Tiny loopsynth makes beautiful music from ambient noise

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The Gecho polyphonic synthesizer/looper project is currently running on Kickstarter(Credit: gechologic)

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Though many of us can carry a synthesizer is our pockets courtesy of the ubiquitous smartphone and one of many music creation apps, a good number of sonic scientists prefer the real thing. Pint-sized hardware devices like the Pocket Operators from Teenage Engineering have been available for quite a while now, but players still need to get hands on to produce sounds. Gecho users can choose to physically interact with the tiny synth-in-a-box, or can leave it to make melodies from what's picked up from the world around it.

The Gecho polyphonic synthesizer/looper is basically an 86 x 54 mm (3.4 x 2.1 in) PCB built around a 32-bit ARM microprocessor. It sports four proximity sensors able to detect approaching fingers and react accordingly, as well as push buttons. It also has two "very sensitive microphones" to pick up sounds from around it, such as the whistle of its user, finger-drumming on a table top or the tinkle tinkle of an app-based piano bursting out of a tablet's built-in speakers. And magnetic field and infrared sensors have been cooked in, too.

Working much like a subtractive synth, all of the incoming data is sent through variable-resonant filters to form chord progressions while external background noises mess with the settings and add to the mishmash of pleasant soundscapes routed to two 3.5 mm audio outputs for listening through headphones or powered speakers. The board is home to 29 LEDs that indicate levels or sensor activity, or just dance to the melodies generated.

The Gecho will run on three AA-sized batteries, probably hidden in the wooden box enclosure, and its creator says that there are currently four ways to generate relaxing sounds. Buttons on top of the board can be pushed, a magnetic ring can be used to input notes, the microphones can pick up external sounds or an instrument can be plugged into the stereo line-in jack. A fifth method is currently being developed whereby the user can run a USB cable from a PC to input tones through a dedicated app.

As of writing, the Gecho is still in prototyping and a Kickstarter campaign has been launched to help the project make the jump into production. Backers can pledge €55 (about US$58) for just the Gecho board (no box included), €85 for a board and naked wooden box or €128 for a ready-to-go Gecho Loopsynth enclosed in a finished wooden box. If all goes to plan, shipping is expected to start in May 2017.

Meanwhile, the first of a number of freely-available project tutorial on how to use and expand the abilities of the Gecho has been posted to the project website (see source below), and the creator is actively encouraging mods and hacks from the open source community – such as adding MIDI or Bluetooth capabilities.

The Gecho pitch video can be seen below, or hop over to the YouTube channel for a more detailed look at the project.

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