Today this site goes live – 2/15/2013 !
Below are pictures of a rather unusual object that attaches to any acoustic guitar having a standard sound hole. It transforms the guitar into a system capable of Acoustic Synthesis™. It’s the result of a personal R&D project I’ve been working on since 2009.
This work, which I conducted with my own resources and with important background support from Moog Music, has evolved into the Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizer™.
This is my latest and most advanced vibration control technology. In November of 2012, Moog took the unusual step of announcing it publicly. They code-named it the LEV-96 concept product and enlisted the help of some great artists to test it out. Like a concept-car, LEV-96 is an experimental concept product. As a guitarist I love playing my prototype, so I’m not so surprised that several of the guitarists who have had the opportunity to try this have said they want to own one. Normally with a concept product that’s not possible – see anyone driving BMW’s latest concept car anywhere? I am grateful to Moog Music that they have encouraged me to turn it into an “inventor’s cut” product and to offer a limited number of Vo-96 Acoustic Synthesizers to musicians who want to both experience and help define a truly radical step forward in music technology!
This is a product from my company Vo Inventions LLC, not from Moog Music Inc., and is being offered on a pre-order basis much as you would order in advance a custom instrument from a luthier. I’m very pleased and excited by this opportunity to go forward on my own. It gives me a chance to do more experimental work of this kind in the future – to attempt whatever I must as I follow this Acoustic Synthesis muse.
Like the original Moog guitar this new technology physically changes the way the strings of an acoustic guitar vibrate – but this goes much further. The changes can be subtle, just making the guitar sound much fuller and richer. They can be radical, creating sounds you will not believe come from an acoustic instrument. Individual harmonics within each note can be articulated into a unique time-sequence of timbres or limitless harmonic arpeggios. Acoustic tremolo is possible! Detailed additive synthesis is possible – designed sounds produced by physical means! When you sit and play this instrument you want to believe there is a hidden loudspeaker, but there isn’t. The sound emanates from this acoustic guitar in the same way as always. No demo video can get this across – you have to play this thing to see and feel what it is doing.
The pictures above are incrementally evolving versions of the LEV-96 concept product you can see being played in some of the video links at the side bar. The numeral 96 refers to the number of individual harmonic control channels. Each channel is capable of controlling the behavior of one harmonic partial of a string’s timbre. 16 such channels are instantiated per string. 6 x 16=96.
So far I’ve worked mostly with vibrating strings. The musical instrument string is arguably the most ubiquitous means of making music. It’s also the most difficult to vibrate coherently using electronic control. One idea I had back in 1979 turned out to be a great solution. I was amazed to find it was still unknown and patentable 20 years later.
Starting with Bob Moog’s pioneering work we have gradually over the decades accepted and become familiar with using synthesizers to create an endless variety of sounds electronically. I’m saying we are now beginning to extend this idea into the physical realm. We can make the virtual become real. We can artistically create new sounds by bringing out modes of vibration that have up to now remained hidden within the material objects we call musical instruments. Through Acoustic Synthesis™ the same sonic exploration is possible for other acoustic instruments and even creative objects of acoustic art that no one has imagined – not just yet anyway.
Analog Synthesis. Digital Synthesis. Acoustic Synthesis™: it isn’t empty hype, this really is a distinctly different and new method of voicing instruments, designing new sounds, and making music.
Help me build awareness and incite unbridled experimentation in this exciting new field where the science of motion control meets music. This is serious and fun stimulation for your brain and heart, it’s causing musicians to play more and making people smile. I am hooked on it for sure.
2008: The Moog Guitar
At Summer NAMM 2008 Moog introduced the limited first issue ‘Paul Vo Collector’s Edition’ instrument and later the production model E1 Moog Guitar.
The Moog Guitar has found a place in the world. Four years after its introduction hundreds of influential guitarists are actively making all kinds of great music with it. Winning over musicians to a new type of instrument is a slow process. But this guitar is a whole lot of fun to play. It feels amazing in your hands. What you hear is what you feel. I believe this correspondence between sensation and sound connects you emotionally and makes it a true musical instrument rather than just a cool technology.
The Moog Guitar has received numerous industry honors including Guitar Player Magazine’s 2009 Reader’s Choice Award, Electronic Musician Magazine’s 2009 Editor’s Choice Award, 2008 Summer NAMM “Best In Show” honors, a 2008 “Best of What’s New Award” from Popular Science magazine and a 2009 Mix Foundation TEC Award.
You can do things with a Moog Guitar you just can’t do any other way whether you play it like a traditional electric or use it orchestrally. Sometimes you can hardly tell it’s a guitar. For a great example, listen to Brian Eno’s very beautiful ‘LUX’ CD. The CD credits list only three physical instruments used in the recording: violins, violas, and the Moog Guitar. Thank you Brian Eno, for your encouragement.
During 2010 Moog developed the Moog Lap Steel. With that instrument for the first time I saw my technology applied very skillfully and artistically by people other than myself – think what that’s like, after walking around with an idea burning in your head for 25 years that no one else can see!
To me the Moog Lap Steel is a purer, more artistic, more perfectly integrated union of this technology with a traditional musical instrument than even the Paul Vo Collectors Edition Moog Guitar. The existence of instrument is the reason I know I’ve successfully shared not just the designs but the spirit of my technology with the people at Moog Music. This makes me very happy!
Naming a product can have unexpected results…
As a root word, ‘Vo’ is found in words such as voice, vortex, evolution, voracious, vote – all kinds of positive evocative words like that. The ‘vo’ part can be traced back to Latin and generally means to “go forward”, or to “project outward” – that kind of positive meaning. I thought it a perfect name for the first product. I saw boundless opportunities for creative advertising!
However, when the Moog Music company came out with a guitar, people were going to call it the “Moog Guitar” no matter what we tried to name it. At a meeting where we accepted this fact, I was expressing resignation at not being able to use ‘Vo’ when one of Moog’s engineers jokingly suggested if I liked it so much I should call myself “Vo”. I’d often thought of changing my name because – lets face it ‘Ierymenko’ is difficult to pronounce, spell and remember. So I decided on the spot to become ‘Paul Vo’!
As I was new to Asheville, I began using the name right away. In 2008, Moog introduced me as ‘Inventor Paul Vo’ in connection with the ‘Paul Vo Collector’s Edition Moog Guitar’. I’ve been doing business as Paul Vo ever since and I’m very comfortable with this pseudonym. Vo: going forward!
By early 2007 I’d built this on-of-a-kind electric guitar prototype based on two of the systems I’d put into my previous prototype. On the strength of this prototype the Moog Music company and I officially joined forces to create the Moog Guitar. Then began a frantic 18 months of the hardest work and longest hours I’ve ever put into anything….
In 2006 I introduced myself to Moog Music and demonstrated the first prototype of my concept of the invention for an acoustic guitar. Moog has a great legacy of radically evolving musical instruments and I hoped the company Bob Moog founded would be receptive to my invention. I wasn’t disappointed! Moog asked me to develop an electric version.
I got the core idea of electronically controlling physical vibrations to make things sound different way back in 1979 while experimenting with basic sustain systems. It was certainly an idea ahead of its time – in 1979 I could prove the invention worked, but certain electronic components didn’t yet exist in the right form to make it practical.
It wasn’t until 2000 that it became realistically doable. In 2004 I relocated to North Carolina and set up a lab in Raleigh where expenses were low and there were few interruptions.
I chose to focus on the guitar – on strings – because strings are such beautiful physical resonators, and because the guitar is an instrument that has been continually evolving and branching out in new directions. And because I play guitar. And as a guitar player I always wished I could have perfect, even, strong sustain on every note and interesting tones to play!
Unlike a sustainer, this system could both start and stop guitar string vibrations. You can’t just reverse the field on any sustainer and stop the strings. This is the difference between a sustainer and a control system. Technically this is a sensoriactuator, a motion controller where the actuator and the sensor are collocated and perfectly reciprocal. This one produced nearly perfect sustain with no dead spots, evenly across all strings and frets and with high power and fast response. It also provided elementary “tone” control over the sustain timbre. This was a good, solid demonstration of the basic invention and lots of fun to play.
I always thought in terms of partnering with the right company to bring it to market. I’d been thinking and researching potential partners for some time. Moog was always at the top of my “Doing the Unexpected” list.
Sunrise, QSC, Sunset…
In mid 1993, QSC Audio Products of Costa Mesa, California offered me an interesting opportunity in product development. It was hacking my way through an inch of ice to get into my car at 3:00AM in Toronto airport’s long-term parking on the night I came back from NAMM `94 in California that finally convinced me to accept QSC’s offer.
There was security, a great house, a cool company car, an expense account, all the traditional things everyone supposedly wants. But no matter how busy the job was, my creative thinking kept returning to the guitar. By the year 2004 it was really bothering me that I hadn’t given my most creative ideas a good try. In that year I decided to do it!
During these years I learned everything you need to know to take a product from the idea stage to a finished item ready for production. I learned this by doing every stage myself, then later by organizing teams of designers and engineers to do it.
Our staff worked on many other products, but on those pictured above I did virtually all the work myself from concept to production. Even the later years when I had more executive tasks, I always found time to do some of the design work. I’ve always loved the work of design.
Many of these products are still in use.
Probably my most durably positive memories of those times are of the individuals I worked with. In my lab knowledge was shared, never hoarded. Yorkville gave us all a chance to be the creative designers and engineers we wanted to be. A great Canadian company in our industry.
To read a history of Yorkville, follow this link:
1984 – 1994:
I never stopped dreaming of that crazy thing and what it could do for a stringed instrument. It was always there in my head. During my years with Yorkville, especially 1988-1994, I spent many evenings developing new circuits and mathematical control algorithms needed to create practical products based on my invention.
One of the most interesting things about Acoustic Synthesis™ is that it favors the use of additive synthesis over subtractive synthesis. In additive synthesis you design sounds by adding together several harmonically related sinusoids to build up new sounds from fundamental constituents. This is the opposite of subtractive synthesis, where you begin with a harmonically rich sound source and remove harmonics you don’t want with filters. The end result can be identical – in theory. In practice, the two methods tend to produce somewhat different sound palettes due to the bias of filters towards graduated timbres – additive syntheses is arguably more flexible in practice – once you have the plumbing in place to do it.
In the picture above, the colored waves add together to produce the complex wave in black.
1974 – 1984:
This decade I settled into working as a freelance consulting product designer and generally just living life: relationships, children, all that. There were many ups and downs.
The advent of the personal computer brought me into the digital realm. In a rare departure from working on music industry products, I developed a computerized process control for the product labeling industry. It was powered by the `6502′ processor, the same microprocessor that Apple used in the first series of Apple computers. This was a very advanced product – I didn’t realize this then, but from today’s perspective it clearly was. Controlling complex machine motions and several precision temperature points, it had a sealed capacitive touch front panel with tactile feedback, on screen context sensitive help, and was self-calibrating.
One winter’s night in 1979, in my electronics lab in a country house overlooking a racehorse exercise track deep in the country east of Toronto…
I stood with a guitar next to a ridiculously huge hand-wired mess of a circuit that covered an entire table top. I powered the system up. Incredibly it worked right away. That first chord just hung there, all strings beautifully sustaining. Then I flipped the master phase switch to ‘damp’ and all six strings immediately stopped vibrating as though they’d been hand-muted.
This meant that in principle a musical instrument string’s behavior could now be electronically shaped to vibrate with almost any desired timbre. All that remained was to do the math and the engineering needed to turn this realization into a musical instrument.
Accomplishing this was to take 25 more years.
It was 1981. I couldn’t see any viable way to turn this invention into a practical system for guitarists. Some of the electronic components didn’t even exist yet in the right form. Many of the components were too physically large and inefficient to be practical in a musical instrument. Clearly the idea was ahead of its time. It was also too early to patent this invention. Patents last only about 20 years. Well-kept secrets can last much longer.
So I obtained a confidential notarized and dated ‘proof of invention’ from a Toronto patent firm. Then I just stuffed it all back inside my head and went on with life.
The “Machine” patent, from the USPTO patent archives. This predates my idea of acoustic synthesis.
1969 – 1974:
The guitar pictured above – believe it or not – is a 1968 Stratocaster so completely modified as to be unrecognizable. Hex pickups, a veneer pick guard, finish sanded off, horn rounded down, all rewired and tied to the Machine by a special cable. This guitar also had scalloped frets – the first instance of that ever, I believe.
The Machine is shown as it would be used on stage. With its cover on, the Machine became a large black mysterious rectangular case. I know it was mysterious because airport security kept telling me so.
I began in 1970. It took a year to construct the Machine. Then I joined a band and went touring around as a working guitarist, town to town and bar to bar.
I should clarify: This is way back. I was still Ierymenko of course. Vo was unimagined. This is not the vibration control technology I invented 8 years later, this is my first mad work done with the pure energy of youth and the wits of inexperience. But it did work, and it did make some great huge hex fuzz sounds. I lugged around a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet to play through at these gigs. At 2AM on a Tuesday night in 1973, the folks in the small-town bar still glued to their bar stools, bleary-eyed and over the limit – they thought our band had a big B3 organ up on stage somewhere.
That’s how I came to be writing a patent while on the road, corresponding with patent attorneys from various hotel rooms in the winter of 1972.
My parents and I arrived in Canada in 1956. My grandparents Nicholas and Maria Ierymenko made the crossing a year later. Reunited, we all moved into a big old house on Windermere Avenue in Toronto. Both my parents found jobs but making ends meet was often a struggle.
By the time I was ten I’d built a basic set of test equipment for doing electronics work and I was refurbishing surplus radios on my own. I remember being completely fascinated by the surplus radio gear from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s you could buy so cheaply; the elaborate tuning mechanisms, giant transformers, hand-wound resistors – and tubes, hundreds of different tubes in all shapes and sizes!
Dyeda passed away in November of my 10th year. I remember feeling shocked and I still feel the sadness. That was when I took up the guitar. Music became my solace, my inspiration and meditation and remains so today.
My grandfather helped me learn how to educate myself. I found school boring and tedious and I was frustrated because I knew it did not need to be that way. As soon as I was 16 and legally able, I quit school and took charge of my own education.
I took a room at Rochdale College where I continued having various unusual experiences. Without attending a single class, I obtaining a completely authentic but entirely baseless degree in neurophysiology – which alas I left hanging on my ‘ashram’ wall when I hurriedly departed from Rochdale just before it was hit with the waves of violence and dissolution that brought it all crashing down.
From there I eventually moved into the country north east of Toronto to engage in various inspired but ultimately unsuccessful social experiments. Nothing reveals the true value of an idea better than conducting a sincere real-life test of it.
There was always a guitar, always music. Somewhere along the way I began to think about using electronics to extract more tone and response from my guitar….
Exactly on my sixth birthday the ship churned into the gulf of St. Lawrence and disgorged us onto Canadian shores. Never having found my sea legs, I was greatly relieved to touch land.
“I was born in Coventry, England, as Paul Ierymenko. These days I’m known as Paul Vo. This has been my biography….”