Experimental Bow Controller O-Bow Adds Expressive Control To Synthesis

This is a quick demonstration of Dylan Menzies’ O-Bow 1, an optical bow prototype. The bow speed controls gain, & bow angle controls vibrato.

Note how expressive the result is, despite the fact that the demo uses a single sample for synthesis.

Here’s what Menzies has to say about the optical bow controller:

The O-Bow is a bow controller consisting of an optical flow sensor mounted to measure the bow speed and horizontal angle with high resolution. The bow can be anything with a grained surface, such as a wooden stick.

Development of the O-Bow was prompted by the lack of robust, and inexpensive bow controllers. Synthesized string instruments frequently appear in recordings, yet the quality of articulation is very limited for such expressive instruments. Bowing is a fairly easy skill to aquire, whereas fingering and vibrato are very difficult. Combining the keyboard with bow allows a musician previously unskilled with string instruments to quickly produce much better articulation than using a keyboard alone. Controlling vibrato with bow angle or key pressure avoids the need to control vibrato directly.

From a less utilitarian viewpoint, bowing is a very natural and expressive mode of control. It deserves to be integrated better into the modern world of electronic sound, including that which is more removed from authentic strings.

So far the O-Bow has been used with a simple one-sample synthesiser as shown in the following video. More sophistocated synthesis is being developed, including physical modelling. A related patent application has been filed.

via dylandio, keyofgrey

8 thoughts on “Experimental Bow Controller O-Bow Adds Expressive Control To Synthesis

  1. seems like you could get this functionality with a ribbon controller–you just need good algorithms to measure the speed of motion….

  2. This is neat, but the patent application worries me. Using an optical flow sensor is no rocket science and interpreting an optical flow field in a certain way is hardly innovative, in fact it's a standard method: it's used to measure the flow of liquids or gases without mechanical contact to the medium under observation, in 3D reconstruction from 2D images, in motion activated surveillance cameras, object tracking, camera image stabilisation, etc. This is something that a DIY enthusiast might come up with and I'd hate to see them dragged into court because someone decided to appropriate a simple idea.

  3. Well, even though the individual elements may have already existed, he still came up with the idea and practical implementation to combine these into an expressive tool. It may not be rocket science, but I don't see any other products out on the market that do this, so he should be able to protect and profit from coming up with a unique and marketable fusion of these technologies. DIYers can always build one on their own without risk of litigation, unless they decide to take it to market.

  4. Seems like there'd be a small market for something like this – but it would be great for anyone doing orchestrations and it would also be interesting to try this with some strange synth sounds to see what you'd get.

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