January for Shivering Songs.