Playing a building like an instrument, using flashlights

When it came to creating a recent piece, U.K. sound artist Mike Blow found himself in the dark. That turned out to be a good thing.

Mysterious music: Sound artist Mike Blow creates a "torch song." Screenshot by Edward Moyer/CNET

The list of installations for next month's Beam electronic and analog music festival in West London has brought a playful and mysterious piece of art to our attention -- a surprising cocktail of high and low tech.

Sound artist Mike Blow is on the Beam bill, and his recent piece "Torch Song" combines a microphone-and-laptop setup with light sensors to create a control panel that lets its user "play" a building -- using flashlights.

Blow placed contact microphones and electro-magnetic pickups on various objects within a building -- a computer server and its power source; windows; a radiator; a clock; a staircase. Then he used light sensors to control the signals from the microphones and pickups.

Switch off the lights and fire up your flashlight (or "torch" -- Blow is a Brit) and you can mix the sounds into an impromptu musical score.

In the demo below, Blow points out that the arrangement could easily be adapted to a visitor center in a national park, say, to let people "play" the surrounding forest.

It's interesting to watch the artist as he messes around with his flashlights and experiments with the compositions he can create. He takes things further than you'd expect. The resulting effect, too, feels greater than the sum of its parts -- hypnotic and mysterious, on both an audio and a visual level.

If you've ever burned the midnight oil in an office building somewhere, then taken the stairwell to the parking garage, or even just wandered a city street in the wee hours glancing up at the deserted buildings and wondering what secrets they hold, "Torch Song" may well resonate.

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