A wind instrument for the 21st Century
Playing a wind instrument is a particularly intimate experience. The way you breathe through the instrument and control timbre via a combination of air pressure and embouchure creates a playing experience quite unlike other instruments. In this post we’ll look at an exciting development in the world of electronic wind instruments: Brassynth created by Spacesheep Musical Instruments.
Making music from breathe and embouchure
If you’ve ever played a brass instrument you will probably have noticed how you can affect the texture of the sound with your lungs, mouth and throat. You can modulate the timbre of the sound without turning a knob, simply thinking about is enough if you’re used to your instrument, your body reacts… There is a deep connection between your physical body and the physical instrument which often is abstracted away with traditional synthesisers.
This style of playing and timbral control was what first motivated me to build the Sousasynth and subsequently the Brassynth. Unlike in the case of modular synths where you have hundreds of dials which are hard to control and whose purpose is hard to understand, with the Brassynth I wanted an instrument you can just plug in and start playing.
Beginnings: The Sousasynth
I first started developing these ideas by creating an electronic Sousaphone. The end result, the Sousasynth, is a large and glitchy instrument which is lots of fun to play!
This instrument confirmed that detecting the note played from the buzz of the lips was feasible, and it was the first instrument that I made with the Bela board.
One day while playing the Sousasynth, someone came to me and asked: “how much would you want to create a replica for me”. As the instrument is mostly made of junk gathered from here and there this was pretty impossible.
I also didn’t wanted to sell an instrument which was not reliable. There are many issues with the Sousasynth: the valves were hard to push, the instrument was heavy (14kg), it was lacking manual modulation, the inputs were pretty noisy. From that point I began working on the Brassynth which takes the core ideas of the Sousasynth and improves them in every way (except perhaps in design, but that’s a question of taste).
Building an electronic brass instrument
The Brassynth is made with a Bela Mini and Trill Bar integrated in a 3D printed body. The Trill Bar sensor sits right under the left hand which is not used on the valves.
The Brassynth features MIDI and CV/Gate outputs, transposition, key selection and calibration menus, plus better compatibility with mouthpieces from every different type of brass instrument.
Today the Brassynth is at its 3rd prototype. The fourth revision is planned to be released very soon thanks to money raised via a crowdfunding campaign (now closed). This fourth version should finish the prototype series correcting the remaining glitches. The plan is to then produce the Brassynth in small batches upon order (it’s still a handmade instrument after-all)!
Spacesheep is a creative laboratory based in Tours. Their main activity is the design and manufacture of innovative musical instruments. The instruments they design come both from internal original ideas and external specifications for bespoke designs. The field of expertise of Spacesheep laboratory is very diverse, covering mathematics, acoustics, electronic engineering, computer science, metalwork, and 3D modelling. For more information and to enquire about getting your very own Brassynth check out their website: https://spacesheep.eu.