There’s nothing new, ever. It’s all been done. But that doesn’t mean you can’t invent something interesting. A case in point is the Motor Synth, a crowdfunding project from Gamechanger Audio. It’s what you get when you combine advanced quadcopter technology with the market for modular and semi-modular synthesizers.
The core feature of the Motor Synth is an octet of brushless motors tucked behind a plexiglass window. These (either through an electromagnetic pickup or something slightly more clever) produce a tone, giving the Motor Synth four-note polyphony with two voices per key. On top of these motors are reflective optical discs sensed with infrared detectors. These are mixed as harmonics to the fundamental frequency. The result? Well, they got an endorsement from [Jean-Michel Jarre] at Superbooth earlier this month (see video below). That’s pretty impressive.
While using rotating wheels and motors might seem like a novel way to generate sounds, this is actually the way the first ‘synthesizer’ generated sound. A tonewheel organ is effectively a metal wheel with bumps on the rim (think something like a gear) rotating next to a magnetic pickup. As the wheel rotates, these bumps induce a current in the pickup, which is sent to an amplifier and out to a speaker, producing a single tone. This was invented around the beginning of the last century, and saw remarkable use in the Hammond organ. There are absolutely limitations of a tonewheel; each wheel only produces one frequency and cannot be varied outside of tuning the entire apparatus to a standard pitch. The Motor Synth is getting around this limitation by using standard brushless motors and tacking on a reflective disc to each motor for infrared sensors so harmonics of each ‘wheel’ are produced. These harmonics can be combined and mixed with the fundamental ‘motor’ tone.
While this is absolutely the next generation of ‘rotating discs producing audio frequencies’ technology, the striking thing about the Motor Synth is the novelty. Why hasn’t anyone put a guitar pickup next to a brushless motor until now? Anyone could have slapped a quadcopter motor and a coil of wire into a Eurorack module and reaped the praises of The Verge or Motherboard. Just because there’s nothing new to be invented doesn’t mean you can’t create something interesting, we guess.