For my ART322 mixed media course, I was tasked to create something utilizing a unique medium. So, I decided to see if our laser engraver on campus could laser engrave sound data into unique materials, which could subsequently be played on a record player. Upon researching, I found that this had already been done before by Amanda Ghassaei. Her instructables.com article is where I found all the guidance I needed to get through this project. It can be read at https://www.instructables.com/id/Laser-Cut-Record/
For the genre of music, I chose Gregorian Chant. I did this for a few reasons. The biggest reason is that I have a great spiritual connection to chant, and it is an expression of my love for the Catholic faith. It also helped to communicate the theme I chose for the project: "Communicate History".
Fig. A. The initial tests on wood.
My original medium that I planned on using was birch plywood. You can see the initial tests I ran with some sound files found at the aforementioned article in fig A. I planned to have the playable sound data on one side of the wood, with a wood engraving of the musical score on the opposite side. In this way, I would communicate history by showing the evolution of music distribution. In theory, I would be able to play the sound on any turntable, but, if I did not have a turntable, I could run the cut through a printing press to create copies of the musical score.
I also sought to show the timelessness of the Catholic faith. To do this, I looked through digital versions of ancient manuscripts from as early as the 9th century, looking for chant scores that closely mirror chants that the Church still uses today. I ultimately decided that a Kyrie (Lord, Have Mercy) and a Pater Noster (the Our Father/the Lord's Prayer) fit this criteria quite well, so this is what I chose for the music. I retrieved the files, edited them for proper playback in Audacity (a sound editing program), and ran them through code found at the aforementioned article which produced the laser-engravable vector files.
Fig. B. Left: the acrylic in the process of being engraved; Right: the design which the disk was glued on top of.
The sound of the wood grain against the needle sounded quite terrible, so I chose to use transparent acrylic for the sound data instead. You can see the acrylic in the laser engraver in fig. B. Once I finished engraving the acrylic, I took the disk and glued it on top of an laser engraved woodcut, which also can be seen in fig. B. This woodcut, designed in Adobe Illustrator, contained the score for both pieces, the Bible verses from which they are derived, and an engraving of the Last Supper in the center.
The final results were quite stunning. While the sound quality wasn't great, the voice of monks chanting was clear enough. Ultimately, this project drew together all of my knowledge in graphic design, history, sound editing, and coding to create a fascinating product that effectively communicates history. You can see a video of it below (warning, do not have you speakers too loud right away).