Mini Soft Synth

This soft circuit mini synth was created to teach electronics and soft goods skills, such as sewing, needle felting and using hot-melt adhesives. Students built the soft interface and learned how to swap components on a breadboarded circuit consisting of an oscillator, filter and signal divider. This interface was the project for two workshops taught at New Interfaces for Musical Expression conference (NIME) in 2011 and 2012.


How Does it Work? 

This soft interface is made from metallic wools, Velostat (a resistive plastic), conductive fabrics, sheep’s wool and acrylic craft felt.
It is connected to the circuit with snaps soldered to wires and alligator clips.
The circuit is comprised of 2 oscillators using the 4093 IC, piped through a distortion filter built using the 4049 and then out through the 4040, a 12 stage binary counter, it has 12 outputs, each dividing the source by 2.
Four of the twelve outputs from the counter IC are taken onto the soft interface using snaps to wire and mixed using a felted patch cord of sheep and metallic wool.
One oscillator is controlled by a force sensing resistor made from Velostat and conductive fabric.
Oscillator number two is controlled by a felted sculptural potentiometer, one side of the spike is a needle felted bronze trace, the opposite side is Velostat. You connect the two through your body by wearing stretchy conductive fabric over the tips and touching both sides at once.
Your body naturally has a high resistance, so you mainly get slow oscillation and hear low tones.
Each of the two oscillators have a control pin, they turn on and off based on if that pin is set to high or low. Each oscillator’s outputs are feeding into the other’s control pin, so you can turn one off and on, by touching the other.

Photos of Mini Synth variation and from lesson plan of 2010 NIME workshop, Oslo, Norway.

Class Description From 2012 NIME conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan 

Sarah Grant and I will be teaching Soft Circuitry and Synthesizers at New Interfaces for Musical Expression again this year in Ann Arbor, MI on Sunday May 20th.

We will be going over how to create soft counterparts to the hardware components that are used in basic circuitry and interactive design.
All students will learn from building force sensing resistors (FSRs), bend sensors and a free form sculptural sensor using sheep’s wool, conductive threads and fabrics and resistive materials such as thin plastics and foam.

We will go over the basics of electronics as all students connect their hand made interface with the mini synth circuit that we will provide. The circuit is comprised of a gated oscillator using a 4093, two of which we will connect to and use, but it has the potential for four. The oscillators are then piped through a 4049 chip that is built into a distortion filter and then finally will be outputted through a 4040 12 stage binary counter. This chip is a divider chip that has 12 outputs that divides the source by 2. We will plug into any 4 of those 12 pins using wire to snap connectors that will snap to your soft controller onto the smallest, and by what we’ve heard, the cutest patch bay ever. Students will be able to mix the output signals using a hand made patch cord.

There are no prerequisites for this class, we will go over the basics and spend most of our time building and exploring materials. Students will get resources and points in the direction for next steps.
All students will be leaving the class with a handmade soft controller, a mini synth circuit, swatches and samples of soft conductive and resistive materials, a sewing needle, a felting needle, and handouts with basic topics being covered and resources.

Photos from NIME workshop, Oslo, Norway, 2010.

Videos from NIME workshop, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2011.