I was working on the Extensions of Man piece and wanted to build some sort of synthesizer. I’ve been interested in building my own musical instruments recently and thought this project would be a good way to get started. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been experimenting with the softpot linear membrane potentiometers and thought these might make a good interface, particularly for pitch control. Unfortunately, after the previous experiment there was something of an incident. Somehow we managed to burn out the potentiometer. We put this down to human error and started mocking up a design for the synth. Whilst waiting for fresh potentiometers, I browsed the web for similar Arduino based synths and came across a few interesting entries
The first of these, Max Pierson’s Arduino Theremin/Synth (http://blog.wingedvictorydesign.com/2009/06/20/arduino-thereminsynth-final-walkthrough/) is a cool instrument that helped me out with some ideas for this project. I admire his scavenging of parts and think that the final product both looks and sounds really good. I quite wanted to build something similar, but thought that the such a project would be a bit too grand and complex for the purposes of this piece
Next up, I found this really nice granular synthesiser at http://code.google.com/p/tinkerit/wiki/Auduino. This looks like a really cool, minimal hardware project which I though I could expand upon. I thought the softpots would make for a great pitch control (as they suggest on the site), and also thought I could integrate some potentiometers and pressure sensors to give it some interesting controls. I’m a bit of a melodica enthusiast, and thought I’d build an electronic melodica with the following hardware.
Analog in 0: Grain 1 pitch – 1m linear potentiometer
Analog in 1: Grain 2 decay – 4.7k potentiometer
Analog in 2: Grain 1 decay – 4.7k potentiometer
Analog in 3: Grain 2 pitch – 20cm linear potentiometer
Analog in 4: Grain repetition frequency – Air flow meter with attached pipe
I thought I’d also integrate some RGB LEDs and hook them up to the air flow meter so that when the player blows into the ‘synthonica’, the LEDs change colour. I also thought about building a perspex housing and wiring up a light from a scanner on the inside. I also though about making use of the laser cutter and etching the notes along the potentiometers for a reference keyboard.
Unfortunately, there were some complications with the project. We wired up the potentiometers as before and had some great results. The keyboard was ready, and working well. But then, I smelt that familiar smell of burning and new there was a problem. With the deadline looming and a growing pile of burnt out potentiometers, I thought I might have to put this project to one side and return to it later, or at least come up with an alternative interface.