Artist makes music out of spinning fool’s gold

This Arduino-powered synthesizer can turn a 300 million-year-old pyrite disc into tunes.

Pyrite is a common, naturally occurring iron sulfide whose metallic luster and brass-yellow hue has earned itself the well-known nickname of fool’s gold. Despite its abundance in nature, there’s a much rarer form of the mineral which is crystallized in a radial shape resembling that of a disc. Interestingly enough, these so-called ‘pyrite suns’ or ‘pyrite dollars’ can only be found in Illinois, some dating back nearly 300 millions years.


But what if you transformed these historic discs into a vinyl record-like music maker? That’s exactly what media artist Dimitry Morozov — aka ::vtol:: — has done in his latest, out-of-the-ordinary project. Ra can best be defined as a synthesizer which employs a laser reader to scan the irregularities of a pyrite disc and translate that data into sound.

“The project originated as a result of an interesting set of circumstances — a pyrite disc was given to me as a gift by a mineral seller in Boulder City,” ::vtol:: explains. “Upon hearing about my works, she asked to do something with such crystal, and refused to take payment for getting it. In the same period, I was reading articles on various ways of archiving and preservation of sounds from the first, historical sources of the recorded sound — wax discs and other fragile carriers. All technologies were based on the usage of lasers.”


Feeling inspired, the Maker decided to create a laser sound reader of his own, which would be able to produce tunes from various uneven surfaces, like that of the pyrite sun, without the help of many resources. In order to bring his idea to life, all that was required was an Arduino Nano (ATmega328), a Raspberry Pi, a DIY laser pickup/reader, stepper and servo motors, as well as a 3W mono sound system that towers above the machine. (There’s an audio output jack, too.)

Along one edge of Ra’s triangular frame lies a control board that consists of nine switches and 10 knobs for dialing in envelope filters and modulations, setting processor parameters and choosing between 16 DSP effects programs. What’s more, ::vtol:: can manually adjust the position of the custom laser reader, as well as the disc’s spinning speed and direction.

Intrigued? You can listen to Ra’s experimental, eerie and somewhat sci-fi-ish sounds below!

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