Ether Music and Espionage
Awards and Recognition:
ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, 2001
The riveting story of an eccentric musician-scientist turned Soviet spook
Leon Theremin led a life of flamboyant musical invention laced with daring electronic stealth. A creative genius and prolific inventor, Theremin launched the field of electronic music virtually singlehandedly in 1920 with the musical instrument that bears his name. The theremin-–the only instrument that is played without being touched-–created a sensation worldwide and paved the way for the modern synthesizer. Its otherworldly sound became familiar in sci-fi films and even in rock music. This magical instrument that charmed millions, however, is only the beginning of the story.
As a Soviet scientist, Theremin surrendered his life and work to the service of State espionage. On assignment in Depression-era America, he became the toast of New York society and worked the engines of capitalist commerce while passing data on U.S. industrial technology to the Soviet apparat. Following his sudden disappearance from New York in 1938, Theremin was exiled to a Siberian labor camp and subsequently vanished into the top-secret Soviet intelligence machine, presumed dead for nearly thirty years. Using the same technology that lay behind the theremin, he designed bugging devices that eavesdropped on U.S. diplomatic offices and stood at the center of a pivotal cold war confrontation. Throughout his life, Theremin developed many other electronic wonders, including one of the earliest televisions and multimedia devices that anticipated performance art and virtual reality by decades.
In this first full biography of Leon Theremin, Albert Glinsky depicts the inventor's nearly one hundred-year life span as a microcosm of the twentieth century. Theremin is seen at the epicenter of most of the major events of the century: the Russian Revolution, two world wars, America's Great Depression, Stalin's purges, the cold war, and perestroika. His life emerges as no less than a metaphor for the divergence of communism and capitalism.
Theremin blends the whimsical and the treacherous into a chronicle that takes in everything from the KGB to Macy's store windows, Alcatraz to the Beach Boys, Hollywood thrillers to the United Nations, Joseph Stalin to Shirley Temple. Theremin's world of espionage and invention is an amazing drama of hidden loyalties, mixed motivations, and an irrepressibly creative spirit.
"Glinsky has traced the fascinating story of Lev Termen, Russian scientist, radio engineer and inventor of the first electronic musical instrument. The haunting wail of the 'theremin' is perhaps best known from the Beach Boys' 1966 hit 'Good Vibrations', but Glinsky demonstrates that its inventor deserves to be more than a footnote in the history of modern music. . . . A fascinating rediscovery of a forgotten man, and a valuable contribution to the history of the future."--London Times
"Glinsky unfolds an impossibly rich narrative with clarity, breadth, and a contagious sense of excitement. . . . A barely imaginable life, lived, to the last, by a true enigma."--David Toop, Bookforum
"Albert Glinsky's splendid and authoritative biography of Leon Theremin is the first complete recounting of an amazing life that spanned--and changed--the twentieth century."--Tim Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist
"With Theremin, Albert Glinsky has created an amazing new thriller biography. As a guide book through the twentieth century, Theremin is an incredible story of invention, music, history, science, and espionage--a celebration of pure creativity."--David Harrington, Kronos Quartet
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