Project Brief

Experiments in optical audio have a long history and have involved many different innovative approaches, mostly characterised by invention, imagination, and repurposing of equipment, whether it be painting onto film (Norman McLaren) or reverse-engineering an oscilloscope (Daphne Oram).

This project requires research into the history of such approaches, and an engagement with one or two methods, either historical or contemporary, to produce a performance, installation, video, or interactive outcome which builds on this rich and highly varied vein of practice. This will be based around the creative use of light dependent resistors (LDRs) or solar cells in simple circuits that can be interfaced with computers in realtime. Depending on the skillsets of group members, tonewheels, lasers and other technologies may be used.

You will align some research into particular methods of optical audio creation with some experiments with hardware, linking this up with a digital environment either via audio control of video or video control of audio. These experiments will allow reflexive practice to inform the structure of your final outcome which should be a piece for audience, either moving, interacting or seated.

The two main strands of work will be:

  1. Observation: Building a battery powered light dependent transducer and using this with a portable recording device to explore the visual, light-based soundscape in the man-made environment.
  2. Generation: Developing a means by which computer controlled light and visual information, patterns or signals can be used to both create and control audio. You will build simple LED and laser control circuits for the transmission of sound and may also have an opportunity to use Arduino boards to translate light into control information, routing this to Max/MSP and Jitter.

Aims and Objectives

  • To gain a¬†clear appreciation of the historical context of optical audio
  • To incorporate research into your own contemporary practice and to extend your creative scope by doing so
  • To gain some familiarity with working outside the box and interfacing with unexpected environmental elements
  • Experience of LDRs/photoresistors in basic circuit designs
  • To produce a convincing design installation or performance

Learning Outcomes

  • An engagement with a good level of research into one or more examples of optical audio
  • An ability to regard contemporary technological possibilities within the historical context
  • Collaborative skills within a diverse group
  • Simple electronics skills
  • Interfacing sound and light
  • Awareness of the use of light as a sonic medium
  • An appreciation of the qualities and affordances of environmental distortion and an imperfect sonic environment


  1. Research led experiments at the proof of concept level and a detailed plan of the proposed installation
  2. A design installation
  3. Reflective analysis and documentation of the project with emphasis on one major aspect