Meet the Musician Who Hacks Old Electronics to Play Them As Instruments

Turning barcode scanners into synths and cathode ray TVs into guitars.
Utku Kucukduner
The photo credit line may appear like thisElectronicos Fantasticos/YouTube

Every now and then, you come across a novelty online, click like and forget about it. That's definitely not the case with Electronicos Fantasticos.

The band, led by El Wada, repurposes old electronics which have outgrown their purpose as musical instruments in truly inspiring ways. "Electromagnetic musical instruments", as the artist calls them, include barcode reader synths, fan basses, cathode ray tube guitars, and drums — respectively named barcoder, factory fan bass, and CRTelecaster.

Perhaps the most curious "instrument" among them is the barcoder. Typically, handheld barcode readers have a coil inside them that moves a tiny mirror. Which means the laser diode's position constantly changes.

This is the reason why we hear that iconic "beep" sound when an item is scanned at the market. As the barcodes scanned in our daily lives are rather small and tightly spaced, the beeping we hear is a rather high-pitched one. You can hear how that compares in the video below when the artist "plays" a real barcode at the end.

The artist utilizes barcodes with a wide range of thickness and spacing between them. Thus he can get different pitches to his liking.

If we were to move the barcoder away from a set of lines the pitch would go higher as the barcoder sees smaller lines with less spacing in between. Although, this comes with its own tradeoff — while the focus is not an issue with laser scanners, ambient light is.

The magic of PCM

The further we move the barcoder away from the scanned lines, the more ambient light we capture, and thus, the more noise we have in our hands. If the ambient light drowns the reflections we want to get from the laser the signal gets lost in the noise.

You see, we likely don't actually "hear" the noise we're talking about here. The information we pick up from the scanner is processed (i.e. digitized) before being reproduced for our hearing. 

As we're dealing with digitized signals here — to simplify horribly, you either have or don't have a digital signal — there's no "dynamics" here in the musical sense. If this was pure analog, we would be hearing that noise generated by ambient factors that somewhat resemble white noise. So, you'd need to tinker with the scanner to make it into something that gives off purely the light data it sees. It would be noisy, but interesting.

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