What links The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Depeche Mode?

9 Mar 2016

You many not have heard of the theremin, but its pioneering artist Clara Rockmore paved the way for plenty of songs you know very well.

Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the late Clara Rockmore’s 105th birthday, letting users around the world play around with a theremin, an instrument that made weird, ghostly tunes out of thin air.

Named after its original inventor Léon Theremin, Rockmore made the instrument famous, leading to creations like synthesisers, meaning she is essentially the mother of the 1980s.

Future Human

Gesture controlled, sound is generated by two high-frequency oscillators, with the performer controlling the pitch by moving their hand closer and farther away from the circuit.

Originally limited in scale, Rockmore got wind of the instrument very early on, convincing Theremin to add more scales to the invention. He did, she mastered it and the rest is synth-sounding history.

As Google explains, Rockmore was a rare breed, using electronic music during the 1930s. There wasn’t as much furore about her going electric as some other artists decades later. Retro.

Rockmore performed as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Toronto Symphony throughout the 1930s, with some of her music still doing the rounds online today.

Today’s Google Doodle is interactive, which means its one of the better ones. Users complete three very easy, straightforward challenges to get used to the instrument and then get to mess around with it in a grander scale, with Rockmore gesturing notes on stage all the while.

Clara rockmore theramin

It’s surprisingly fun.

Notable songs that have used the theremin, largely due to Rockmore bringing fame to the oddity, include The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, with Depeche Mode, Led Zepplin’s Jimmy Page and The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones big fans of it, too.

As The Telegraph explains, the instrument’s greatest influence on contemporary music was probably its impact on Robert Moog, the creator of the first synthesizer.

“The Beatles, the Doors and the Byrds all used Moogs as part of their search for ‘psychedelic’ sounds. When the Rolling Stones had a Moog shipped from the US, customs officers spent three hours taking it apart to look for drugs.”

Good times.

Main image of Eva Amaral playing a theremin on stage via Catwalker/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic