Radio Free Quasar

For Burning Man 2004, my project was an antique radio which receives emissions from nearby quasars (quasi-stellar radio sources). A computer inside is generating the radio station sounds, using a phython script which controls a chain of VST plugins for audio processing. In addition to being heard, the sounds directly control the wild gyrations of a laser display, reflected onto the glass of the radio dial. Visitors tuned into a near-infinite selection of radio stations, by turning a large silver knob.

What did it sound like?

Rick Ehrhart and I put together a little mini-CD with a few tracks of audio from Radio Free Quasar. To listen to the tracks, click on the mp3 files to the right.

  • Intro
  • Quasar 3C273
  • Midtro
  • Markarian 421
  • Outro

    How was it built?

    Step 1 - Obtain antique radio from ebay.
    Step 2 - Install audio-controlled laser display. Add a mirror to reflect the beams onto the radio dial.
    Step 3 - Replace the radio dial with a sheet of paper, so the laser beams are visible.
    Step 4 - Install fanless low-power computer, with a dc-dc power supply so that it can be powered from a 12 volt battery.
    Step 5 - Add deep-cycle 12volt battery, with a power sequencer to help turn the computer on and off reliably.
    Step 6 - Install speakers (USB-powered, i.e. low power)
    Step 7 - Install big silver knob (USB interface)
    Step 8 - Obtain funky antenna from ebay.
    Step 9 - Wrap antenna with el-wire.
    Step 10 - Write python software that takes wav files and processes them randomly with VST plugins.
    Step 11 - Add a back cover to the radio so it stands some chance against the elements.

    This is what it looks like in daylight.
    It looks like this at night.
    A closeup of the radio dial laser display.
    A view of the inside, showing the computer and disk in the upper-left corner, laser in the lower-left corner, speakers in the middle, and the circular mirror in the upper-right corner.