UVU student’s award-winning synthesizer lets light control sound

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OREM, Utah – A student at Utah Valley University has created a digital device that uses light to control music.

UVU senior Drew Cordova created a synthesizer he calls the phototroph rhythm synth, and unlike traditional synthesizers that are controlled by keyboards, his responds to changes in the amount of light.

“Simply wave your hand over it or a flashlight, and it changes the sounds that comes out of the synthesizer,” he said.

Cordova said he came up with the plans during the summer.

"This is something that I was kind of already doing in my free time, playing around with audio circuits and electronics,” he said. “My professor, Mike Wisland, turned me on to this special kind of chip, and so I kind of went hog-wild with it over the summer and this is what I ended up with.”

Cordova also ended up with a silver medal at the 2013 International Audio Engineering competition, which was held in New York City. Professor Mike Wisland is in the digital media audio department at UVU, and he said Cordova’s project stood out.

“The judges were amazed at his circuit design, because it was all analog for one, and it was completely unique,” he said. “Nobody really comes around with a light controlled instrument much anymore these days, and this was certainly something out of left field.”

Cordova said he would like to scale up his phototroph and see it used in public art installations or utilized in museums or other places where people can interact with it.