Sat. Feb 4th, 2023
This instrument lets you listen to the secret sounds of electronics

You may not know it, but right now you have a strange and wonderful cacophony of sounds whizzing through your ears. Those sounds, generated by the electromagnetic fields of electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops, Wi-Fi routers or even electric vehicles such as cars, buses and trains, cannot be heard by our weak human hearing. But what if you had a way to take those sounds and translate them into something we could hear? Maybe even something musical?

LOM, a Slovak record label specializing in field recordings and strange sounds, has done just that with a range of hardware that captures the tonal strangeness of electromagnetic fields. The most interesting of the bunch is the Elektrosluch, a device now in its third revision that combines an operational amplifier with two electromagnetic transducers and a gain potential (up to 50 dB). Just like acoustic (sound) waves, electromagnetic fields have a certain frequency and wavelength. For example, the 230V mains power in the UK runs at 50Hz. The transducers simply take those frequencies and translate them into acoustic frequencies that our ears can understand.

While that process is nothing new (if you ever place your cell phone on a speaker you’ll recognize the effect), the Elektrosluch is unique in that it combines those transducers with a small amplifier and audio outputs that make it easy to pipe the resulting sounds are sent to a recording device. Best of all, the Elektrosluch is small enough to carry in a pocket and is powered by just a single 9V battery. As LOM demonstrates in the audio clip below, you can take the Elektrosluch just about anywhere and capture sounds. They won’t always be attractive, as the trolleybus clip shows, but it’s fascinating to be able to listen to an otherwise silent world.

Made some music with the Elektrosluch

The Elektrosluch 3+ is available direct from LOM for €100, while those who don’t mind a bit of tinkering can buy a kit version for €40. Both are also open source, with the schematics available on Github. LOM also sells the Elektrouši, a pair of electromagnetic microphones that you can use with an existing portable recorder, and plans to release the Elektrosluch Priezor, a hypersensitive instrument that will detect atmospheric sounds in VLF radio bands.

By akfire1

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