Audiovisual instrument


Sound and light combined into unified expressions by four players each controlling a tone and a color.


Lightbender expands on the idea of a color organ using light to augument musical expression. It incorporates a special screen that produce light patterns resembling miniaturised northern lights. Encircled by four players it has a strange kind of camp fire feel to it. Each tone and color pair controlled by each player is designed to be perceived as one.

The instrument was exhibited at the contemporary music festival Sound Around (2007) in the Plex music theatre in Copenhagen.

The first version was built for the exhibition Social Aktion (2007) at The Museum of Contempoary Art in Roskilde. Initially the concept was to engage people socially in a musical experience while listening to a selection of the museums extensive sound art archive. Later sound was added making it a musical instrument in it's own right.

Building color organs is no novel idea. The first in this family of instruments is the Clavecin Oculaire completed by Louis-Bertrand Castel in 1734, but the idea of audiovisual coherence dates even further back (Peacock 1988). Many examples have followed since the first attempts, most notably (I think) Thomas Wilfred's Clavilux from 1919. See Golan Levin's compilation of a brief historic overview in his PhD thesis (Levin 2000).

– Peacock, Kenneth: Instruments to Perform Color-Music: Two Centuries of Technological Experimentation. Leonardo 1988. Vol. 21, num. 4, p. 397--406.
– Levin, Golan: Painterly Interfaces for Audiovisual Performance. PhD thesis MIT 2000.

Technical notes

A half sphere shaped tank filled with foggy water served as a semi-3D video screen. A particle system programmed for the purpose in Processing was projected into the tank leaving illuminated traces in the water. The sound synthesis was designed in MaxMSP using additive fm synths and filtered noise. Synth parameters were mapped directly to the behaviour of the particle system. For example when tremolo was applied to the sound the particles would wiggle. The mapping was quite extensive. A surround sound setup made it possible to pan the sound in correspondence to the movement of the particles. The physical interface consisted of four simplified game pad controllers.


To Morten Søndergaard, for the invitation. Museet for Samtidskunst, for providing materials. Daniel Høier Øhrgaard, Morten Carlsen and Thomas Sørensen for general help. Marie Louise Andersson, for game-pad modification. Michael Edinger, for help with the electronics. Enrico, for lots of practical help at the museeum. Dennis Paul, for teaching me a bunch of Java tricks. Christian Riekoff, for providing the procontroll library.