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The Theremin Lesson [2000]

“Using the industrial heritage of Masson Mill in Derbyshire as inspiration, sonic artist Ray Lee made a series of extraordinary sound generating machines that hummed, whirred and crackled in the vast top floor of the mill” YOTA

The disused top floor of Masson Mill was turned into a ‘factory of sound’, filling the space with an elaborate system of electro-mechanical sound machines: spinning sirens, rotating loudspeakers, mechanical arms and devices. In this kinetic sound installation, the audience witnessed thirty-minute performances during which the machines were activated and controlled creating a composition for sound machines and Theremins.

The work emerged out of a research process based at Masson Mill, Matlock, Derbyshire. The spinning of the rotating arms aimed to reflect the ‘spinning’ of the industrial textile machines in the former textile mill known locally as ‘Arkwright’s New Mill’ and one of the birth places of the industrial revolution.


The original premise of the work was for the performer to activate the machines using the digital data generated by playing an Ethervox MIDI Theremin. However, due to technical problems this was not possible. The instruments created for the installation were:

Five rotating sirens: motorised arms with loudspeakers. Sound generated from individually tuneable oscillators based on a 555 timer chip.

Two metal detector sculptures: oscillating arms carried metal detectors. The variable pitch of these was processed and amplified. The detectors also ‘played’ a Theremin.

A metal topped table was amplified using a piezo transducer. Rotating magnets underneath the metal made small metal objects such as nuts and washers spin around. The resulting sound was processed.

Two other Theremins were used for their musical properties. The MIDI Theremin was used to play samples of working textile machines.


The composition used the different machines and devices as individual voices with which a composition was structured. Over the thirty-minute period individual instruments were introduced and used to build up a texture of sound. The Theremins were used to solo over the top of this sonic backdrop.

Supported by:

Arts Council England Year of the Artist award

The Firebird Trust