Event Out of Touch? The Theremin in the Twenty-First Century

This free, interdisciplinary symposium will celebrate 100 years since the theremin, the world’s first electronic musical instrument and the first instrument to be played without touching, was first made commercially available. The symposium is part of the International Concert Series at the University of Leeds and the Leeds Digital Festival 2020. Named after its inventor, Léon Theremin (1896-1993), the theremin is played without any physical contact with the instrument. Instead the musician controls the pitch and volume of the instrument’s sound by moving their hands through the air in varying proximity to two separate antennae.

The programme of talks and performances throughout the evening will explore the impact of the theremin and similar musical innovations on the relationships between composition and timbre, electricity and music technology, and instrument design and bodily performance: illuminating the entanglements between science/science-fiction and music. The symposium will help demonstrate that at 100 years old, the theremin is still capable of attracting considerable interest from across disciplines. Bound to popular culture of the mid-20th century, most notably in frequent soundtracks to science fiction film and television, the sound of the theremin is still powerfully evocative of notions of the strange, the Other, and of the technologically advanced.

Performances from visual artist and singer Siôn Parkinson (Leeds), saxophonist Mark Hanslip (York), and undergraduate students from the University of Leeds’ School of Music, will be realised using combinations of electronic (analogue and digital) and acoustic instruments and voice. Additionally, the symposium will end with the ‘keynote’ audio-visual performance titled ‘How the Future Began’ from the Radio Science Orchestra. This British space-age pop ensemble will produce a show illustrated with songs, interstitial sound design, archival footage and narration.

Theremin 100 – How the Future Began


£ 908

Lead Student

Edward Wilson-Stephens, University of Leeds

Other student organisers

  • Rachel Garrett, University of Leeds
  • Mark Hanslip, University of York
  • Sion Parkinson, University of Leeds