SOUNDWORLDS 5: Steampunk Photon Hunter


When I first discovered this device at the bottom of an old wooden chest, I had little or no idea of its function.

Judging by its scratched and worn casing, it had certainly already had a long and hard life, yet when I flicked the switch atop its periphery a green indicator near the front became illuminated.

Its portable power pack had obviously retained a charge sufficient to activate the device, yet I still had little or no idea what experiments I could perform with it.


I soon noticed some sort of socket on one side, and after a few safety checks I determined that this provided an audio output of sorts.

The device apparently responded to light collected by some sort of photonic detector mounted inside a brass bush at the front, yet not to steady illumination.

For instance, if you shone a torch at it there was no output signal, yet if you pointed it at a flickering candle flame some strange sounds emerged - I deduced that this fascinating device responded to CHANGES of light level, and began discovering a completely new soundworld.


As we know well from movies, the human eye merges moving images shot at 24 frames per second into a smooth stream. We simply don't see any flickering from them if they alter faster than this - such changes are effectively 'invisible' to us. So it can be quite a surprise hearing what sounds the Photon Hunter may pick up. We may get drones and chirps from electronic displays and complex layered soundscapes from city arcades, but for me the most exciting yet unpredictable are those from nature - clouds of insects darting about in a haze of sunlight, shimmering reflections from lakes, moths around an outside light...


As you've probably realised by now, the Photon Hunter is actually another of my steampunk creations, although this time the credit for the circuitry inside must be given to the original inventor, Eric Archer (designer of the famous Grendel Drone Commander).

At the heart of my device lives Eric's Lite2Sound PX circuit board, essentially an auto-gain photo amplifier, available in both kit form and already built.

Eric has long been interested in the possibilities of light to sound, building phototheremins and multiple drum machines that are synced via infra red light and photocells, but recently he also designed this portable and easy to use kit. I purchased the DIY version, finished soldering and got it up and running a couple of hours after it was delivered. My brass-embellished enclosure for it took a lot longer to create but hey, that's steampunk for you!



Rare Waves/ Eric Archer: Lite2Sound PX kit.

This auto-gain photodiode amplifier is now up to version 1.4, is easy to build (or available fully assembled) and very portable. Powered by a 9V battery, its its audio output can drive a loudspeaker or headphones directly via the integral 1-Watt amplifier.

SOUNDWORLDS 1 - Steampunk Buddha Machine: Martin's first exploration of the steampunk world, on this occasion circuit-bending a buddha machine loop player.

SOUNDWORLDS 2 - Steampunk Shruthi SDE monosynth: Another foray into steampunk territory, this time chronicling extensive mods to a Mutable Instruments Shruthi MIDI monosynth.

SOUNDWORLDS 3 - Korg MS-20 Retro Expansion: This time Martin adds an entirely new front panel containing sixteen additional controls to his Korg MS-20 Mini synth, featuring FM, PWM, Sync, Diode Ring Mod, multiple oscillator waveform outputs & enhanced mixer, as well as some gorgeous cherry hardwood side panels!

SOUNDWORLDS 4 - Steampunk Synth Luminator: To illuminate the controls of his Korg MS-20 Retro Expansion synth, Martin designs a desklamp resplendent in full steampunk regalia.

SOUNDWORLDS 6 - The Rustacean : Created from found objects, scavenged from the sea, or rescued from rivers, this artistic creation still manages to produce its own unique audio contribution!

SOUNDWORLDS 7 - Optimising Airwindows Console5: Martin explores ways to achieve the most effective results from this plug-in pair, whose results are subtle yet glorious, adding glue and spacial depth to mixes, and a sense of space around each sound.

"Behold the Photon Hunter: a steampunk ambient sound extractor" GEARNEWS love our latest creation!

"An extraordinary object for extracting hidden layers of sound from the ambient environment, the Photon Hunter will take you on many strange adventures."