Charlie Draper theremin

Charlie Draper in search of the Tardis

Based near London, Charlie has devoted himself to these instruments. Since he began his career in 2005, Charlie has performed at venues including London’s Wigmore Hall, Oslo’s Opera House, New York’s Public Theatre, Tate Britain, the British Library, Glastonbury Festival, and Mexico’s Auditorio Metropolitano. He has performed numerous works for theremin and orchestra including Schillinger’s “First Airphonic Suite” (UK premiere), Rózsa’s “Spellbound Concerto”, Herrmann’s “Suite from the Day the Earth Stood Still” and Elfman’s “Mars Attacks!”, and featured on BBC 1, BBC2, ITV, BBC Radio 3, Channel 4, and Classic FM. 


Masha Theremin: Charlie, you became a finalist of the Theremin Star competition, I don’t know how you feel about this, but Theremin Today is very glad to welcome you as a finalist of the competition since you are really one of the initiatives and promising young participants in the world theremin community. Our sincere congratulations, Charlie !

What do you think about  theremin competitions, do we need this format  today? What do you feel about the significance of feedback from the audience for concert thereminists, do you pay attention to this factor? Do you think that today there is an important stage in the process of popularizing the theremin when the audience begins to understand the difference between the theremin approaches and finally makes personal choiсe? Of course, this is only the beginning of a very smooth and consistent process that will take at least a decade, but it seems to me that a turning point has already came – every year it’s becoming more and more difficult to satisfy the audience by only fact of owning a ‘’magic’’instrument and a set of cliches from sci- fi films of the past century. I have a feeling that we have come close to an important stage in the development of theremin and that in the new century the culture of theremin perception will begin to take shape among the audience, people will consciously make a choice in favor of one or another theremin artist. What do you think of it?  


Charlie Draper:First of all, thank you Peter for organising the Theremin Star competition. It was exciting to be part of this shared journey spanning so many genres and continents! Reaching the final came as a huge surprise, not least because entrants were nominated without their knowledge, but also because my entry was selected at the very last moment for inclusion. This meant an intensive period of lobbying friends, family and anyone I could persuade to vote for my video to maximize my chances of attending the much-vaunted 2020 Thereminology Festival in Russia. In the end I didn’t win the popular vote, but the outcome has increased the profile of all the performers and of the Russian Theremin School in a positive and constructive way. I was particularly happy that the video of mine selected was a live recording of an ensemble performance. As for your other question, I think we’re merely seeing increasing confirmation of what was always the case: the best players are the best musicians, and novelty is only a temporary substitute for musicianship.

Masha Theremin: Your theremin start happened at the age of 15, and for a very long time, while you were receiving education in Cambridge and in Oxford, theremin remained your first hobby, but about a year ago everything changed, maybe the magic of the theremin’s centennial  changed something in our gravity and the celestial sphere, perhaps you just finally made an important decision for yourself, the decision to which you have been probably going for many years, but the fact remains: relatively recently you decided to devote yourself to music and to the theremin professionally. Can you,please, tell us something about  your choice and your future plans?  


Charlie Draper: It’s definitely true to say that the theremin’s anniversary 2019-2020 has been quite special for me and many other musicians. Until the coronavirus pandemic ground everything to a halt, it was the busiest period on record, both for me and the wider theremin community. We’ve seen the Theremin Star contest bring together musicians from around the globe, The New York Theremin Society’s release of the international Theremin 100 collaboration, and a series of exciting discoveries and performances marking this historic occasion. I found that this was a special year in which the theremin became a bigger part of my identity than ever before: a personal highlight was definitely touring “Music out of the Moon” with the Radio Science Orchestra, in celebration of the theremin’s centenary and the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11’s lunar landing. This new production used music, projections and archive materials to tell the story of unexpected connections between space travel and electronic music, supported by narration from acclaimed science author Ken Hollings. The orchestra repurposed and resurrected music for the theremin and jazz orchestra from Les Baxter and Harry Revel’s 1947 album “Music out of the Moon”, originally performed by Samuel J. Hoffman, and broadcast by Neil Armstrong from translunar space in 1969. The scores for this music had been lost, so I worked to transcribe them from the original recordings. We had the luck to perform this show at exciting packed venues including Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory, TED Summit and Mexico’s CDI. I also co-founded a new orchestral ensemble, “Retrophonica”, with my colleague Alex Palmer, and we staged a celebratory theremin centenary performance last October which included new and old works for theremin and chamber orchestra, spanning Shostakovich and Schillinger through to original works composed in 2019. Despite the global coronavirus pandemic, we have a lot of plans for both these ensembles.

Masha Theremin: Today you are practically the only thereminist who combines theremin and no less serious work with Ondes Martenot, an instrument that is, in a way, the musical twin and at the same time, the musical antithesis of the theremin – the combination of these musical instruments in the performing practice of one artist is an unusual approach, interesting experience.As far as I remember, canadian thereminist Peter Pringle has a conviction. that Leopold Stokowski (who, as you know, was actively interested in innovative electro-musical instruments) , at some historical moment, was interested in combining Lev Theremin’s theremin and Maurice Martenot’s instrument for a joint project, but found that it was impossible. Maybe, this statement is a confirmed historical fact,maybe, it is  just a version. But surely Maurice Martenot considered his own instrument to be more accurate and perfect then theremin (some newspaper publications testify to this), and Lev Theremin believed that the aesthetic and performing concept of theremin was not comparable with the Ondes Martenot. Apparently, this could be the reason for the possible but never took place cooperation.Charlie, could you, please, tell us about your music for these two instruments and about your recent projects. And, of course, would you please explain why theremin and Ondes Martenot are so attractive for you, in what  are the advantages and  differences of these instruments? Why are you interested  in  combining theremin and Ondes Martenot at the modern stage? 


Charlie Draper: The theremin and ondes Martenot are really ideal partners: quite aside from their entwined histories in the 1920s and 30s (you’re right that Leon met Maurice Martenot in New York; apparently he even acquired an ondes Martenot of his own!), both instruments are capable of continuous gradations of pitch and volume and require similar attention to intonation. The ondes Martenot’s chief advantages are the precision of the keyboard and ribbon guide, the ability quickly to change register and timbre using the drawer, the availability of various resonant speakers which transform the instrument’s timbre, and a far far richer and musically extensive original repertoire. This last feature in particular has been a joy to explore: music by Messiaen, Pierre Velonnes, Dmitri Levidis, Richard Rodney Bennett, Elmer Bernstein and so many other great composers.. What the ondes Martenot gains in precision and agility however, it loses in visual sorcery and physical freedom. It’s also probably the most cumbersome monophonic instrument ever invented: it has so many speakers, cables and cases! In 2019, together with pianist and musicologist Paul Jackson, I assembled a recital programme of original music for both instruments, and presented this around the United Kingdom in 2019. For a theremin and piano player, the transition to the instrument felt quite natural, and unlocked a wealth of new repertoire and expressive potentials. It’s the start of a long journey of learning and discovery. 

Masha Theremin:Charlie, according to one of your specializations, you are an Egyptologist, so it seems to be quite logical that your interested is not only in the theremin, as  in a very unusual and somewhat sacred instrument, but also you have a genuine enthusiasm for everything related to the theremin history For some reasons the British history of theremin always seemed to me very fragile, tragic, touching, with the taste of exotic : it all started from the abduction of Lev Theremin from France in 1927 for demonstration the theremin in Royal Albert Hall, a little poisonous sarcasm of Bernard Shaw was transferred to the share of the theremin, the British musical eccentric Musaire performed on a snow-white theremin painted with notes( there was real minibar inside his theremin), today this theremin is a museum exhibit in London and it is from London a very long time ago had escaped a charming young girl ,  stepdaughter of  Winston Churchill’s cousin, and the favorite student and friend of Lev Theremin – Lucy Bigelow Rosen. If we talk about the British film music for theremin, then it sounds for me a little bit kinder and more touching than American, I’m talking specifically  about theremin in Midsummer murders, as well as about the music from Doctor Who where theremin was never used in the original version of the serial, but today it is the music that is very often adapted for the theremin. What do you like in British theremin history? Is theremin conception organic for the British mentalitet ? Would you ,please ,tell us something surprising or inspiring, something that we all need to know about British theremin history.  


Charlie Draper: As you eloquently describe, the history of the theremin in the UK began in 1927 with Leon Theremin and Julius Goldberg’s performances at London’s Savoy and Royal Albert Hall. After Musaire’s death, it was Lydia Kavina (Leon’s first cousin twice removed), Bruce Woolley’s Radio Science Orchestra, Tony Henk and Celia Sheen (of Midsomer Murders fame) who acted as torchbearers of theremin culture in Britain during the 1990s, at a time when the instrument almost risked oblivion. Tony Henk’s instruments in particular are noteworthy as the ones used by Celia Sheen and for Lydia’s first albums with MODE records. They have a beautiful and distinctive timbre as well as striking visual aesthetics. As far as I know, none of them is currently being used, although a handful survive and at least one was restored by Thierry Frenkel.


Masha Theremin: This February you visited New York, I don’t know if you managed to visit the Metropolitan this time, but in one of the very first days of your visit, in your Instagram appeared a photo of the legendary house where Lev Theremin’s studio  Teletouch  was located in the thirties, I was very pleased to see this photo, many years have passed, but for some reasons, I feel an irresistible connection with this place. This house in New York is very easy to find, it is located opposite the historical building of the Museum of Modern Art. It would be so pleasant if you  could tell the audience of Theremin Today  about your feelings, emotions, associations  near the house at 37 West 54th Street.  

Charlie Draper: My last trip to New York was something of a theremin pilgrimage: I wanted to visit sites connected with the history of the instrument and its eponymous inventor: his brownstone studio-laboratory at 37 West 54th Street; the Plaza Hotel annex where he set up base after arriving from Europe; the Manhattan docks where he arrived and left New York; Carnegie Hall where his orchestra of ten theremins first performed; and the Rosen House at Caramoor in Upstate New York, the summer retreat of the thereminist and patroness Lucie Bigelow-Rosen. The visit to Caramoor in particular was fascinating owing to its rich archival collections; in addition to commissioning and receiving a wealth of original music for theremin, much of which has never been recorded properly, Lucie was extremely careful with documentation, collecting many folios of newspaper clippings about the theremin, as well as photographs, flyers, concert programmes, advertising material, brochures and technical documentation about her three theremins (a customised RCA, and two custom instruments made by Leon himself, her “January” and “September” theremins, named for the months of 1938 in which they were completed). There was also a practical end to the trip: in addition to bringing back an RCA Theremin lovingly restored by Mike Buffington (, I also began typesetting some of Lucie’s works for theremin which have entered the public domain, in preparation for recording and performance by myself and other theremin players. One of such recording, of a work by Isidor Achron, has appeared already on YouTube, and at least one more will be released by Thorwald Jorgensen as part of a compilation of music written for Lucie that he is preparing.

Masha Theremin: Would you, please, share with us your impressions about your meeting with the New York theremin community and about your lecture in New York? 

Charlie Draper: New York is blessed with an exceptionally active and vibrant theremin community, which grows richer and more exciting with each passing year. The New York Theremin Society, founded by Dorit Chrysler and Suzanne Fiol, is now more active than ever, staging ambitious concerts with international performers, selling out venues at astonishing speed, and recently releasing the expansive “Theremin 100” compilation record, capturing musical contributions from across the globe. Thereminist Rob Schwimmer is making waves with performances combining the theremin with virtuosic piano improvisation and the Haken Continuum, an astonishing realm of polyphonic multitouch, continuous-pitch possibilities. The Thereminoes continue the legacy of Leon’s theremin orchestra by offering one of the world’s only live, close-harmony theremin ensembles. In Brooklyn, Mike Buffington operates the heir to Leon Theremin’s laboratory, restoring antique theremins with impeccable attention to detail, constructing exacting replicas of Leon’s lesser-known electronic devices. And of course there is the landscape of theremin history already alluded to: even the Metropolitan Museum of Art now prominently displays a 1929 RCA Theremin in its musical instruments department for all to see. On my last visit, I was lucky to give a short lecture at Manhattan’s New School together with Mike Buffington; it was there in January 1932 that Leon Theremin first demonstrated his Rhythmicon together with Henry Cowell and Joseph Schillinger. A special place indeed!

Charlie Draper theremin

Masha Theremin: What could you tell about your theremin collection? Have you ever thought about the fact that when a person has been engaged in the theremin for a long time, then more and more theremins accumulate in his collection, and, as a rule, a person practically does not use these theremins? Have you noticed a similar pattern and what is the reason for this in your opinion? 

Charlie Draper: This is an interesting question. My experience is that the majority of theremin collectors regularly play the instruments in their care, and most share them with the wider theremin community. I am thinking particularly of Marc Chouarain and Peter Pringle, but a handful of other collectors fall into this same category. As for having more instruments making them less likely to be played, I think that up to a certain level, the reverse is actually true: only a tiny number of the theremins manufactured are still being played at all. Most were thrown away, left to break or to gather dust in attics, and others still lie under glass in museums. It’s also worth remembering that many historic instruments are wholly unsuitable as primary performance instruments, requiring specialist restoration and care in order to remain playable. So it would be quite impractical to own only an RCA nowadays: they are too heavy, fragile and valuable to use as a main concert instrument. A final consideration is that every theremin tells a story, and each has a distinctive voice. They all have very different strengths, weaknesses and histories. The EPro sadly has no real competitors when it comes to performance; the 91A has a uniquely vocal quality; the RCA has an inimitably rich timbre and is of considerable historic interest but could never be a primary concert instrument. 

At the time of writing my collection comprises: a Moog Etherwave Pro (#0092) designed by Bob Moog and modified for improved volume response by Thierry Frenkel, used as a primary instrument; a Moog Etherwave Standard, modified by Thierry Frenkel for improved pitch response, used as a demonstration, teaching and backup instrument; a Big Briar 91A theremin (#1027) designed by Bob Moog, which I use primarily for period and theatrical performances, but also for situations where the instrument’s unique vocal timbre is desirable; a 1929 RCA Theremin (#200082, “Electra”) designed by Leon Theremin and built by Westinghouse (electrics) and the Jamestown Mantel Company (cabinetry), marked with Aeolian decal, tubes conceivably all original to the time of purchase, formerly owned by Michael L. Kitner (1944-2000) and sold in Philadelphia, whose crating, consignment and repair was handled by Mike Buffington of; and a Matryomin, designed by Masami Takeuchi (a portable theremin concealed inside a matryoshka, a Russian doll).

Masha Theremin: Is theremin a synthesizer? Do you see the difference between theremin and synthesizer? 

Charlie Draper: Overall, I’d prefer to say that the theremin, like the ondes Martenot and the Trautonium, is a precursor to the synthesizer rather than a true synthesizer. The theremin is an important ancestor of the modern synthesizer, and usually contains a tone synthesis circuit. However, it’s not really a synthesizer, since that word now refers to a specific type of instrument developed in the 1950s and 60s, which places emphasis on the specific control of timbre through the manipulation of waveforms, filters, envelopes, attacks, decays and so on (like the Moog, Buchla, and ARP synthesizer). The boundaries between the theremin and the synthesizer can however be quite permeable: theremins with CV outputs can be used to control modular synthesizers (as Coralie Ehinger and MEZERG demonstrate); theremins can employ analog synth tone circuitry (as in the waveform, brightness and filter controls of the Etherwave Pro); they can even contain digital synthesis circuitry (as is the case with the Theremini and latest OpenTheremin). 

Masha Theremin: Charlie, in addition to your love to the history of the theremin , it seems to me that your love to historical music for the theremin has a separate place in your heart. I remember that for a long time you have been worried about the history of the first score for theremin by  Andrey Pashchenko, this manuscript was magically mentioned in many sources, although  in fact it  was considered to be lost. I always perceived this story as a fake or something insignificant, since my grandfather, Lev Theremin, never mentioned this work in conversations, although, on the other hand, my grandfather was generally skeptical to composers who wrote music specifically for theremin, he preferred to  adapt folk music or the music of ingenious composers for theremin so that he could not mention Pashchenko just because he did not consider his work important for the development of theremin, or maybe he didn’t take part in premiere. But, unlike me, you firmly believed that if we look for better, then the manuscript could be found (although the Soviet newspaper reviews at that time have not even mentioned the participation of Lev Theremin and his theremin in the premiere of Pascenco).

And yet, in the year of the Theremin century (2019), a small piece of the manuscript was not only found, but the whole score was restored by Russian thereminist and composer Olesya Rostovskaya and performed in Lev Theremin’s homeland in the cultural capital of Russia – St. Petersburg

Would you,please, tell us about your role  in the story with the search for the lost score of Andrey Pashchenko?  Has  the found artifact  inspired you by the only fact of its existence or you have noticed some deeper significance in this piece of the score? What do you think about the work ( historical restoration) of Olesya Rostovskaya and the fact of the new premiere of the first music for the orchestra and theremin in the centennial anniversary of the theremin?

Charlie Draper: Andrey Pashchenko’s “Symphonic Mystery” (1923) has a place in history as the first work for an electronic instrument and orchestra, but was long assumed lost. As you know, I have a very strong interest in historical repertoire for theremin, and decided on a whim to redouble my efforts to locate this particular work, after successes locating similar “lost” pieces by some other, less important composers. In January of last year, I noticed some telling entries in the bibliographies of a particular Russian archive mentioning the premiere performance and alluding to the survival of manuscripts from the same period. Lydia Kavina and I then wrote to the archive to ask: did they have any record of the work? Was it perhaps somewhere in their collection? Within days, we had our answer: Pashchenko’s manuscript had survived.

Musicologist and thereminist   Olesya Rostovskaya then headed to the archives to examine and study this precious document. Dedicating hours of labour to the task, she found a strikingly dense compositional holograph reduction of pen, pencil, coloured indications in Russian, French, and Italian attesting to numerous stages of revision and alteration by the composer. While the theremin (“Radiophon”) is indicated in the list of instruments required by the composition, nowhere in the reduced score is there an explicit indication of what it should play (this is the case frequently for the other instruments, like the oboe and solo violin, for instance). Nor do contemporary records (of which there are few) say anything about the precise role played by the theremin. 

Through intense study and creative dedication, Olesya Rostovskaya then reconstructed Pashchenko’s score, in preparation for performance by her and the St Petersburg Philharmonic: with the very same ensemble and at the very same location in which Lev gave the work’s 1924 premiere. Olesya’s intelligent hypothesis was that the theremin of 1923 lacked the same dynamic range as the modern instrument, and could thus only play during the handful of pianissimo passages which occur. Additionally, an indication in green pencil seems to show some of these regions, highlighting notes and phrases which the theremin might have played. Without the complete conductor’s score or parts however, these ideas must remain purely hypothetical. In the end, Olesya took the very rational decision to reconstruct the piece as a modern concert work, ignoring the limitations of the historic instrument and giving the theremin some exciting solo lines during louder sections of the work.

Discovering the manuscript was exciting, but ultimately the greatest contribution was the astonishingly insightful and rapid work conducted by Olesya. I cannot think of a better way to have started the Theremin 100 anniversary than with such an exciting and pioneering performance!Charlie Draper theremin

Masha Theremin: How do you imagine the theremin’s 200th birthday? And what would you like to wish to all theremin fans in the new theremin century? 

Charlie Draper: Of course, none of us know for sure what the distant future holds, for humanity itself let alone for the theremin, as we face the triple threats of mass extinction, global warming and resource depletion. The rapid pace of technological change coupled with increasing social responsibility gives causes for optimism, but also for concern. As for the theremin, I am quite confident it will remain relevant, exciting and striking to audiences of the future. Indeed, the instrument seems scarcely less futuristic now than it did a hundred years ago. There aren’t many inventions for which this same statement holds true. In the more immediate future, I hope a high-quality successor to the Moog Etherwave Pro will be produced, granting a new generation of players access to a reliable concert-grade instrument. I also hope that a more extensive and widely-known repertoire will develop, aimed at players and ensembles of various sizes and abilities. I’m excited to see what the next decades hold for the instrument, and do what I can to contribute to its story.




Our past determines the future. Of course, there is a version that the present determines the future, and the past determines the present, but there is not   so clear   in quantum physics, there is a version that the future determines our past.

In any case, attempts to rewrite history are usually unsuccessful, since we can always find causal links by the final or intermediate result. It’s a great happiness  for me that  now Charlie  has a real RCA theremin. Up to this point, Charlie was just learning to play the theremin on modern models that weren’t fully theremin. But now  Charlie has a real chance  to create some kind of connection of times in his sound perception and work with the theremin.

Undoubtedly, RCA is a simplified model of the author’s theremins of Lev Theremin, but nevertheless, it can serve as a kind of compass for a person who is really in love with the theremin and wants to move theremin art in the right direction.

Today Charlie seems to be standing on the shore of the electromagnetic sea in the streams of interference between the past and the future   trying to peer through the fogs of Albion into the sacred design of the creator of the theremin.

This is a very exciting process, the joy of discovery is one of the most important things in  the art.

Charlie Draper theremin




Theremin today

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