Therawho? Therawhat? Therawhere? Theramin!

Interstellar music has a history: Carl Sagan famously oversaw the gold plated records on Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, the only human made artifacts that were intentionally sent hurtling out of our solar system. Those are the two cosmic records I grew up knowing about, but that’s the cool thing about learning: you always find something new….

What I didn’t expect to find in outer space was one of the weirdest instruments ever: the theramin. This is an instrument that doesn’t require physical contact to make a sound, an instrument that is driven entirely by hand gestures and electromagnetic feed back. An instrument that had an influence on the music of the sixties (think the Beach Boys)…an instrument that made its way to the Moon.


Well, it turns out that Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, was a fan of this Russian designed instrument. So when he went careening into space with his two co-pilots, he carried his favorite SP records (for all you younglings, SP=single play, EP=extended play, and LP=Long Play).

So what did Neil take to the Moon?

Dr. Samuel Hoffman’s Celestial Nocturne, produced in 1947.

An album filled with pure, unabashed theramin fury.

Dr. Hoffman didn’t gain much from that project, though he did go on to produce several other soundtracks through the 50’s and 60’s, including scores for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound, and the science-fiction classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Alas, Celestial Nocturne never become the hit record it might have been.

But at least it made it to the moon.

(and if you happen to be in the mood for other celestial recordings, I highly recommend another lunar-music album, Brian Eno’s Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. Spoilers:that album contains no theramins)


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