Synthtopia

Photosynthesis With The Optron

This video captures a performance of Photosynthesis, by Chet Udell with the Optron.

If a lightsaber and a guitar had a baby, it might be the Optron, a light-based electronic music controller & visualizer.

Udell won Best Performance, with the Optron, at the 2017 Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, a competition to encourage and promote new instrument designs.

Udell’s Optron is inspired by Japanese noise artist Atsuhiro Ito, who in 1998 created the first Optron. It was comprised of an amplified commercial fluorescent light, controlled directly (and dangerously) by manipulating voltage out of the wall into the lamp.

Udell’s Optron looks like an ordinary fluorescent lamp. Underneath, though, is a combination of electronics and 144 individually addressable RGB LEDs. The instrument can rapidly switch between using light as a visual effect and using it as control input.

In visualization mode, sound and other important performance status information is analyzed and translated into serial data and sent to the Optron to render as colored light patterns. 15 individual wireless sensor streams enable multi-modal gestural control. It can sense position and pressure of finger presses on its ‘neck,’ hand-waiving and strumming gestures, and also responds to tilt and motion in space.

When paired with a webcam and computer visualization software, light position and color become controller information, that can be wielded by waving hands over the lights or moving the Optron itself in space.

Udell has shared a guide to building your own Optron on his site. If you build your own version, share a link in the comments!