A beguiling rockstar graces Google’s home page today. Clara Rockmore, born 105 years ago, was the original master of the theremin, the first electric musical instrument and one which allows musicians to create sound from thin air. Here’s Rockmore displaying her air-shredding prowess with Maurice Ravel’s Habanera:
Google’s tribute to this pioneering musician and her extraordinary instrument is no ordinary doodle. It marks the launch of the company’s Chrome Music Lab, a platform for technology-powered open-source experiments in music. Accordingly, the Rockmore doodle is also an instrument and experiment itself.
Created by a 12-person team of artists, sound engineers, coders and illustrators, the unique interactive attempts to teach users how the instrument works through play, and culminates in simulated concert. The Google design team went the extra mile to get capture Rockmore’s unique sound, pulling in a theremin expert to capture her ”smooth sliding between frequencies and scaling vibrato” and used filters to get a “softer, more aged feel,” says engineer Will Knowles in a Google blog post.
In the spirit of exploration and experimentation, clicking on the Doodle’s settings icon on the lower left hand corner reveals a set of controls that allow you to play with different sounds.
Born to a Jewish family in the Lithuanian capital city of Vilnius, Rockmore was a violin prodigy who’d stared her career at the prestigious Saint Petersburg Conservatory at the age of five. After a bout with tendinitis compromised her arm and ended her violin career, Rockmore turned to the theremin, which can be controlled with slight gestures around two proximity-detecting antennae. She worked with inventor Léon Theremin to refine its design, and create a greater range of notes.
The theremin inspired the contemporary synthesizer, whose inventor, engineer Robert Moog, even ran a theremin-making business as a teenager. Moog convinced Rockmore to record her first and only album at age 66, which he produced. Three tribute albums have been released since her death in 1998.
The Clara Rockmore tribute can be seen on Google’s homepage in North America, Europe, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand India, Russia, Kazakhstan and of course, in Lithuania. Those outside these regions can view it on the Google Doodle archives.