Feb 08 | Light, Radio, Synesthesia | Editing

Read Before Class


In Class

Bring your laptop & headphones for the editing intro
(if you have them).

We have enough lab computers to work in pairs, but if you bring your laptop you can install the Reaper editing software and work solo.

  • Discuss radio: its history, and its distance from the characteristics of the sound object; collapsing geography, encouraging simultaneity. Also include Burroughs and WR Reich in relation to systems of broadcast control and spiritual transmission.
  • Discuss synesthesia in literature and art from Pythagoras’ “Music of the Spheres” through Romanticism, Symbolism, Theosophy, and into the “information age”.
  • Introduction to Wave Farm transmission arts organization and DIY radio transmitter hardware.
  • Transmit sound over a laser and use light-listeners in class, observing the sound that light makes inside, outside, natural, artificial.
  • Introduce software for image -> sound -> image conversion (Metasynth, Sonic Visualiser, my MAX patches)
  • Use an inductive pickup to explore the tiny radio emissions around everyday objects.
  • Go into the editing room to introduce audio editing in Reaper (+ details like reserving Media Drives & the sound booth)
  • Introduce Cooper’s sound effects library.


In class today we introduced Reaper, a multi-track audio editor that you can download and evaluate for free (Mac & Windows) without time limits. If you continue to use it, you are morally obligated to spend $60 to register it. (In contrast Pro Tools has been the industry standard multi-track audio editor for years. It has artificial limitations, an outrageous price tag, and draconian copy-protection. Media professionals still use it because it works and they learned it in school. You don’t need to make the same mistake.)
• I suggest downloading the 32-bit version, not the 64-bit version (for plugin compatibility reasons)
• Reaper supports AU & VST format plugins on the Mac, and VST plugins on Windows. There are many free and inexpensive plugins produced for these formats, so look around the web periodically. Here’s a 3-part guide (from 2013) to get you started.
• Don’t forget to download the PDF Reaper User Guide.
• Watch the excellent Video Tutorials (and some more on YouTube.)

Further Research: Radio

  • “Imagine radio that, instead of numbing us to sounds, strengthens our imagination and creativity; instead of manipulating us into faster work and more purchasing, it inspires us to invent…instead of silencing us, it encourages us to sing or to speak, to make radio ourselves.”
    —- Hildegaard Westerkamp
  • Historical Transmission Works, as listed by transmissionarts.org
  • Radia.fm is the home of the Radia Network, a worldwide collective of community radio stations dedicated to radio art.
  • Room-sized inductive loops (like Christina Kubisch used) are built into some movie theaters and public places to assist people with hearing aids. Most hearing aids have a “t-coil” or “telecoil” mode that disables the onboard microphone and enables a tiny inductive listener that can tune-in to the electromagnetic signal from a loop embedded in the walls. You can make your own with a normal audio amplifier and long wires.
  • Read about the Local Community Radio act of 2010 (pitchfork) which may help bring more low-power FM stations to the dial.
  • Online “microcasting” instructions (both printed and video tutorials) from transmissionarts.org
  • Many small FM transmitters (for cars) can be hacked to increase their meager range. The simplest hack involves simply lengthening the antenna, but some transmitters have deeper possibilities: If you can find an old Belkin Tunecast II then these step-by-step instructions might be handy! (A newer version, the Belkin Tunecast III, is hackable too.)
  • The cheap & tiny Raspberry Pi computer can be used as an FM transmitter. The only part you need to add is an antenna! It has no FM hardware, but one of the high-speed internal clocks can be re-programmed to generate a standard FM stereo signal that broadcasts farther than a hacked MP3 transmitter. Flash the downloaded disc image to an SD card, add audio files, select a frequency with a text file, and you’re done. Amazing! (As far as I know, there is no way to support a live input. It can only transmit pre-recorded audio files.)
  • Radio history & theory excerpts from episode 205 of the early 1990’s TV documentary series The Secret Life of Machines (episodes online at archive.org).
  • Radio Basics (how to build a simple AM radio & limited transmitter, from sci-toys.com)
  • Marshall Mcluhan’s LP recording version of “The Medium is the Massage” (ubuweb)
  • On the subject of the latent ideology embedded in visual media, check out John Berger’s 1972 BBC TV series “Ways of Seeing” (YouTube clip or VHS tapes in NYU Bobst library). There’s also a book version.
  • If you’re interested in tinkering with radio or other electromagnetic phenomena, find a copy of this out-of-print book:
    “Exploring Light, Radio & Sound Energy with projects” by Calvin R. Graf
    (Alvin Lucier used it to build receiving equipment for his “Sferics” piece; recordings of “natural” low frequency radio signals emanating from the Earth itself.)
  • The Conet Project is a 4CD anthology of shortwave “Numbers Stations”, undocumented international radio broadcasts that are widely believed to be messages from espionage organizations like the CIA, MI6, and Mossad. All tracks can be (legally) downloaded here.

Further Research: Synesthesia

  • Derek Holzer’s A Brief History of Optical Synthesis is not brief. It’s an amazingly thorough chronology of light-to-sound synthesizer technology. (He performs improv sets called TONEWHEELS where he generates sound and light by shining lamps through spinning patterned discs.)
  • The Cyborg Foundation aims to help people become cyborgs. Their founders built the eyeborg which translates colors to audible frequencies via a webcam and skull implant.
  • How to build a Simple Laser Communicator (from sci-toys.com)
  • short docu spot on Paul DeMarinas from KQED TV
  • “Cloud Music” by Bob Diamond, Robert Watts and David Behrman, 1974. A set of synthesizer tones controlled by a video camera pointed at passing clouds.
  • The Voyager probes launched by NASA in 1977 contained gold records encoded with images and sounds, along with diagrams to explain how to decode them.
  • It’s easy to make “light-listeners” like the one Steven Vitiello used in “light-readings”. Consult this week’s chapter from Handmade Electronic Music for a method that uses a photoresistor, or use the solar cell from a cheap solar calculator, or buy super-tiny solar cells like these: Vishay BPW34 Silicon Photo-diode. (Larger cells are more sensitive)
  • Alessandro had a great blog called 5volt.eu (now gone, so try his flickr stream or the wayback machine.) I captured a pdf of his post describing a circuit that amplifies the photo-diode above so it can directly drive a small speaker.
  • The Texas Instruments TSL230 Light-To-Frequency Sensor converts light level to an audible square wave signal in one step without any extra components. (More light = higher pitch)
  • Eric Archer makes “Sound Cameras”: old 8mm film cameras with built-in light-listeners and headphone amps. (Plenty of audio samples on his page.)
  • Russian artist Andrey Smirnov explores the popular eavesdropping technique of reflecting laser light off windows to hear the conversations inside.
  • The Ruben’s Tube (video, wikipedia) traces audio waveforms with jets of flame, due to standing-wave patterns within a long tube.
  • 20 years before the invention of the phonograph, sound was inscribed visually onto paper with a device called the phonautograph. One of these inscriptions was converted back into sound (mp3 link) in 2008 via digital imaging and custom software. One of the collaborators in that project, Patrick Feaster,  maintains his own site phonozoic.net and co-founded FirstSounds.org which seeks to apply their techniques to other collections of historical recordings.
  • The Brainport is an experimental device that provides a limited “sight” to blind individuals via a head-mounted camera and a grid of electrodes worn on the tongue. It’s a simple conversion of visual pixels into tactile sensations but the brain quickly adapts, creating real “images” in the mind of the wearer. (video here)