Simon Pearson -

Making light of music: week two

Monday, May 23, 2011


It’s been a reasonably unproductive first week in all honestly. Health got in the way a bit as I’ve had a festering cold which has sapped by energy big time. My noob status means I am missing some vital equipment to get even the basic tests going. I have to wait for some header pins to arrive to connect my midi shield to my arduino properly so I can do an end-to-end test.

In better news I have been working through the tutorials my arduino kit from the lovely chaps at oomlaut came with and finding that building circuits has come back to me very quickly, and programming in c is something I’m not afraid of either, so it’s been going really well. My soldering iron turned up and, after a fairly painstaking hour of making test joints and worrying about the smoke coming out of the iron itself (I’m assuming it was just dust as it stopped after about 5 mins) I managed to solder all the components on to my midi shield.

I can’t test it all works yet but I diligently watched a few soldering tutorials online to refresh my memory, and although it took a few goes to get the technique right, by the end I was soldering super quickly. Most importantly the joints look good.

I also came across a couple of projects along the way which have helped me think a bit more about how to structure the thing. First via Ben, this midi rainbow which is a much simplified version of what I’d like to do but a great starting point and all the circuitry involved is included.

MIDI Rainbow from SuLuLab on Vimeo.

I’ve also been in discussion with Mark Lottor, artist and creator of the Cubatrons (which I was lucky enough to experience in the flesh at Burning Man 2010). He’s pointed me in the direction of some vaguely affordable strings of LEDs.

Former housemate and occasional blog co-conspirator, other Ben has pointed me in the direction of hall effect sensors which may be an inexpensive way to generate note on / note off information (after all, I don’t need velocity).

Help in the lights and diffusers department comes courtesy of Jake who is also tinkering with multi-coloured LED circuits.

So things are happening – perhaps not as quickly as I’d like.

Last but not least there’s the question of name. Daniel Haynes, a green-fingered friend who also performs at Duckie, pointed me in the direction of Thomas Wilfred, an american musician and inventor who was particularly interested in the idea of painting light through an instrument. He originally called it his ‘color organ’, but not comfortable with this term he coined the word ‘Clavilux‘. The picture to the right is the man himself with his Clavilux circa 1928.

“A Wilfred Lumia work is a composition of light, color, and form which changes slowly with time. It exhibits a very wide range of light intensity and a broad spectrum of delicate colors and shapes. These are extremely difficult to record and impossible to “play back” with fidelity, even using a high quality monitor. Thus you cannot experience the full, almost visceral, impact of his work unless you see it in person.”

You can get a sense of what his instrument produced by looking at the animations, and Yale University have a treasure trove of incredible images created using the Clavilux, as well as describing the projectors used to make the light itself, including this fantastic one below. It’s well worth a browse.

A fascinating man indeed, about which more can be found here and here. I do feel however that his work was about creating an instrument from scratch, and it would be overreaching by some way to call what I’m planning a whole new instrument. It’s more about the surprise of the unexpected light emanating from something otherwise seemingly familiar. About actions causing surprising unexpected reactions. So I’m not quite there with a name yet. Suggestions welcome!

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  1. I hope you’re keeping notes on how you constructed this. There could be a market for it.

    on May 31st, 2011

  2. Magician
    on September 10th, 2011

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