Speaker Synth is an instrument that plays natural feedback loops to output a musical experience. By "natural," I am referring to the sound of electricity. There is no external audio input to the system, the only components in the loop are the speakers, microphones, and amplifying circuit.
Speaker Synth is comprised of five autonomous feedback systems made of a speaker, LM386n amplifier circuit and piezo microphone. Individual controls include a volume potentiometer and power switch. By manipulating variables such as the positioning of the piezo in relationship to the speaker, the laying of hands and fingers on the speaker, and the inherent dynamics of the individual piezo and speaker, etc, users develop and play noise. The result are sounds take the shape of notes, chords, rhythms, and harmonies.
More of these instruments will be made, with more in depth attention to the speaker, piezo and amplifier dynamics. I will also construct at least one with metal tubes attached to the speakers to experiment with a sound output that will not directly reflect back into the feedback loop. My intent is to have several Speaker Synths performed simultaneously, and produce a choral arrangement.
Essence of a Feedback Loop
The concept of a feedback loop is engaging, particularly in regards to consciousness and sense of self. Douglas Hofstadter refers to such a feedback loop as a "strange loop." We know our sense of self though layers of experiential, complex cycles that endlessly loop. Consider the phrase, "history repeats itself" in visualizing our process of living: we learn, add, subtract, and shape our lives, always returning to where we began to repeat again. To illustrate further, "Point a video camera at a TV displaying the camera's output, and you will produce a receding corridor of screens. Pixels make up the picture, but our interest is in the image, the tunnel of rectangles. Identity resembles that phenomenon. Never mind the neurons that make up our brain. Our emotions, others' responses and our repeated looks outward to the world and inward to ourselves shape what we call our self. Nor is ours the only loop we contain. We know how our friends see things; our mind houses their perspectives -- it has the formula for producing their thoughts." (Peter D. Kramer, Washington Post, reviewing Hofstadter's book "I am Strange Loop")
Speaker Synth was not intended as an exploration of such ideas, however the resulting interaction and sound inherently references the concepts of feedback loops in terms of consciousness. Speaker Synth is a "choral" instrument as opposed to either a classical or electronic instrument regarding its interactive and expressive qualities. The term "choral" addresses a voice. Something with a "voice" has an autonomous identity defined by its self. When powered, Speaker Synth plays its natural feedback loops, regardless of user interaction. When users do enter the system, they never have complete control, but rather, collaborate with the instrument. Hence, Speaker Synth embodies the sense of having has a "life of its own." It is self contained, self referential, self reflexive in both physicality and metaphor.