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Photophonic

Have a go with Photophonic, an online sound-making machine that uses images to create music!

With Photophonic, you can choose sounds using a selection we have gathered, then creatively manipulate them. You can also play them in a loop machine that uses the vertical lines from an image to create rhythms.

The idea was inspired by the methods and technology used by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (circa 1958–70) before they had computers and synthesisers.

Try Photophonic online now.

Watch the video below for a special introduction to Photophonic from musician and sound engineer Caro C.

In May 1958, the Times newspaper reported that the BBC had set up ‘a “workshop” for producing synthetic sounds, partly by electronic oscillators and partly by trickery with conventional sounds recorded on tape’. This was the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, founded to produce sound effects and electronic music, initially for radio and later also for TV. Much of their work was building soundscapes for pioneering drama programmes, because they could create sounds that couldn’t be made with traditional musical instruments. The Radiophonic Workshop were world-class pioneers, not just in making sounds and music, but also in creating new devices, like the ‘Crystal Palace’ capacitive fader designed by Dave Young, 1967. 

At the National Science and Media Museum, we are lucky to have many objects that were donated by the BBC after the Radiophonic Workshop closed in 1998. From reel-to-reel tape machines the size of a washing machine, through musical instruments like the ocarina and tambourine, to household objects like lampshades, chopsticks, and bells and whistles—if it can be used to make sensational sounds, we’ve got it!

See more BBC Radiophonic Workshop items in our collection

Photophonic is part of our Sonic Futures project. It was made by David Boultbee/BREAD Art with sound/music expertise from Caro C.