Articles / Gear

Is Augmented Reality The Future Of Theremin Playing?

We all know how hard it is to play the theremin well.  In addition to steady hands, you need to have either perfect pitch or at least very strong relative pitch capabilities.  Making it even harder, the actual placement of notes in space changes subtly with humidity, air temperature, the temperature of the components inside the theremin, and how it happens to be tuned on a particular day.  All these challenges make the theremin one of the most difficult instruments in the world to play well.

This is where augmented reality comes in.

Now, as a theremin player, imagine a "trainer" device that uses augmented reality to help you find notes in 3D space.  You'd just walk up to your theremin, tune it as you wish, and then play the lowest to highest note to teach the device where each note lies in space.  As you play, the stereo cameras and position sensor track your hand and finger movements relative to the pitch and volume antennas.  A heads-up display shows you the pitch of the note you're currently playing.  In "training" mode, the device could actually track the distance between your hand and the position of the next note and then overlay in 3D space a "target" point for you to aim towards.

AR theremin trainer concept

Augmented reality concepts have been around for a long time, but with recent developments like Google Glass, the technology is starting to become much more accessible.  Glass certainly looks interesting, but so far it only includes a single camera and no position sensors.  This means it cannot tell where your hand is in space.

Now, Meta, a startup coming from minds at Columbia University, might just be creating the type of device we're looking for to help take theremin playing to the next level.  Their concept device includes 3D stereo screens and a built-in Kinect-like device with multiple cameras for gesture recognition.  Here's a quick teaser video from their website:

This is all imaginary and vapor-ware at the moment, but we're not far from the day when devices like this are readily available and in use for every-day applications of all sorts.  Current Meta prototypes appear to be bulky and probably won't make a theremin player look much "cooler"... but this is just the start of things to come.  Surely if this catches on, technology will come along to make it less bulky and maybe even fashionable.  Make it fully portable, and you wouldn't even need a theremin (yes, I said that)... it could just track your hands in space and generate sounds with a software synthesizer on the fly.

Learn more about the Meta at and read their full press release here.

I, for one, welcome our new augmented reality overlords.  How about you?