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Laser Microphone – Hear The Secret Sounds Of The Natural World

At every moment, we are surrounded by thousands of sounds too quiet to hear: bubbles in water, the movement of an insect’s legs, sand falling in an hourglass. Objects oscillating with undetectable amplitudes are creating symphonies all around us that we are deaf to. How can we tune into the secret sonic landscapes of the natural world ?

Laser Microphone acts like a microscope for sound, amplifying the physical vibrations of tiny objects that are otherwise too quiet to hear. In the normal world, when an A440 tuning fork is hit, it produces the musical note A. This can easily be heard by the human ear because the physical size of a tuning fork allows the sound to be projected at a detectable amplitude. A smaller piece of metal also vibrating at 440 Hz will not be audible to the naked ear because of its weaker amplitude. In this case,Laser Microphone can still “see” the tiny vibrations of the metal at 440 Hz and will project the note A to the user through the headphones or speakers.

This installation stretches far beyond tuning forks, and has been used to hear phenomena such as the movement of insect wings, water spray and the movement of bubbles.

Method

A laser is used to illuminate a vibrating object. When the material of the object oscillates, it disrupts the beam of the laser and casts a shadow on a light sensor placed opposite the laser. The varying light intensity picked up by the sensor is translated into an electrical signal, which is then amplified by a bespoke electrical circuit. This signal can then be fed into an audio playback device such as a set of speakers or a pair of headphones. The technology used is entirely analog, which means that the sound detected by the device is real-time and raw (unprocessed).

About Kai Lab

Kai Lab is London-based arts and design practice that creates electronic, mechanical and sonic artworks. All with backgrounds in the physical sciences, its founders place a heavy emphasis on research & development. The studio’s projects are driven by the desire to understand the core components of intriguing, complex and beautiful natural phenomena. The observation of nature shows that the beauty of physical events is often the result of the strict rules of physics combined with the randomness of our chaotic environment. Kai Lab’s artwork aims at finding the delicate balance between what technology can control and what randomness can disrupt, to build objects and spaces that are relatable yet surprising.

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