See Japanese Musicians Play “Amazing Grace” with 273 Theremins Placed Inside Matryoshka Dolls–Then Learn How They Perform Their Magic

In the arts, tech­nol­o­gy, or any oth­er realm, Japan­ese cul­ture encour­ages tak­ing one’s cho­sen pur­suits to the lim­its, even when their mate­r­i­al comes from oth­er cul­tures. We have here a par­tic­u­lar­ly notable exam­ple in the form of Man­darin Elec­tron, a musi­cal ensem­ble found­ed and led since 1999 by pio­neer Japan­ese theremin play­er Masa­mi Takeuchi. But its mem­bers (273 of whom set the theremin-ensem­ble Guin­ness World Record with the per­for­mance of “Amaz­ing Grace” above) don’t play quite the same touch­less, spooky-sound­ing instru­ment vin­tage elec­tron­ic music fans would rec­og­nize; instead, they mas­ter the Matry­omin, a theremin in the com­pact form of a tra­di­tion­al Russ­ian Matryosh­ka doll, con­ve­nient­ly designed “so as to dis­sem­i­nate theremin per­for­mance.”

The com­bi­na­tion isn’t quite as ran­dom as it sounds. Back in 2015 we post­ed about the his­to­ry of the theremin, which goes back to the work of a Russ­ian inven­tor named Léon Theremin. When he first devel­oped the instru­ment in 1919, he called it the Aether­phone, and in the 1920s demon­strat­ed it in Europe and the Unit­ed States.

In the decades there­after, Therem­in’s strange new musi­cal inven­tion cap­tured imag­i­na­tions all over the world, and last year Japan cel­e­brat­ed the inven­tor’s 120th Birth­day with a series of events called Theremin 120 — most of them some­how involv­ing Takeuchi. You can learn more about his his­to­ry with the theremin and its home­land from the video just above.

In a sense, Takeuchi, who moved to Rus­sia to study under Therem­in’s rel­a­tive and pupil Lydia Kavia, has real­ized the inven­tor’s orig­i­nal vision for his “instru­ment of a singing-voice kind.” Free­ing its sounds from their mid-2oth-cen­tu­ry West­ern asso­ci­a­tions — dri­ve-in hor­ror movies, nov­el­ty surf-rock — he has over­seen their trans­for­ma­tion into the ele­ments of an elec­tron­ic cho­rus. You can pur­chase your very own Man­darin Elec­tron-made Matry­omin (now on its third-gen­er­a­tion mod­el) and start learn­ing to play it with the video just above, but if its poten­tial still escapes you, have a look at Takeuchi and his ensem­ble’s exten­sive col­lec­tion of tour and media appear­ances. If the sound and sight of hun­dreds of peo­ple all tun­ing their Matryosh­ka-doll theremins at once does­n’t intrigue you, noth­ing could.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Beethoven’s Ode to Joy Played With 167 Theremins Placed Inside Matryosh­ka Dolls in Japan

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

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

“Some­where Over the Rain­bow” Played on a 1929 Theremin

Japan­ese Priest Tries to Revive Bud­dhism by Bring­ing Tech­no Music into the Tem­ple: Attend a Psy­che­del­ic 23-Minute Ser­vice

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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