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Playing with the Sun

Probably most difficult musical instrument in the world
  [vote for,

Solar music. Sound of the Star.

The following is inspired by the eery, nostalgic, but brilliant soundscapes created by the Theremin - the first electronic instrument invented.

For those of you who are new to the Theremin, please watch the video [link], it will be quite a revelation.

Now my new musical instrument restricts the user less, but is more difficult to master still.

It consists of two very sensitive solar panels in the form of a disk. You hold a disk in each hand. At the back of the disk is a small sensor, which measures the wattage that's created by the panel (could just as well be a light sensor attached to an absorber disk, to measure light intensity). The disk also contains a small wireless transmitter, sending the signal to a laptop attached to an amplifier.

The wattage (or light intensity) absorbed by the disks is thus converted into a sound signal. You can synthesize this, and choose many different sounds.

Now the disk in your right hand codes for pitch. The disk in the left codes for volume.

Voilà, you are now ready to go out, on a sunny day, and start "playing with the Sun". You interact with the Star.

To succeed, you absolutely need:

-perfect pitch (not given to many)

-extreme motor skills and control

-an extreme sense of anticipation and instinct to adapt and enter into a new frame of tonality, as sudden small changes in light intensity give a new register to play with

So how do you play this bizarre instrument? How to play the music of the Sun?

-with your right hand you twist the disk in the vertical plane, up and down (the highest light intensity/wattage equals highest pitch); but you can also twist the disk in the horizontal plane... So it's multidimensional...

-the same is true for your left hand, to regulate volume (both vertical and horizontal plane; beyond a certain treshold, the volume drops to zero, even though there's still ambient light falling on the disk - this can be pre-set with the computer.)

You can learn to give vibratos, staccatos, etc... by gently or vigorously twisting the volume and/or pitch disk in the desired direction.

Note that the instrument translates the Sun's light intensity in a relative way. There's no absolute starting note (say a DO). You need to decide and "feel" where the note is, at the very moment when you're playing out in the Sun.

You can set some reference points ad hoc, with the computer (e.g. treshold below which volume drops to zero), but in principle there are no absolute points. The "reference points" change from hour to hour - as the Sun's position and intensity changes.

So you cannot train and learn to play this instrument with a series of set position for your fingers or arms (as with the theremin or as with the frets on a guitar or the keys of a piano). The entire body must constantly adapt to changing circumstances.

That's it. Arguably the most difficult instrument in the world! But very simple in a way, elegant, and unique I think. You're literally playing with one of nature's elements. You're "playing with", "playing on" the Sun; she guides you and you guide her.

Please check out the picture I made [link]. This makes it easier to understand the concept.


-You can use the same instrument indoors, on a dark stage, with a single bright spot directed at you at a particular angle.

-Those who train and master it, will certainly be invited to give a concert at every opening of a new solar power plant...! :-)

-Also: in contrast to the Theremin, which requires you to keep your body absolutely still, the solar disks allow you to move your body around, as long as you know what you're doing and as long as you keep the disks at a certain angle towards the sun - you can sit, kneel, walk, etc.... I imagine a kind of Tai Chi movement goes well with playing this instrument.

django, Oct 19 2008

Pamelia Kurstin - a virtuoso thereminist http://www.ted.com/...s_the_theremin.html
In the video, she briefly explains how the instrument works [django, Oct 19 2008]

The new solar instrument http://i3.photobuck...ayingwiththesun.jpg
See the many dimensions and possible movements. For ease of explanation, I painted the figure's arms moving up and down throughout the entire vertical plane, but in reality the instrument is more sensitive and requires less arm movement. [django, Oct 19 2008]

(?) Vangelis synth line http://www.youtube....watch?v=uJrOVLEUBgw
From second 40 onwards. I always imagine this line when I see a big bright sun slowly setting and dream of the beauty of our star and our cosmos. [django, Oct 19 2008]


       It looks like the discs could contain some good-sized speakers. The audience would hear different sounds when the speakers are pointed in different directions, which might add to the performance. [+]
baconbrain, Oct 19 2008


       First piece I'd start to practise for is the synth line in Vangelis' opening track for Bladerunner. Check vid in link, starting at second 40... So, err, cosmic and, err, solar! (Even though the movie is so dark).   

       You're all invited for my first gig, at some deserted Sun temple of Ra, in some deserted Egyptian piece of desert. Be there at noon. :-)
django, Oct 19 2008

       My take may be off your original idea, but I'm interested in the sound of the light coming through a tree as you walk by it. In the right spot you could play the trees, though it may work better with smaller sensors. In any case (+).
MisterQED, Oct 20 2008

       Thanks for the link about theremins, [django]. That is one adorable girl.
phundug, Oct 20 2008

       + seems like one beautiful experience!!
xandram, Oct 20 2008


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