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Waves In the Ether: The Magical World of the Theremin

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Album Review

In the late '40s and early '50s, a series of easy listening albums appeared featuring the then-futuristic eerie theremin of Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman. Waves in the Ether: The Magical World of the Theremin collects three of them — 1947's Music out of the Moon, 1948's Perfume Set to Music, and 1950's Music for Peace of Mind — onto one CD, with historical liner notes. (Yes, this 18-track, 53-minute CD does include all three of the albums, as albums had shorter playing times back then.) In truth, it's rather arbitrary who is considered the "artist" of these albums; Hoffman did contribute theremin, but the music was composed by Harry Revel, and conducted and arranged by Les Baxter (on the first two albums) and Billy May (on Music for Peace of Mind). Also in truth, these records really aren't as exotic as they might appear. For the most part they're corny lounge jazz-cum-soundtrack music, with gossamer violins, dramatic piano flourishes, and wholesome white bread vocal choirs and jazz scatting. Often you expect a voice to come over the music at any second exclaiming, "And now, live from New York City, the [fill in the host name] Show!," or the music to fade in favor of dialogue as the opening scene of some 1949 film melodrama starts. As for Hoffman's contributions, they're less dominant than you might surmise, with entire lengthy passages going by without the theremin making a sound. Also, perhaps in part because of the dated recording techniques, the theremin parts sometimes sound more like a shaky violin than a theremin, though they undoubtedly comprise the most unusual features of the arrangements. This is more valuable as a timepiece of how music of the "future" was envisioned in the middle of the 20th century than for the (ironically) dated music itself, but at least this compiles the three most well-known albums with Hoffman's theremin together in a well-annotated package.


Born: 23 July 1903 in New York, NY

Genre: Electronic

Years Active: '40s, '50s

Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman was the most famous and influential exponent of the theremin, the eerily bewitching electronic instrument that ushered popular music into the space age. Born in New York City on July 23, 1903, Hoffman studied violin under Ovide Musin and at 14 was the youngest musician to play Loew's New York Roof Garden. He later led his own orchestra while studying medicine at Columbia, and received a degree in podiatry from Long Island University. Despite launching his own foot practice,...
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