Its origins may go back to 9th century Byzantium. But the hurdy gurdy is going digital – and the result is new, expanded musical possibilities for a familiar historical instrument.

Musician / composer/ luthier and builder Barnaby Walters has been hand crafting hurdy gurdy ..s … hurdies gurdy … uh these instruments. But he’s also been working on expanding its capabilities using MIDI, for connection to other gear and computers, and software that augments the traditional capabilities of the instrument with expanded sounds.

What kind of expanded sounds? Think chords, harmonies, layering different sounds, and more. He’s been developing this over a long period of time, but the documentation is now expanding. Watch:


Demonstration of some hybrid electronic-acoustic experiments using the prototype MIDI system installed on my hurdy gurdy.

0:22 Technique: Pitch-shifting Polyphony Gurdy MIDI and Audio → Apogee ONE → Macbook running a puredata patch

Monophonic acoustic gurdy signal is pitch-shifted down in real time to play chords and harmonies. Chords and intervals on the keyboard can also be used to pitch-shift the trompette signal (0:55) or the drones. Inspired by an idea from Sébastien Tron.

1:18 Technique: Expressive MIDI Controller Hurdy Gurdy MIDI → DIY Hybrid Poly Synth based off Mutable Instruments Ambika

The keyboard and wheel sensors send MIDI note, expression and polyphonic aftertouch messages to a polyphonic synthesizer. In this case a split keyboard effect is used to play two sounds.

1:36 Technique: Layered Acoustic and Electronic Sound

Hurdy Gurdy Acoustic audio, Gurdy MIDI → DIY Hybrid Poly Synth based off Mutable Instruments Ambika

1:36 The acoustic string plays a melody, the bottom half of the keyboard controls a synthesizer with a long release for subtle held chords

2:08 Using trompette technique can send MIDI messages, used here to play synthesized percussion on an Ambika voice assigned to MIDI channel 10, whilst the keyboard plays chords.

2:30 Acoustic trompette and melody string sound layered over subtle polyphonic synthesized chords

Playing, Instrument and Software:
Barnaby Walters

Polyphonic Pitch-shifting idea: Sébastien Tron

Filming, editing: Adriana Borger