Building An Optigan-like Instrument

[Olli] sent in his writeup of a musical instrument he made called the Black Deck. [Olli]’s instrument was inspired [Jimi Tenor]’s photophone – a transparent disk attached to a fan and photocell.

A transparent disk is placed on the turntable [Olli] rescued during a dumpster diving expedition. A light shines though the optical disk and is picked up by phototransistors. After writing a program to generate an A minor scale onto a transparency, [Olli] connected his contraption to a stereo and heard his creation speak. To control the individual tracks (or notes) on the disk, [Olli] made a keyboard out of photoelectric switches that control which note is played.

Superficially, [Olli]’s instrument resembles an Optigan. While [Olli]’s instrument is capable of producing waveforms, the Optigan is able to reproduce sampled instruments. That being said, we think [Olli]’s Black Deck would feel comfortable next to the Optigans of Kraftwerk and Devo. Check out the YouTube demo of the Black Deck in action after the break:


10 thoughts on “Building An Optigan-like Instrument

  1. Nice! I’ve got one I built that uses a stud finder so you get some really random screams and beeps depending on the chunk of wood wire or tiny electronic devices placed on the disc (record).

    I also have a pretty nice Garrett that has discrimination and produces different tones based on the metal present that I would like to rig up similarly once it gets too cold to coin shoot this winter :)

    The final project of a similar nature that I haven’t even started yet involves using a roomba and it’s deep cleaning outward spiral as an invisible record with a children’s keyboard flipped upside down in the unused vacuum chamber. It hits little bumpers that trigger the notes. So far in preliminary tracking tests it appears that the roomba isn’t exact enough to repeat over and over but maybe some of the roomba tracking hacks will help with this. Another winter project :)

    Again, nice job on the build and way to go saving some “junk” in the process :)

    1. What kind of detector, brand, technology? Sounds cool, and I just picked one up with a pair of lasers and balance 50 cents.
      Our store sold an optigan to Europe I preped it before shipping. We have parts, still.

      1. @echodelta I have a Garrett Ultra GTA 500. It is probably overkill for such a project and you may get better results with an older (less digital) unit. There are several “starter” units on amazon for ~$50.

        To give ya an idea, there are little $20 Nat Geo and kiddy metal detectors. I picked one up at the Thrift for 50 cents ;) The first iteration just involved it beeping over the nuts and bolts and pop tops on the platter. I then found the resistor for the tone oscillator and in circuit bending style, replaced it with a potentiometer to change its tone :) In the end I had one pot to control the deck (lfo) speed and one pot to control frequency of the beep.

        The stud finder was a cheap-o $7 unit from Lowes. It has a cpu that has neat other circuit bent sounds it can make but overall lags a little.

        That is the overall concept but I’ve been out of the metal detector game for a decade so there are probably plenty of cheap, but nice, models out there. You may want to search with “handicap” so that it will be more audio-inclined (may be ones with more different tones for sight impaired etc. Hope this helps and thanks for the shout back :)

  2. Damn. The sounds it producedh att first were amazing, but then it kept getting better to the point that I’d actually enjoy listening to it as music. I swear, I would tear up my good turntable to build one of these. It’s function isn’t the only cool thing about it either.

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