The Light4Sound Story
The story of Light4Sound got its start, as most ideas do, in an elevator [or shower, if you prefer]. Co-founder Dr. Waleed “Lee” Haddad was thinking about music and sound, and in particular the motion of strings on stringed instruments, and how a vibrating string actually creates a sound wave.
Strings don’t vibrate in just one dimension—they actually have very complex movements, with vertical, horizontal, rotational and longitude components. The vibrations develop and change over time, and how they create sound is not as obvious as it may seem at first blush.
As he started to think about how to measure these waves, Lee drew on decades of experience in developing optical sensor technologies, including his time at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and a number of startups. An optical solution would offer very fast response—much faster than the string vibrations themselves develop. And the device itself could be compact, cheap, and focused on a small area—just single section of the strings. And, the sensitivity, and response to the vibrations could also be tailored using the optics as well.
With all this in mind, Lee started with a very simple test apparatus in his lab, and began experiments on his optical bench, learning from, and improving the apparatus steadily. He realized that this could have very interesting possibilities as an instrument pickup, especially since it could allow the use of different string materials, eliminating magnetic drag, and improving the frequency response over traditional pickups. But as a practicing musician, composer and keyboard player in a band (currently Radiograph), and years of experience working with guitarists, Lee also immediately realized that to be a truly successful product, the pickup not only had to sound good—it had to be a drop-in replacement for common pickups, so that guitar (and bass) players could continue to use their favorite instruments. He knew that others had designed optical pickups, but that none could work in existing guitars. Lee also realized that, while the pickup should be a true analog device, it could also be programmable, with many new high-tech features and user settings never before seen in existing pickups, that could give guitar players new ways to customize their tone and playing style.
It was clear that this could have very interesting implications for string materials, magnetic drag, and response. But as a practicing musician, the keyboard player in a band, currently Radiograph, Lee immediately realized that to be truly successful, the pickup not only had to sound good—it had to be a drop-in replacement, so that guitar (and bass) players could continue to use their favorite instruments.
Co-founder Tor Lundgren took an interest in the workbench demo and the idea, and was particularly impressed with the idea for integrated software to give musicians the possibility to program the pickup. Together, they set up Light4Sound, and Lee began an extended iterative process of development, designing and building various prototype units, experimenting with various numbers and configurations of LEDs, different spacing, filters, optics and a dozen other parameters.
It all took a bit longer than we would have liked, but Light4Sound is now on the cusp of delivering an optical pickup, the ōPik that truly realizes the potential of this technology. We are really looking forward to putting the oPik in the hands of musicians around the world, so we can all make music with light.
Dr. Waleed “Lee” Haddad
Lee holds double B.S. degrees in Physics and Mathematics, and an M.S. degree in Physics from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Physics from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He is a scientist, entrepreneur and giging musician. He has over 35 years of professional experience in research, and technology development with extensive background in optics, imaging and sensor systems, microscopy, medical devices, biometrics and security technologies. He was a staff scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for 8 years, and is the founder of several startups. He has over 20 scientific publications, and approximately 35 patents, including 12 patents on the optical instrument pickup.
Tor has been involved in startups in since getting his degrees in Materials Science and Industrial Engineering at Stanford, and hs over the past twenty years founded and been involved in companies in the photography and video space. Without any particular experience in music or hardware design, Tor was captivated by the transformative potential for the oPik and the interesting technical and business challenges required to make it a reality. He has not been disappointed on either front!