Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer
April 20, 2013 8:08 AM   Subscribe


 
That makes me want to learn guitar just so I can play with one of those.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:20 AM on April 20, 2013


I didn't get at first that it's totally acoustic. The magic gizmo makes the strings vibrate differently. I'd love to hear one in person.
posted by cccorlew at 8:36 AM on April 20, 2013


Reminds me a lot of the magnetic resonator piano.
posted by neustile at 8:39 AM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is really cool, but I wonder what the advantage is of "pre-processing" the wave directly on the string vs. processing the pickup output like usual? I would love to hear the range of sounds this thing can make.
posted by swift at 8:41 AM on April 20, 2013


swift: I think the idea is that you get the timbre of an acoustic.
posted by cthuljew at 8:43 AM on April 20, 2013


This is a cool gadget, but a very frustrating writeup. Too much "zomg this is mindblowingly impossible and violates the laws of physics!!!1!," too little "here's what's going on."

My sense is that they're describing something like an EBow, but adapted to work better on acoustic guitar strings and with a lot more ability to process the signal before it's fed back into the string driver. But that's just a guess.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:47 AM on April 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


That is so badass.
posted by odinsdream at 8:47 AM on April 20, 2013


Now I have to go sell my first born to get one with the handmade guitar on the kickstarter campaign.
posted by iamabot at 8:47 AM on April 20, 2013


swift: I think the idea is that you get the timbre of an acoustic.

Right, but you can do that already — by putting a normal microphone in front of an acoustic guitar, and then run the microphone signal through some effect pedals.

Looking at the videos, I think I can see one advantage of this thing over the old-fashioned microphone/effects/amp/speaker way of doing it. On this thing, "reverb" seems to mean "push some of the signal back into the strings so that they'll keep vibrating longer." Which seems to mean that you can cut the reverb off at exactly the point you want it to cut off, just by muting the strings.

You can get a similar effect with a reverb pedal — by stomping on it at just the right moment — but I'm willing to bet that for a good guitarist, this would be a much more natural-feeling way to control it.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 8:59 AM on April 20, 2013


Basically it's an acoustic guitar additive synth. It manipulates the first 16 overtones, sorta like Hammond drawbars only on strings.

That's interesting, but it would need envelope processing to get very far beyond pipe-organ-in-a-guitar.
posted by tspae at 9:03 AM on April 20, 2013


I get the impression that this is the sort of thing that sounds a *lot* cooler in person than recorded.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:05 AM on April 20, 2013


This is without doubt a new instrument altogether. What will characterize this is the extent of its limitations and how future versions deal with those. I am impressed that the initial price range is $1050 to $1450.
posted by Ardiril at 9:08 AM on April 20, 2013


Until people get used to this, there are going to be passersby utterly baffled by magical buskers.
posted by umbú at 9:25 AM on April 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Imagine what this could do to a sitar.
posted by Ardiril at 9:27 AM on April 20, 2013


Ooooh additive synthesis.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:28 AM on April 20, 2013


It can add energy to make a string ring out, but can it mute/dampen a string? It's not clear from the video or article.
posted by scose at 9:32 AM on April 20, 2013


Now there are two. There are two _______:

There is a difference: mathematically the traditional way goes Sound = Effect(Timbre(Vibration)). This way goes Timbre(Effect(Vibration)). If (Timbre . Effect) is not the same as (Effect . Timbre), you get different results.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:33 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't see the point. A good modern solid body guitar like my Les Paul has infinite sustain, for all practical purposes, unless you're a maniac who likes writing songs with more than 30 seconds of a single sustained note. If you really need infinite sustain, there have been machines like the Gizmotron that will continuously "bow" your strings using rollers. If you need analog effects mounted on your guitar, they've been around since the Les Paulverizer.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:48 AM on April 20, 2013


The point is that you don't need an amp, effects pedals, or cables. Just clip on your acoustic guitar and go.
posted by zsazsa at 9:56 AM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


It can add energy to make a string ring out, but can it mute/dampen a string? It's not clear from the video or article.

Oh, sorry, I wasn't saying this effects box can dampen the strings all by itself. I was saying it looks like the guitarist can — like, say, by palm-muting it — and that will interrupt the reverb effect.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:59 AM on April 20, 2013


Also, when you turn the unit off, you pretty much have a standard acoustic guitar.
posted by Ardiril at 9:59 AM on April 20, 2013


A friend has a couple of the electric Moogs - they're really not like normal guitars with some effects built in. They can sustain forever, so you can play them in very un-guitar-like ways and as @scose mentioned above they can also remove energy from the string to dampen it so the note dies immediately, or in interesting banjo-y ways.

Why? The people saying you could just post-process the audio are missing the point. A musical instrument isn't really a machine for making sounds - it's a machine for *controlling* sounds. You could sample a violin and play it on a keyboard and it would make *exactly* the same sound as a violin, but a keyboard doesn't afford you anything like the control or expressiveness of directly touching the strings of a violin (though, of course, it has other advantages). The main characteristics of an instrument come not from the particular sound it can produce but the ways that you can interact with that sound to expressively shape it.

And that's why the fact that this device produces the sounds acoustically is important - because the musician can control the timbre with his/her fingers by touching the string to damp or emphasise harmonics, change string tension etc. in very subtle and intuitive ways which just aren't possible by post processing which would simply layer an effect over the whole thing. This isn't a device to just produce a different sound, it's a device that allows you to play in a different way.
posted by silence at 10:05 AM on April 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


You guys need to watch the second video further down the page, because it shows the technology much better.

Vo's technology can manipulate the strings in any way it wants through individual EM fields. It can stop the strings dead, it can sustain them forever, and it applies this power intelligently based on what strings you are using (i.e. it doesn't vibrate strings you aren't using and can mute unused strings actively). That tech was in the Moog guitar that came out a few years ago.

The new thing with this box is that it can also boost or cut different harmonics in the string vibration pattern. That leads (in the second video) to some really interesting natural sounds that have a lot of musical possibilities. There's one bit that sounds like guitar & organ, another with a haunting bell sound overlaid.
posted by w0mbat at 10:08 AM on April 20, 2013


I don't see the point.

While I personally don't like making whale music and I have nothing more than a passive K&K Western Mini in my D28, it's pretty unique and I can see a use for it by people that are wanting to Josh-Groban-featuring-Yanni the fuck out of something and stand on a cliff edge overlooking a windswept coastline at sunset in Namibia and sing about astral plains and sailing to Io.

To each his own.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:09 AM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


One gripe I have is that the waves it seems to be sending back into the guitar are far too "clean." They sound like a pipe organ, rather than a guitar.

Still, this is some pretty nifty work.
posted by schmod at 10:10 AM on April 20, 2013


So incredible that I'm gonna forgive the fact that they misspelled Asheville, home of Moog, in the article.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:15 AM on April 20, 2013


It can add energy to make a string ring out, but can it mute/dampen a string? It's not clear from the video or article.

Sure it can; the Moog Guitar already does. All you do is swap the phase of the wave.


I don't see the point.

This isn't just about infinite sustain. You can do things like play just the third harmonic on a timed delay after you've picked it. There are a lot of sound design options here. It's additive synthesis but in the acoustic realm.


It could, theoretically, play an entire song without you. Or harmonize, or act as a loop pedal without the pedal.

Even the better demo video doesn't even begin to touch on what this technology can potentially do.
posted by Foosnark at 10:24 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder what the advantage is of "pre-processing" the wave directly on the string vs. processing the pickup output like usual?

the advantage is the string's timbre itself is changed, which gives you a different sound to process when it gets out of the pickup

the second advantage, and it's a huge one, is that one doesn't have to worry about latency or tracking

---

You could sample a violin and play it on a keyboard and it would make *exactly* the same sound as a violin, but a keyboard doesn't afford you anything like the control or expressiveness of directly touching the strings of a violin

which is why a guitar synth would be a better controller for that kind of thing - or for things like sax samples

to me though, the drawback is the design decision to only have a few presets instead of full control over the 16 overtones on each string - yes, it complicates the user interface a lot, but usb to a computer would help with that, and one can always have a few user presets available for the sounds that people design

something that's well over 1000 bucks needs to have that kind of functionality to be worth it, at least to me
posted by pyramid termite at 10:24 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've watched a bunch of videos and the sound gets pretty samey and boring to me after the initial "oh, neat" reaction wears off. It'll be interesting to see if songwriters do anything cool with it.
posted by frenetic at 10:33 AM on April 20, 2013


You can never hope for anything interesting from a music tech demo. Even the most amazing synthesizers and software get demo'd with the same lightweight fake jazzy dance-like music or progressive rock noodling.
posted by scose at 10:38 AM on April 20, 2013


but it would need envelope processing to get very far beyond pipe-organ-in-a-guitar.

Maybe that's true (I don't know what envelope processing is) but a pipe organ with lots of stops can produce a bewildering variety of sounds and timbres, so, no big loss?
posted by kenko at 10:42 AM on April 20, 2013


Yes, it's sort of like a smart Ebow or Sustainer.

I think this is one of those things that looks far more impressive than it usually turns out to be in real life. See: Ebow and Sustainer. Rather than synthesis or any other comparison, I predict it will probably be used to give acoustic guitar a very recognizable "Vo-95" tonal quality. As the demos show, it can exhibit a very drone-y, organ-y timbre quite easily. And can do percussive, pluck-y, banjo-y tones. Modulating the harmonics can give a pleasant swirly effect.

I'm curious to see how far this kind of electromagnetic/electromechanical manipulation can go. From the demos, it doesn't really sound like additive synthesis to me, but rather harmonic emphasis. It would seem possible with such a smart device to go beyond, and manipulate harmonic content enough to make, for example, a sort of acoustic fuzzbox tonality, or even give sub harmonics, and beyond.

There is no doubt that this is a very impressive technological achievement, though.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:59 AM on April 20, 2013


"I've watched a bunch of videos and the sound gets pretty samey and boring"

Engineers are rarely advanced musicians. They have to get the product into the hands of the artists to play and experiment for awhile before any real judgment of its musical worth.
posted by Ardiril at 11:12 AM on April 20, 2013


I thought this would be a bit better tbh
posted by sgt.serenity at 1:41 PM on April 20, 2013


As someone who grew up with a distinct synthesizer fetish (and a fair bit of guitar revulsion), one thing I learned quite quite early about guitarists is this: they're happy to leave their technology set at 1968. Wood and magnets, get offa my lawn. There's no talking to them.
posted by readyfreddy at 2:29 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Heh. Yeah, I imagine the target market is "People who were seriously thinking for a while in there about buying a Stick."
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 2:42 PM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


"zomg this is mindblowingly impossible and violates the laws of physics!!!1!,"

Yes. Can’t anything just be a tool anymore? First there is the ridiculous hype, then the skepticism over the hype, the backlash from the "you just don’t get it, the world just fundamentally changed and can never go back" crowd, and then in 6 months it will just be another tool that some people use and everyone else ignores. See; Segway, Melodyne DNA, etc.
posted by bongo_x at 4:07 PM on April 20, 2013




It's pretty cool and all, but it does seem like a lot of work to make sounds we have around already.
posted by lumpenprole at 7:18 PM on April 20, 2013


Given that I love to tool around with FX, but for various reasons (mostly to do with being a dad with a lot less space than I'd like, and time to set up gear, and limits on how loudly I can play, especially at night) I limit my playing to acoustic guitar, and that I love organ sounds, and harmonics, and open tunings - this could be for me. I own an Ebow, but find it a bit of a pain to use.


Also, the comments on the linked page are almost all variations on "meh". Guitar-shop arseholes. The MeFi comments, as usual, are a lot more even-handed and open-minded. Yay!
posted by misterbee at 7:49 PM on April 20, 2013


Andy Summers Demos The Roland GR300 Guitar Synth

I loved that clip because just as I was getting fed up with the ridiculous early 80's synth bullshit, they cut away to a jam session where he's playing a 1955 Les Paul Junior.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:20 PM on April 20, 2013


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