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To the best of my knowledge, there is but one instrument that can be played without touching it in any way. It was invented in 1920 by Léon Theremin, and yes, it’s called a Theremin. The idea occurred to him while developing an early form of motion detector. Theremin’s own life is a damned interesting story in its own right, and questions still remain about much of it, but let’s just concentrate on the fact that he designed an instrument to be played without physical contact. The instrument generates an electromagnetic field which is then played by moving one’s hands in proximity to its antennae. One hand controls the frequency; the other its volume.

The result is music!

The video above features Theremin playing his own instrument. Below is an audio recording of his protégé, Clara Rockmore, whose work helped to popularize the instrument. If you are having trouble placing the sound of this instrument, just think ‘horror movies’. It has featured in quite a few.

(Ugh! Spelling corrected, thanks to Mr. Washburn)