Lev Sergeevich Termen. August 27, 1896 – November 3, 1993. Russian and Soviet inventor, creator of the family of musical instruments, the most famous of which is the termenvox. Laureate of the Stalin Prize, 1st degree.


Life and Work:

1. His “voice” can be heard in the compositions created by Jean-Michel Jarre and Led Zeppelin. When Jean-Michel Jarre first came to Moscow, he visited the apartment where Lev Termen, a modest mechanic of the sixth category from the Department of Acoustics of Moscow State University, lived until recently. The same Termen who invented virtually the first electronic musical instrument called the termenvox – “Termen's voice” in Latin.


2. Lev Termen’ biography is dizzying and unique. He was born in 1896, in the 19th century, and lived for almost a century.


3. A noble Orthodox family of French and German ancestry spared no expense for their son’s education. The scientist's father was a famous lawyer.


4. Lev Termen began to stage his first independent experiments in electrical engineering during his years of study at the First Saint Petersburg Male Gymnasium. Experiments did not interfere with his studies: Termen graduated from the gymnasium with a silver medal in 1914.


5. Termen easily mastered everything, both physics and lyrics. He studied at the Petrograd Conservatory specializing in the violoncello class and at the university specializing in physics and astronomy.


6. When Termen was a second-year university student in 1916, at the height of the First World War, he was drafted into the army and sent to accelerated training at the Nikolaev Engineering School and then to the electrical engineering officers’ courses.


7. The revolution found Termen as a junior officer of the reserve electrotechnical battalion that served the Tsarskoye Selo radio station near Petrograd, the most powerful one in the empire.


8. In 1919, Lev Termen became the head of laboratory at the famous Petrograd Physical-Technical Institute. He invented his famous termenvox at this institute.


9. The performer does not touch the termenvox with their hands, and playing this instrument consists in changing the distance from the musician's hands to the instrument's antennas. To play the termenvox, you need perfect hearing and excellent muscle memory – probably, that's why it has not become widely popular.


10. Many people have learned about the termenvox, including Lenin: he met with the inventor in the Kremlin and even tried to perform Glinka’s the Lark.


11. The inventor showed Lenin his experiments with signaling systems. The leader was so impressed that he enthusiastically wrote in his letter to Trotsky: “One engineer, Termen, demonstrated his experiments in the Kremlin: such a signaling system that starts ringing when one just approaches the wire, before even touching it.”


12. His signaling system was not installed in the Kremlin that time, and the guards of the Kremlin cadets were not reduced as Lenin dreamed. Termen did not manage to launch his invention “far-sightedness,” it also aroused enthusiasm among the leaders. However, the technical ambitions of the young Soviet Union ruled out tele-experiments, and all the glory for the creation of television went later to Zvorykin, the native of Murom who moved to the United States after the revolution.


13. In 1927, Termen received an invitation to the international music exhibition in Frankfurt am Main. The exhibition made him world famous.


14. A year later, Lev Termen visited the United States. However, he arrived at the country not as an emigrant or guest performer but on a person on business: to produce termenvoxes and assist Soviet intelligence.


15. In the United States, Termen patented security alarm systems and developed alarm systems for the Sing Sing Correctional Facility and Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary.


16. In the United States, Lev Termen became incredibly popular. George Gershwin, Maurice Ravel, Jascha Heifetz, Yehudi Menuhin, Charlie Chaplin, and Albert Einstein paid visits to his music studio. The circle of people he was speaking to included financial tycoon John Rockefeller and future US President Dwight Eisenhower.


17. Then Termen was recalled, accused of preparing the assassination of Kirov and sentenced to eight years in prison camps.


18. In the GULAG, Termen also came into the spotlight and was transferred to Tupolev’s Sharashka – a secret experimental design bureau where prisoners worked. Lev Sergeevich came under the command of Sergey Pavlovich Korolev and was developing unmanned aerial vehicles controlled by the radio, the prototypes of modern cruise missiles.


19. After his release and rehabilitation, Termen worked in a closed research institute and developed a wiretapping system. The recent prisoner was awarded the Stalin Prize for this development.


20. One of Termen’s most famous inventions is the Zlatoust endovibrator. It is a covert listening device known under the name “The Thing” in the west. The bugging device requiring no batteries or electronics was installed in a fine wood panel depicting the Great Seal of the United States. In 1945, the panel was presented to US Ambassador Averell Harriman who was invited to the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Artek pioneer camp. The ambassador hung it in his office in the Spaso House residential residence in Moscow. The design of the covert listening device turned out to be very successful, and the U.S. special services did not notice anything when examining the gift. The “bug” was discovered only in 1952.


21. In his old age, Termen started looking for means of rejuvenation and life prolongation. Lev Termen's active scientific work continued almost until his death.


22. At the age of 95, Termen joined the Communist Party. When he was asked “Why?” he answered: “I promised Lenin.”


23. The remarkable scientist and engineer believed that the secret of his own longevity consisted in his own surname. Termen means “ne mret” (“does not die”) if you read it backwards.