Spooky Instrument Series: The Waterphone and Theremin

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What lends more to a scary scene in film than music? Some of the most bizarre, frightful sounds in cinema (specifically sci-fi and horror) can be attributed directly to a number of spooky instruments. From the peculiar Beam Blaster to the theatrical Ondes Martenot — the list of freaky noisemakers goes on and on. Two of our favorite, fearsome instruments are the Waterphone and the Theremin.

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Waterphones

They even look a little scary, right?

  The Waterphone (also known as the oceanharp) produces haunting, ethereal sounds with its varied spokes and metal base (the spokes remind us a bit of frightening playground pangs and chimes and the base of the melodies of whale tones); basically perfect for eerie, goose bump–inducing additions to movie score, right? The underwater warble of the Waterphone has created the mood for movies such as Poltergeist, The Matrix and Star Trek, and TV shows such as The X Files, as you can hear below.

 

The instrument may actually have an “aquatic” name for more than one reason, too. In addition to being named after its inventor, Richard Waters, the handle of the contraption is filled with water, affecting the tones created.

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The otherworldly wail of the Theremin became an almost ubiquitous, signature sound for sci-fi TV shows and films by the mid 1940s, including The Lost Weekend and Spellbound. ’90s films Ed Wood and Batman Forever also received the Theremin touch, the unnerving moan that makes your skin crawl. One of the Theremin’s most interesting characteristics (that itself seems a bit supernatural) is that it’s played literally by waving your arms around. One or two metal antennas are mounted on the instrument and the musician’s hands control the pitch and volume of the produced sound without actually touching the instrument. And it’s not just movies where you can hear the Theremin! Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page famously brought a Theremin out on tour to extend the instrumental solos of tunes like “Whole Lotta Love” and “No Quarter.” But if you want to be spooked, try this fan’s Theremin track set to the opening of 1955’s Dementure:

 

Scared out of your wits just thinking about the ghostly sounds of the Theremin and the Waterphone? Don’t worry, we’ve got a little something that’ll calm you right down . . .

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