We were artists in residence at STEIM: Studio for Electronic Instrumental Music in Amsterdam. STEIM is a centre of excellence for research into the design and theory of creative interfaces and instrument building of new electronic music instruments. Having created instruments such as the Cracklebox and developed the ‘Touch’ approach; we wanted to call on their expertise to help develop our work in terms of light input and gesture and contextualise our practice in line with contemporary alternative DIY instruments and interfaces.
We charted our experiments through video and notebook work. We began by investigating different types of light sensors; currently our machines use LDRs, these are quite low in responsivity. This is not necessarily a negative trait, as it depends what the environmental and performative surroundings and effects you are working with or trying to achieve. For example you may wish a dancer or gestural player to want a slower transition in pitch rather than a quicker change. We began testing with photo transistor circuits followed by photodiodes, which have a quicker and more directional response to changes in light:
We discussed with Frank at STEIM about the potential to use an infrared proximity sensor, which has an analog output but connects to Arduino so you can map the parametres and thresholds. The LDRs have incredibly wide ranging frequency spectrums, so this could be a way of limiting or gating the very high theremin sounds; which was brought up as an investigation point in the focus groups. One concern with this, is that we want to ensure we keep our ANALOGUE SYNTH sounds, so if we were to include this, we would need to work on an analogue to digital convertor through a Teensy microcontroller, which would make our machines hybrids, not a bad thing, but if we were going to sell hybrid units the price would go up significantly with these expensive parts.
Following initial tests with light sensor types (diodes, transistors), we wanted to make a start in experimenting with the different parameters the light sensors can control. So far pitch and tempo have been the areas we have predominantly focused on in terms of light manipulation. With these experiments we were testing how light may control the length of decay of a tones or tones and if light could control the amplitude through a control voltage. The final video and sound clip are three new machines playing together with gesture controlling amplitude and note decay.