I believe the character of musical expression is strongly tied to the physical form of an instrument. A saxophone is not a theremin is not a violin – but why not? It’s not just the different timbre and range, it’s that each instrument shape provides a unique framework for emotional expression. A different feeling is suggested by the act of blowing breath into a saxophone than by drawing a bow across a string. A violin wants to be played like a violin, a guitar like a guitar, a sax like a sax, a flute like a flute – each different physical shape and method of playing an instrument yields its own unique mode of expression and musical emotion.
What if we combine the sculptured reality of acoustic instruments with the limitless sonic universe provided by electronic synthesis and virtual instruments? We’ll create physical musical instruments and endlessly give them new and different voices — sounds designed as with an electronic synthesizer, yet completely real sounds brought to life within the physical instrument. This is Acoustic Synthesis™, the focus of my dream and my work.
This is a photo of a rather unusual device that attaches to any acoustic guitar having a standard sound hole. It transforms the guitar into a system capable of Acoustic Synthesis™. It’s the result of a personal R&D project I’ve been working on since 2009. (And going back to 1979, but who’s counting.) This work has evolved into the Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer™. (This photo is of the earliest prototype. The Vo-96 gained an improved user control area before it was shipped to the backers of the Vo-96 Kickstarter.)
We’ve had a successful launch through Kickstarter and continued taking commissions until the initial 100 units were all spoken for. These first Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizers have been out in the field for a couple of years now and I’m proud to say that some musicians have found the Vo-96 to be indispensable. For me, seeing my invention come into reality and meeting musicians willing to invest time in experimenting with new musical ideas around the Vo-96 has thrown my imagination into a new and higher gear. I’ve learned so much from their experiences and feedback. My focus now is on finding a way to create a more integrated and more fully evolved Vo-96 product. (Most recently this has led me to develop a single-string hand-held product. The next Vo-96 will be it’s multi-string extension.)
With Acoustic Synthesis™ any acoustic musical instrument – any object that makes a sound – can be enhanced to bring out its hidden acoustic voice.
So far I’ve worked mostly with vibrating strings. The musical instrument string is arguably the most ubiquitous means of making music. It’s also the most difficult to vibrate coherently using electronic control, because it changes its physical characteristics all the time as it is fretted, stretched or otherwise manipulated in the course of playing music. But I think also of potential new instruments – playable objects of acoustic art. More posibilities than I will ever be able to get to myself, which is why I’m offering technology licenses on very reasonable terms to any company wanting to join me in exploring this huge new space.
Bob Moog’s pioneering work sparked the wider use of electronic music technologies. Musicians have gradually over the decades accepted and become familiar with using synthesizers to create and explore an endless variety of sounds electronically. I’m saying we are now beginning to extend this idea into the physical realm. We can make the virtual become real. We can artistically create new sounds by bringing out modes of vibration that have up to now remained hidden within the material objects we call musical instruments.
Analog Synthesis. Digital Synthesis. Acoustic Synthesis™: it isn’t empty hype, this really is a distinctly different and new method of voicing instruments, designing new sounds, and making music.
Thank you for visiting!
– Paul Vo