The Abacusynth is a synthesizer inspired by an abacus, the ancient counting tool used all around the world. Just like an abacus is used to learn the fundamentals of math, the Abacusynth can be used to explore the building blocks of synthesis and timbre. Timbral modulation is arguably just as “musical” as melody or rhythm, but it’s not often emphasized for someone learning music, usually due to the complexity of synthesizer interfaces. The Abacusynth presents a fun, tactile device that allows anyone to explore timbre, regardless of their musical experience. I took inspiration from an abacus because it provides familiar and flexible interactions that evoke experimentation and discovery. It is a standalone device that features a built-in speaker so that anyone can start exploring right off the bat. It can also be controlled via MIDI and sends a line out. The design creates new possibilities in both the performance and production space. Timbral adjustments, normally made by turning dials, are brought into focus through this kinetic interface, which is just as fun to watch as is it to play.
The visual and tactile interface makes it easy and fun to create rich synth sounds. The core timbral building blocks (oscillators, harmonics, and filters) are organized in a spatial layout that prioritizes interaction and invites experimentation. Each rod represents an oscillator. Moving a block laterally adjusts a low pass filter and spinning it modulates either the pitch or volume. A knob on the side allows you to control the oscillators waveform, harmonic multiplier, and spin effect. Knobs on the front control overall volume and the ADSR envelope. When no MIDI device is connected, these knobs control a two note drone sound, so you don't need any external device to start experimenting. Spinning motion/oscillation is at the core of all sound, it's in oscillators, modulation, rhythm. Everything we hear can be broken down into sine waves. I wanted to build that into the interface, so that the instrument itself demonstrates the musical concepts that it employs. The instrument's kinetic nature means that no two takes will be exactly alike. The spinners are bound by the laws of physics and they slow down over time, leading to unique rhythmic patterns. This means that playing the Abacusynth is an active process. You need to keep interacting with it as the motion subsides.