THE 1929 RCA THEREMIN

OF DR. SAMUEL HOFFMAN

 

 

 

Dr. Samuel Hoffman (1904 - 1968) was known as “The Hollywood Thereminist” because he can be heard playing his 1929 RCA theremin on the soundtracks of over 50 motion pictures beginning with such classics as SPELLBOUND (1945), THE LOST WEEKEND, and science fiction and horror thrillers like THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and THE THING (1951). If you have heard the eerie sound of a theremin in an old Hollywood film, you have heard Samuel Hoffman.

 

THE THEREMIN THAT WENT TO THE MOON

 

Samuel Hoffman's theremin, or rather the music it made, actually went to the moon as part of the Apollo mission. Here is a quote from the final paragraphs of the book, MOONDUST: IN SEARCH OF THE MEN WHO FELL TO EARTH by Andrew Smith (the full story of the Apollo 11 moon mission, published in 2006).


“ Of more interest to me, though, was Neil Armstrong’s response to a supplementary question about 'the strange, electronic sounding music' that Collins [fellow astronaut Michael Collins] reported him taking to Luna. Armstrong told me that the electronic sound I referred to was the theremin music of Dr. Samuel Hoffman, specifically an album called MUSIC OUT OF THE MOON, which he [Neil Armstrong] had committed to tape from his own collection.


The theremin was an early form of synthesizer, played by moving one’s hands through two invisible radiostatic fields to produce an unearthly quaver, eerie, like the pleadings of an alien choir. Armstrong's decision to make it part of his own sound track struck me as at once both deeply, deeply eccentric and absolutely perfect, and ever since, when I've thought of Apollo, I've thought not of the first step, or the raging Saturn, but of him and his little band drifting out there toward the secret Moon, spinning slowly to distribute the heat and spilling spooky theremin music out at the stars who think it’s just as weird as I do - and it occurs to me that in the final analysis this might be as good a way as any to remember Apollo, as a kind of collective dream, a tale from a comic book come to life”.


Here is an mp3 and a transcript of the actual conversation from the moon, between astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin and Charles Duke of the Houston Space Center.

 

Neil Armstrong Talks To Houston Space Center

 

Armstrong: Charlie, could you copy our music down there?
Duke: Did we copy what, Neil?
Armstrong: Did you copy our music down there?
Duke: Rog. We sure did. We're wondering who selected - made your selections?
Armstrong: That's an old favorite of mine, about - It's an album made about 20 years ago, called Music Out of the Moon.
Duke: Roger. It sounded a little scratchy to us, Neil. Either that or your tape was a little slow.
Aldrin: It's supposed to sound that way.
Duke: That's one of those...
Collins: ...it sounds a little scratchy to us too, but the czar likes it.

 

MUSIC OUT OF THE MOON

originally recorded on 78 rpm

by Samuel Hoffman in 1947

 

Dr. Hoffman also made a number of television appearances during the 1950's demonstrating his instrument. Here he is in 1956 with American television host, Johnny Carson.