Optical Theremin Music Box
By David Simpson Simpson
Like a traditional wind-up music box, the Optical Theremin Music Box can automatically play a pre-determined melody for the pleasure of the user. However, the melodies played by this Music Box are generated opto-electronically.
Type: Commercial, Artistic, Education
What inspired you or what is the idea that got you started?
Inspired by the tonal qualities and mode of operation of the theremin electronic musical instrument (“theremin”), the Optical Theremin Music Box is a pretty neat gadget.
According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theremin),
“The theremin…is an early electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact…The instrument's controlling section usually consists of two metal antennas that sense the relative position of the thereminist's hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and amplitude (volume) with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.”
What is your project about and how does it work?
Like a traditional wind-up music box, the Optical Theremin Music Box can automatically play a pre-determined melody for the pleasure of the user. However, the melodies played by the Optical Theremin Music Box are generated electronically in a manner similar to that in which they are generated on the theremin. In the case of the Optical Theremin Music Box, one or more photovoltaic cells are used in lieu of the “metal antennas” described previously. By contrast, the oscillator(s) in the circuitry of the Optical Theremin Music Box are controlled by the relative amount of light striking the photovoltaic cell(s), rather than, “the relative position of the thereminist's hands” as in the case of the theremin.
What did you learn by doing this project?
I learned that the original concept - utilizing the rotating drum mechanism of a traditional music box and a continuous transparent strip with bands of greater or lesser opacity to determine pitch and duration to render the melody - would prove cumbersome or impractical if the user ever desired to have the device play other than the first melody provided. It also turns out that determining the precise opacity needed to generate a given note precisely has proven tricky.
What impact does your project have on others as well as yourself?
From a commercial standpoint, the Optical Theremin Music Box can be personalized both in appearance and in the virtually limitless range of well-known and original music compositions that it can play making it appealing to adults and kids. In kit form, it can serve as a platform for hacking as well as STEAM discussions and the exploration of electronics, mechanics, physics, sound, music, optics and more. Beyond a simply "stand-alone" project, the Optical Theremin Music Box can have a robust online and social element with enhancements that represent direct follow-on sales for the manufacturer and the retailer.