This research takes the basic physical premise that sound can be synthesized using light, explores how this has historically been, and still is achieved, and how it can still be a fertile area for creative, theoretical and critical exploration in sound and the arts. Through the author’s own artistic practice, different techniques of generating sound using the sonification of light are explored, and these techniques are then contextualised by their historical and theoretical setting in the time-based arts. Specifically, this text draws together diverse strands of scholarship on experimental sound and film practices, cultural histories, the senses, media theory and engineering to address effects and outcomes specific to photophonic sound and its relation to the moving image, and the sculptural and media works devised to produce it. The sonifier, or device engendering the transformations discussed is specifically addressed in its many forms, and a model proposed, whereby these devices and systems are an integral, readably inscribed component – both materially and culturally – in both the works they produce, and via our reflexive understanding of the processes involved, of the images or light signals used to produce them. Other practitioners’ works are critically engaged to demonstrate how a sense of touch, or the haptic, can be thought of as an emergent property of moving image works which readably and structurally make use of photophonic sound (including the author’s), and sound’s essential role in this is examined. In developing, through an integration of theory and practice, a new approach in this under researched field of sound studies, the author hopes to show how photophonic sound can act as both a metaphorical and material interface between experimental sound and image, and hopefully point the way towards a more comprehensive study of both.
Wire-Lights. Video produced during a week's residency at PVA Medialab in Bridport, Dorset, showing photophonic synthesis using a long string instrument and some lasers.