Many people will know Martin Walker from his years of dedicated service as a writer for Sound On Sound magazine. But he’s also a musician, sound designer, technology tinkerer and has recently added “steampunk inventor” to his resumé. He caused a bit of a stir last year with his Korg MS-20 Retro Expansion. This time around he’s crafted a new instrument for transforming ambient light variations into sound – the Photon Hunter.
It looks every bit like something from the 1936 Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon series. A beautifully made brass enclosure with controls and features that may, or may not, have some function. As Martin describes it in a delightfully fanciful preamble, it’s like stumbling across a device in the bottom of an old wooden chest and then discovering its ability to harvest sound from the environment. The device detects and responds to changes in light level. Producing all manner of chirps, noises and even musical soundscapes as light intensity fades and moves. Point the front mounted photon detector at a varying source of light; maybe sunlight through trees; moving images on a screen; flashing lights on a display, and those photons are transformed and amplified into sound.
Inside the awesome little box is a Lite2Sound PX circuit board by Eric Archer. It’s a portable sensing device that extracts audio from ambient light. It’s available as a kit or fully built from Rare Waves.
This is Martin’s fifth steampunk project and he doesn’t appear interested in them being anything more than a personal project. So I’m writing about it here simply as a beautiful musical object for unpredictable and unintentional sound, filed under “curiosity”.
You’ll find all of Martin’s inventions, along with his music on the YewTreeMagic website.