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As an intern at Meeblip/CDM I'm working on quite a special design project: To demonstrate the power and flexibility of the Meeblip, I'm designing a self contained electronic instrument with the Micro board as the centerpiece. There's a lot going on, and in this post I'm trying to make clear what the design considerations are and where I'm at. Any questions? Fire away.
This new instrument I'm designing, should be a instrument which works in acoustic setting, say, together with an acoustic guitar and a singer. While there have been electronic instruments that work in this setting, like a portable piano or the Omnichord, they are either trying to emulate acoustic instruments or are considered as toys. I think synthesizers shouldn't be exclusive to amplified settings, so my quest is to create a independent serious electronic instrument.
The most immediate problem here is sound; 1.the instrument should be loud enough 2.the instrument should sound 'full' and 'pleasing'. The first one is easily solved as both speakers and amps have been getting smaller and smaller with increasing power. But the second problem is harder to deal with. I feel this is where many others have gone wrong, usually just slam a loudspeaker into a plastic casing and call it a day. Well, sound is produced in a system, and when you neglect something like the acoustic properties of the casing, it will sound like crap. This is exactly the difference between a €2 recorder and something like a clarinet. (I wonder whether or not the big companies who make the self amplified keyboard consider the acoustic properties of the encasing?) As I barely know anything on this topic, would anyone have some pointers on how to do this right?
The usual way to 'thicken' the sound in electronic music is to add effects. A simple waveform might be made more interesting by doubling it with a delay or deforming it with some distortion. I think a simple delay would work it's magic into this device, so I've already made something based of the PT2399 chip. Quite lofi, but a nice touch it is.
Next to sound, the other factor what makes an instrument is its interface. This will have a huge impact in what kind of music will come out of the device, like how an Eigenharp sound differently than a midi keyboard, even while its controlling the same synth. The easy way here would be to just slam a keyboard on the Meeblip. But when going for a electronic instrument, you might want to have some of the advantages of electronics into the input method as well. I'm thinking of a sequencer/arpeggiator here. But now we've created another issue; you'd want to have an expressive musical instrument and a sequencer is far from that. To make the sequencer expressive, I'm thinking of controlling it by velocity sensitive pads. So you set the pattern in advance, and by drumming the pad, you will go to the next step. This allows you to have both human timing and expression, while having electronic pitch control. (I imagine this as being like a hang drum.)
I've been debating on the shape of the sequencer and hanging between the analog linear or circular layouts. I think I'll prototype both and see which feels most natural.
The instrument should be able to make music without any wires connected, so it doesn't just need the input device, and the speaker/amp, but it also needs a power source included. I'm not yet sure how much energy my device will pull, but I guess a li-ion battery's are the way to go.
The last, but certainly not least part of this project would be it's design. To be a serious musical instrument, it certainly needs to look like one. I feel like the way to go here is not to go for something entirely new, but to ride the wave of retro synth aesthetics. This will make clear what category the instrument is to both synth users and people looking for something new.
Please feel free to contribute or comment on any of my thoughts. Updates will appear here when they occur!