Photon Clarinets are played without touching. Waving a hand over the right-hand sensor steps the pitch through arbitrary rising or falling notes, as in an alien keyboard; a hand over the left-hand sensor smoothly sweeps the notes, as in a theremin.

More from Reed's EMI article on the Photon Clarinet:

"Part of the (elementary) school's yearly program involved bringing an unusual music act to the stage. All sorts of instruments were demonstrated, many chosen to mystify young school children. The musical saw, singing water glasses, thunder sheets... but to watch as the musician waved hands around a silvery metal loop stemming from the top of a mysterious box, and to hear in response what sounded like an operatic woman's voice singing from within hit me in a way that left me somewhat stunned for the rest of the week.

"While the playing technique of the Theremin is certainly unusual, its main voice is simply that of an oscillator caused to smoothly glide across its range due to interference imposed by the musician's body. Using light, one of the two sensors of my modern Photon Clarinet does the same: as the musician's hand shadow varies upon this sensor the pitch of the instrument falls from very high to super low.

"It is the second sensor that is responsible for the more unexpected music that the Photon Clarinet creates...

"When a hand is waved over this second sensor, the pitch steps rather than sweeps between notes, as if the player is riffing upon a fretted or keyed instrument. Each sensor will allow the pitch to travel its entire range, from high to so low that only clicking pulses are audible. In use, the player generally modulates the light falling upon the 'sweep' sensor with the left hand, and the 'step' sensor with the right. What this does, in effect, is to rather strangely replicate the process of playing a keyboard... left hand on the pitch-bend wheel and right hand on the keys.

"Today's Photon Clarinet contains, along with a line-output and the two sensors mounted in various bases, LED's for both power and envelope, afocus switch which compresses and filter-sweeps the signal (creating a second voice), an initialize control which steps through a series of pitches and establishes the free note that the unmodulated instrument will return to, plus an internal monitor speaker with cut-out switch.

"Many different effects can be achieved by playing the instrument as described before. In addition to simply riffing with the right hand and modulating with left, careful movements over the step cell will cause filter and loudness shifts over the shadow-span of a single note, before the light threshold necessary to change to the next note is reached. This allows the right hand over the step cell to induce tremolo (volume fluctuation) as the left hand over the sweep cell controls vibrato (pitch fluctuation).

"While the stepped notes of the Photon Clarinet scales don't follow intervals we are familiar with, a practiced musician can bend the pitches thereby persuading enough conformity from the device to allow accompaniment of traditional musics. Personally, I see no more reason to demand this of an instrument than I would a songbird. The abstract calls of nature, blind to the logic of musical semantics, are emotionally powerful, descriptive sound-forms, and I feel that even instruments entirely restricted to such voices stand upon equal ground with the rest."

Built into a curved speaker case, the Curved Photon Clarinet with remote glass domed sensors is a very solid example of the instrument. The speaker cases themselves were meant to be add-ons to the sides of computer monitors, are well built and sound very good driven by the circuit's electronics.

The front of the instrument is supported by two legs beneath the oblong speaker grille. The back of the instrument (seen above) supplies controls including a range dial (for setting the pitch of the "free" note that the unmodulated instrument returns to), a focus switch (phases the ends of the note envelopes), speaker on/off switch, power switch with blue LED pilot lamp, pulsing red envelope LED and gold-plated RCA (phono) line output. Two more gold-plated RCAs are located on the case back for the remote sensors.

This Photon Clarinet is one of several models that include remote sensors beneath glass dust covers. Each remote sensor, one for sweeping the pitch ant the other for stepping the pitch via hand shadow, contains a photo resistor beneath a vintage pilot lens. Sensor bodies are wooden with felt base cloth, milled and piped in the anti-theory workshop for sturdy joinery. Sensors are colored in several stages to match the instrument's case.

The case itself is finished in crackled fluorescent colors and dusted with iridescent powder under a final gloss. Control titles are hand inked.


The price is $1,200 plus shipping.



POB 20181
Cincinnati, OH 45220