Someone Magically Turned Their Commodore 64 Into A Theremin
What do you get when you combine two incredibly geeky retro toys into one? Usually nothing, because retro toys usually don't work well with anything, but someone managed to figure out how to turn a Commodore 64 personal computer into a theremin, and it's pretty impressive.
That someone is Linus Åkesson (with thanks to PC Gamer), a Swedish YouTuber with a love of electronics. Using a Commodore 64, some fancy capacitors, a few resistors, a metal clamp, and a spoon, he turned a computer from the '80s into a musical instrument first invented in the early part of the 20th century.
For those too young to know, the Commodore 64 first arrived on the market in 1982 as an 8-bit personal computer. It dominated the computer market throughout the '80s and was eventually recognized as the highest-selling single computer model of all time by the Guinness Book of World Records. It also played a bunch of games too, like Bubble Bobble, Wasteland, 1943, and Maniac Mansion.
The theremin is a much older device. First invented by Russian physicist Leon Theremin in 1919, it would later become the instrument of choice for sci-fi radio shows of the 1930s due its otherworldly sound. What makes the theremin neat is that you don't even touch it–you just hold your hands out in front of two antennas to control the pitch and amplitude of the woobly noise it makes.
Getting into the weeds of how a Theremin works is complicated, but it basically works using the same physical principles as a touchscreen.
Turning a Commodore 64 into a theremin is tricky business. Mostly because all personal electronic devices are made in such a way to resist the tiny changes in capacitance that form the core operation of a theremin. For a breakdown on how Åkesson converted his C64 into a theremin, check out the full report over on his website. He's got circuit diagrams and everything.
Link almost played a theremin in Wind Waker. A bunch of Nintendo devs loved the 1993 documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey and thought it would be cool for Link to control the wind with one. Sadly, Shigeru Miyamoto came by and called it "entirely unacceptable," so they changed Link’s instrument to a baton.
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