I'm building an acoustic modular synth

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1ivingston
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I'm building an acoustic modular synth

Post by 1ivingston » Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:39 am

Hi. I've been lurking a little while but this is my first post. I've been playing electric and electronic instruments for years, but I've recently become enamored with the complexity inherent in acoustic instruments. However, I'm also interested in the extensibility and interaction involved between modular synth modules. Acoustic instruments have an inherent beauty and complexity in their sounds, but they are not anywhere near as adaptable as electronic ones - there is a certain limit to the diversity of sounds you can get from an oboe. :wink:

So I decided some time ago that I would build an acoustic modular instrument. It will be an instrument in which all the sound production and processing will involve some sort of acoustic resonance.

So, in place of VCOs, I will have strings, glass, nails, metal, which can be struck and bowed and plucked, as well as steam-powered wind "oscillators". This won't be one of those folk instruments with a bunch of junk all nailed onto a wooden plank and then hammered upon by some hippy, although I have the utmost respect for said hippies and their junk instruments. This will be something where everything is laid out thoughtfully. Each sound producer will be a separate module. One cool thing about this is that any of these sound producers can also be an effect - running the sound from a vibraphone-ish metal bar instrument into a set of strings with sitar-like jawari bridges will create a sound with a complex series of overtones and a quick attack which then has a lingering buzzing reverb.

Control will be mechanical, although I also plan to have MIDI decoders at some point so that I can hook my acoustic modular up to Plogue Bidule (a modular software environment, if you're not familiar with it) for some acoustic generative weirdness. :lol: I've figured out a way to have a master keyboard that controls multiple modules, as well as a music box-inspired sequencer. The keyboard may also be modules, so I can have a traditional keyboard, Janko, 36-key-per-octave archicembalo, and so forth.

Some processors I've come up with are an acoustic ring modulator and a vocal tract filter, in addition to more traditional resonators and of course a spring reverb (but an unusual one, of course. Can't reveal what that means exactly yet).

The point of this is not some sort of extension of the analog vs. digital thing or any superiority argument (I'm very much into analog and digital stuff, as well as software). I'm just interested in what kind of sounds I might be able to create with such an unusual instrument, and also interested in the inner-workings of mechanical stuff. I'm not one of those people who believes everything needs a tube in it, for instance - I don't believe antiquated technology is inherently better or more mojo-y than anything else. I just think it's interesting. For instance, making a ring modulator with a diode array and 2 transformers is way easier than making one in the acoustic realm (and might very well sound better). But how weird is an acoustic RM?

At this point, I'm working on my first module, which is a rack of strings which are controlled with a keyboard. When a key is pressed, it is sounded by a loop of bowhair operated by a motor. Kind of a real acoustic string synth. :wink: In addition to the playable strings, there are many sympathetic strings, and all the strings run over jawari bridges.

It's a daunting task, for sure. I have a habit of coming up with impossibly complex plans. But I'll be chipping away at it. I'll post pictures as I finish up each module. Hopefully this is interesting to somebody. :D

So, hi everybody! Hi Doctor Nick!

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Post by Wiglaf » Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:46 am

How big is this thing going to be? Sounds like a couple good size walls would be required.

Honestly, it all sounds way too complex. There's just so much that could go wrong. Good luck though.
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Post by 1ivingston » Mon Oct 22, 2007 2:50 am

Well, sure, but you could say all that for a regular modular synth as well. :wink:

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Re: I'm building an acoustic modular synth

Post by Stab Frenzy » Mon Oct 22, 2007 3:03 am

1ivingston wrote:This won't be one of those folk instruments with a bunch of junk all nailed onto a wooden plank and then hammered upon by some hippy, although I have the utmost respect for said hippies and their junk instruments.
Hilarious :lol:

Check out this:

http://www.maywadenki.com

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Post by mama. » Mon Oct 22, 2007 3:03 am

yes this is a sweet idea. do you do drawings?

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Re: I'm building an acoustic modular synth

Post by 1ivingston » Mon Oct 22, 2007 3:12 am

Stab Frenzy wrote:
1ivingston wrote:This won't be one of those folk instruments with a bunch of junk all nailed onto a wooden plank and then hammered upon by some hippy, although I have the utmost respect for said hippies and their junk instruments.
Hilarious :lol:

Check out this:

http://www.maywadenki.com
That's a cool website, not sure how it relates to hippies and junk instruments, but I do like this quote:
Snap your fingers and you'll hear the jauncy sounds! Enjoy the rhythm! Blade attachment included.
Take that, synth fans! No matter how cool a Little Phatty might be, it does not come with a blade attachment. I've been trying to coax something "jauncy" out of my Nord Micro Modular for some time with no luck.

Edit: Also (this is a product of some sort)
The 13th week fetus, Savao's samba whistle. Put it in your mouth, the face stands!
Edit again: Ah, under "art", then "tsukuba", there are some interesting musical instruments. Thanks for the link!

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Re: I'm building an acoustic modular synth

Post by RobotHeroes » Mon Oct 22, 2007 5:29 am

1ivingston wrote:This won't be one of those folk instruments with a bunch of junk all nailed onto a wooden plank and then hammered upon by some hippy, although I have the utmost respect for said hippies and their junk instruments.
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
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Post by neandrewthal » Mon Oct 22, 2007 5:42 am

There are three important elements to produce Tsukuba Series:
> 1. Run by 100 Voltage.
> 2. Make sounds without speakers. (Acoustic Instruments)
> 3. Ridiculous play style.
:lol:

Anyways, best wishes on the project. I wouldn't know where to begin om something like this.

I want to build an instrument where all the pitch changes are controlled by water levels(no, not a bunch of glasses filled with water) that change with portamento-like glides. Of course I will probably never even begin to accomplish this.
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Post by RobotHeroes » Mon Oct 22, 2007 5:53 am

neandrewthal wrote:
There are three important elements to produce Tsukuba Series:
> 1. Run by 100 Voltage.
> 2. Make sounds without speakers. (Acoustic Instruments)
> 3. Ridiculous play style.
:lol:

Anyways, best wishes on the project. I wouldn't know where to begin om something like this.

I want to build an instrument where all the pitch changes are controlled by water levels(no, not a bunch of glasses filled with water) that change with portamento-like glides. Of course I will probably never even begin to accomplish this.
Toriton Plus: Water Surface as Music Controller II

With 1 laser

Don't think this is what you had in mind neandrewthal but it's still cool. :D
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Post by neandrewthal » Mon Oct 22, 2007 7:23 am

RobotHeroes wrote:Don't think this is what you had in mind neandrewthal but it's still cool. :D

Indeed! That ripple effect reminds me of flinging a theremin antenna back and forth.
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Post by mistercooper » Mon Oct 22, 2007 7:24 am

I've actually been thinking about similar possibilities recently.

I've seen some stuff about natural alternatives to semiconductors, for instance certain chemicals(?) resonate naturally or something and can be used as oscillators. Maybe someone knows which sdiy page I'm thinking of?
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Post by RobotHeroes » Mon Oct 22, 2007 7:32 am

neandrewthal wrote:
RobotHeroes wrote:Don't think this is what you had in mind neandrewthal but it's still cool. :D

Indeed! That ripple effect reminds me of flinging a theremin antenna back and forth.
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Re: I'm building an acoustic modular synth

Post by Stab Frenzy » Mon Oct 22, 2007 8:54 am

1ivingston wrote:
Stab Frenzy wrote:
1ivingston wrote:This won't be one of those folk instruments with a bunch of junk all nailed onto a wooden plank and then hammered upon by some hippy, although I have the utmost respect for said hippies and their junk instruments.
Hilarious :lol:

Check out this:

http://www.maywadenki.com
That's a cool website, not sure how it relates to hippies and junk instruments...
It doesn't, I thought you might find it interesting because they have made quite a few midi -> physical interfaces.

My favourite is the cage you plug into the phone line which drops needles into a pool of goldfish whenever the phone does its 'at the third stroke...' thing.

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Post by divineaudio » Mon Oct 22, 2007 6:11 pm

sounds freakin awesome, albeit daunting.

i can't wait to see some pictures of this...

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Post by meatballfulton » Mon Oct 22, 2007 8:39 pm

An acoustic ring modulator....ROTFL


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