There is a YouTube channel called “ELECTRONICOS FANTASTICOS!” that features people playing music by scanning barcodes of various lengths and widths. I was amazed by how such a simple tool can be reimagined to create music, and curious about how the scanner was reprogrammed to recognize different barcodes as different sounds. In fact, factors such as pitch and speed appear to be affected by how fast the scanner is moving and how far from the barcode it is.
Ei Wada, a Japanese artist and musician, reinvents such electrical appliances as tools to create electromagnetic music. He modifies the barcode scanners to generate sounds by connecting scanned signals directly to an audio terminal. When hovering over a printed backdrop with different variations of “barcodes”, the scanner senses changes in light patterns between the black and white lines to turns those signals into computer text. The computer recognizes the specific light patterns and emits a beep sound. It is likely that Wada created an algorithm that sets different light patterns to specific sounds so when the scanner goes over different barcodes, it produces a variety of beeps. However, to create music, the artist still has to physically scan the barcodes in a rhythmic way, moving throughout the different barcodes systemically in order to produce a set of sounds with musical qualities.