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A Brief History of Optical Synthesis

Derek Holzer is a Berlin and Helsinki-based sound artist who has been investigating DIY analogue electronics and “the meeting points of electroacoustic, noise, improv and extreme music” for the last fifteen years. Given his widely performed TONEWHEELS project it is not at all surprising that the artist is an authority on optical synthesis (synthesizing sound from light); he shows off this breadth of this knowledge – sixteenth century treatises on vibration, the Soviet avant-garde, Xenakis – in a presentation he made a few years ago (that we just discovered) that introduces key research and precedents. Early in the deck, he outlines his thinking for what a contemporary consideration of old media should entail:

A media archaeological approach to optical synthesis would not simply fetishize it’s “oldness”, but could also propose how aspects of this largely-abandoned, pre-War technology might address both the utopias and dystopias faced by practitioners and audiences of electronic music today.

Holzer’s knowledge of sound on film, electronics, and new interfaces is encyclopedic and there are many threads for the curious to follow. Note the link to the slide deck below.

A Brief History of Optical Synthesis | Derek Holzer
via @reaktorplayer


  • Robinsonjn

    Yes i agree with that. The filming and new interface for editing photos should be considered as a means of editing more beautiful images. The camera and filming equipment should be the quality aspect before going into shooting.

  • David Rogerson

    A couple of other things on this topic that are worth checking out:

    Sound In Z: Experiments In Sound And Electronic Music In Early 20th Century Russia by Andrey Smirnov
    Daphne Oram: An Individual Note