What if you could design novel sounds with a flashlight and your bare hand? This is an idea I decided to pursue with my first ever DIY digital instrument. I decided to baptize it the “Ferelumen”, a word containing both FM (its sound synthesis method) and lumen (a popular measurement of light). Furthermore, it vaguely sounds like “Theremin”, a well known modern instrument that initially inspired the gestural control of my instrument.

Being an outsider (musicology rather than MCT master student) looking in, this course has been immensely challenging, as well as immensely rewarding. I decided to hop on this course as an extension to my research area of interest, interactive composition for video games and other virtual/reality-intersecting spaces.

Planning, designing, sketching, programming, and then actually soldering all the necessary parts into a coherent piece of equipment, is no small feat. Let alone in a few months. The amount of “real-life” programming and circuitry experience I’ve amassed through keeping up with this course has been worth its weight in gold.

Three takeaways!

  1. Take the amount of time you think you need making something and triple it.
  2. Be humble in the vicinity of electronic circuits. You won’t always understand what went wrong. And things will go wrong.
  3. There is no better feeling than finally getting your stubborn creation to work. And it makes all the struggle worth it.

So, what is my thing? It’s a cardboard box with some sensors attached and a small computer inside. So simple, yet so severely difficult. However, it’s also a handcrafted FM synthesizer controlled with light and motion. By shining a flashlight on the instrument from different angles and distances, different timbres and textures emerge out of the speakers. By waving your hand up and down, some other parameters influence the timbral qualities further. Some parameters are also influenced by both motion and light simultaneously, hopefully making the experience somewhat exploratory. Lastly, a pressure sensor on the flashlight determines amplitude ranging from silence all the way to gnarly wavefolding distortion. Thus, amplitudal dynamics are present in a tactile manner.

Pictures and video of the instrument will be inserted here promptly

The result is gnarly-sounding synthesizer good for creating otherworldly sounds and abstract performance pieces. It could probably work great in audiovisual applications and as an accompaniment to experimental dance or theater.