November 19, 1993 at 05:00 AM EST

Leon Theremin: Father of the Synthesizer

In 1920, Russian scientist Leon Theremin invented one of the first electronic instruments, called — duh — the Theremin. It made the eerie Ooo-EEEEE-ooooo sound you know from Hitchcock’s Spellbound, the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, and bad 1950s science-fiction movies. Pretty strange, but Leon’s life was stranger, arcing from Petrograd to Carnegie Hall, Hollywood, and Siberia. He married a dancer in the First American Negro Ballet, was sentenced to seven years on a Soviet prison work farm, and won his release after inventing a bug for the KGB. He died last Wednesday in Moscow at age 97. His godchildren — synthesizers, samplers, and drum machines —burble on.

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