page presents documentation of some of my artistic and engineering research
Chapter in the book "Musical Instruments in the 21st Century":
The Birl: Adventures in the Development of an Electronic Wind Instrument
This is the story of how the instrument I call the Birl morphed from a large, strange
electromechanical contraption into a miniature wind controller. The current version
of the instrument is arguably completely unrelated to the original design. Only the
name has carried over, and the explanation of the name no longer makes sense with
what the instrument has become. The convoluted story of the instrument’s development
gives some insight behind the scenes at the various design problems, creative
inspirations, and unplanned discoveries that guide the creation of new instruments.
I approach instrument design with a few things in mind I want to achieve, but
many of those ideas do not end up in the final product. I don’t consider this a failure
of the design goals, but a gift of the process. One of my favorite parts of instrument
design is when ideas emerge from accidents and surprises along the way. The Birl
is an example of how sometimes the resulting object evolves from the process, as
much as—or even more than—vice versa.
Exploration of an Adaptable Just Intonation
This is the full text of my doctoral dissertation for Columbia University,
defended in 2010. It outlines the current state of my tuning theory, and
uses my 2009 piece Concerning the Nature of Things as an example
of how it can be used. It also describes the features of the instruments
I had designed as of 2010, and even touches on analysis of American country
music vocal harmony.
I have been designing musical instruments since 2002. One of them has
become a commercial product, the Manta. The others are one-offs that I
make for myself as a research project or on commission for other musicians.
Here are images of some of these instruments:
Snyderphonics JD-1 keyboard/sequencer
The JD-1 is a controller for analog synthesizers, and can also outputs
MIDI and OSC over ethernet. It is designed to be 4-voice polyphonic, with
"psuedo-pressure" information for each key.
Each key has two individually adjustable knobs associated with it, which
can be used as values selected by the keys, or as sequencer stages for
the built in sequencer functionality.
Snyderphonics Manta - NIME
2011 paper - some videos
The Snyderphonics Manta is a capacitive touch controller that sends data
over USB to a computer. The sensors also have decoupled LED feedback in
red and amber, which can be controlled from the computer. Each sensor
gives an independent "psuedo-pressure" reading from the surface
area of the finger touching the sensor.
Birl Controller - videos
The Birl Controller is a wind instrument controller with an acoustic resonator.
Buttons are sensed by a microcontroller, and a pressure sensor detects
the player's breath. The resonator is actuated with a vibration transducer.
Birl Tone Generator - videos
The Birl Tone Generator is an electromechanical oscillator. One stepper
motor drives two passive stepper motors via a belt drive. The passive
stepper motors act as generators, creating an AC sine-like waveform on
their input leads, which is used as an electrical oscillator. The waveform
then passes through a waveshaper, a filter, and a voltage-controlled amplifier
before being output as an audio signal. This tone generator was designed
to be the voice for the Birl Controller.
The Resophonic Manta is an acoustic resonator for the Manta Controller.
It is designed to position two mantas in a comfortable placement for a
standing player. It includes a single-channel amplifier and a vibration
transducer, which is connected to an aluminum resophonic cone by a maple
"bridge". The resophonic cone is coupled to the resonator top
plate, which is made from spruce.
The Bass Manta is another acoustic resonator for the Manta Controller.
It holds two mantas in a comfortable position for a standing player. The
top cabinet handles the midrange frequencies, while the bottom cabinet
is designed for bass response. The internal design is inspired by double
bass construction techniques. A driver transducer is connected to the
spruce top plate through a maple "bridge", and the top plate
is connected to the maple back via a "soundpost".
The Treble Contravielle is designed to be played by a string instrument
performer. It has four "trigger" strings, which act as capacitive
sensors, and four rows of 14 buttons, which are intended for pitch selection
by the left hand. The top plate is spruce, and the design is similar to
a flat-top guitar. The additional buttons are for tuning and octave changes.
The Tenor Contravielle is identical to the Treble Contravielle, but with
a much larger body, and therefore different body resonances.
The Anolé is a 12-stringed acoustic instrument that was developed
to explore tuning systems and experiment with modular construction techniques.
It was a collaboration with visual artist Don
Miller in 2002.
Pen Plotter Visual Art:
I have been working on several projects that involve obselete pen plotters
over the past few years. These projects range from a live band that uses
architectural pen plotters as instruments (The
Draftmasters) to recent experiments using an analog chart recorder
and an analog modular synthesizer to make drawings. The analog pen plotter
drawings were exhibited at Devotion
Gallery in NYC throughout November of 2011.
credit: Phillip Stearns
Statement: The Pen Plot series is a group of drawings that I
created using a 1970s analog XY pen plotter, receiving information from
an analog modular synthesizer. While the modular synthesizer is normally
used for sound production, the signals used for these drawings were at
sub-audio frequencies, inaudible to humans. Inaccuracies in the analog
synthesizer are joined by inaccuracies in the aging electronics and limited
mechanics of the analog plotter, and even further exaggerated by the unstable
grip the machine has on the pens I use. The noise in the system produces
fragile distortions of the line, an imprecise representation of an imprecise
system. This instability gives the drawings an unusual hand-drawn quality.
Using this process, I can never know the outcome of the piece beforehand,
and I can never recreate a particular piece again.
You can download zip files of high resolution images of the Pen Plot
series here - penplots1 penplots2.
You can read an interview
with Jeff Snyder about his pen plotter work here.
Circuitboard Visual Art:
This image is part of a series of circuitboard-technology visual art Jeff
Snyder has been working on since 2006. The image is etched into a double-sided
copper-clad PCB. This project combines high-tech production techniques
with the ultra-traditional visual trope of the bucolic landscape.