Watch Jimmy Page Rock the Theremin, the Early Soviet Electronic Instrument, in Some Hypnotic Live Performances

It can be frus­trat­ing for Led Zep­pelin fans to hear the band reduced to pla­gia­rism law­suits or the quin­tes­sence of sex­u­al­ly-aggres­sive rock-star enti­tle­ment (though much of that is deserved). For one thing, Zeppelin’s occult song­writ­ing ten­den­cies, cour­tesy of both Page and Plant, play just as promi­nent a role as their blues-rock come-ons (as sev­er­al gen­er­a­tions of fan­ta­sy met­al bands can attest). For anoth­er, their stu­dio pro­duc­tions and live shows are renowned for pio­neer­ing mash-ups of mod­ern rock, folk, and clas­si­cal instru­men­ta­tion, cour­tesy of both Page and Jones. And final­ly, the band’s record­ing tech­niques were—for the time—demonstrations of tech­ni­cal wiz­ardry.

Thus it should come as no sur­prise that tech­ni­cal wiz­ard Jim­my Page would play the Theremin, though he does play on it the kind of scream­ing, feed­back-laden bends he unleashed from his Les Paul. Intro­duced to the world by Sovi­et inven­tor Leon Theremin in 1919, the ear­ly elec­tron­ic instru­ment emits high-pitched singing when a play­er’s hands come with­in range of its invis­i­ble elec­tri­cal fields. “It hasn’t got six strings,” Page says in his demon­stra­tion at the top of the post, from 2009 film It Might Get Loud, “but it’s a lot of fun.”

Page used a Son­ic Wave Theremin in his Zep­pelin days in a very gui­tar-like way—running it through a Mae­stro Echoplex and Orange amps and cab­i­nets. (Watch him revive the tech­nique in a 1995 French TV broad­cast above.) For sev­er­al months in 1971, writes fan­site Achilles Last Stand, Page “used a dou­ble-stacked Theremin” for twice the son­ic assault.

Though he seems to have gone back to just the one Theremin in the solo above, the effect is no less elec­tri­fy­ing, if you’ll excuse the pun, as he sends echoes of ray-gun noise cas­cad­ing around the the­ater. Well over five min­utes into the hyp­not­ic affair, Page takes to his Les Paul, cre­at­ing more ragged pat­terns with vio­lin bow and Echoplex. Even if you aren’t in a dazed and con­fused state, you’ll feel like you are if you give your­self over to this piece of per­for­mance art. Hero­ics? Yes, and indeed the bowed gui­tar act has its phal­lic over­tones. But it begins and ends with long stretch­es of the kind of dron­ing exper­i­men­tal noise one would expect to find onstage at an ear­ly Kraftwerk show.

Those in the know will know that Page put the theremin to use on one of the band’s most tech­ni­cal­ly exper­i­men­tal record­ings (though it also hap­pens to be an appro­pri­at­ed blues stom­per), “Whole Lot­ta Love” from 1969’s Led Zep­pelin II. “I always envi­sioned the mid­dle to be quite avant-garde,” Page recent­ly told Gui­tar World, “The Theremin gen­er­ates most of the high­er pitch­es and my Les Paul makes the low­er sounds.” Watch him rip out a theremin-and-gui­tar solo above in the live per­for­mance above from 1973, begin­ning at 1:45. Tak­en with the psy­che­del­ic video effects, the per­for­mance reach­es mys­ti­cal planes of rhyth­mic abstrac­tion. 

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jim­my Page Describes the Cre­ation of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lot­ta Love”

Hear Led Zeppelin’s Mind-Blow­ing First Record­ed Con­cert Ever (1968)

Sovi­et Inven­tor Léon Theremin Shows Off the Theremin, the Ear­ly Elec­tron­ic Instru­ment That Could Be Played With­out Being Touched (1954)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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