Music News


Here's a travel tip: If you find yourself in Melbourne, Australia, with time on your hands, check out the Giant Theremin.



What you're hearing is a 23-foot-tall electronic musical instrument sitting on a pedestrian walkway near the Yarra River. As people pass by - or dance or jump in front of the theremin - it tracks the motion and creates sounds.


NEARY: Judging by YouTube videos, a lot of people are taking part in this musical public art project.


SIEGEL: In this clip, four young women cavort in front of the Giant Theremin. The instrument - or installation, one might say - is the work of artist Robin Fox.

ROBIN FOX: About a year ago, the city of Melbourne approached me. They called me up and just said: How would you feel about building a giant theremin? And I said, well, pretty good, actually.

SIEGEL: The original theremin was created in the early years of the 20th century by Leon Theremin.


SIEGEL: It's usually much smaller than the model in Melbourne, about the size of a mini fridge. You play it without touching it. You simply move your hands in the air to manipulate an electromagnetic field.


SIEGEL: You could say it's an early hands-free device.

NEARY: As Robin Fox explains, the Giant Theremin borrows that spirit but not the exact technology.

FOX: It doesn't work like a traditional theremin because I didn't want microwave people walking past the, you know, great washes of electromagnetic field. So instead, it works with a camera tracking system. But my feeling about that is that if Leon Theremin was alive today, he'd completely approve of that strategy.

NEARY: The camera system, Fox explains, can track up to eight people at a time.

FOX: So in the same way you'd put your hand close to the picture antenna on a theremin, if you walk from side to side in front of this instrument, it will change the pitch of the tone. If you approach the instrument, you can make the tone louder. If you run away from it, you can make the tone softer.


NEARY: And the supersized theremin was programmed to emit not only tones but some prerecorded musical sounds.


FOX: So you have people sort of playing a classic theremin tone, but then someone will cut across that with a xylophone riff, and then you sort of get them tuning that together and sort of finding the position where they have a sort of complementary or harmonic sense.


SIEGEL: The city of Melbourne spent $90,000 to build the theremin. Was it worth the money? Well, here's what we heard via email from the project manager, Ariel Valent. He writes: I can tell by the look on some people's faces that they think it's weird. However, the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. Kids, in particular, are loving it.

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