You’ve seen mechanical engineers attempt expressive synths, and real, polished products. But why not have fun with a slightly more punk, DIY, bendy synth of your own? Sound Werkshop has been working on that, using the eminently affordable and flexible Daisy Seed embedded platform (which in turn runs code and Pd and Max-generated patches).

There are DIY synths, and then there’s flexure. That is, the fun part of this instrument is that there’s a flexible physical element to add additional gestures for the musician. Have a look:

The video is a terrific resource to get you going, because it covers the concept of flexures – bendy mechanical bits – and the sensor used to measure the gestures.

And Sound Werkshop, who you can support via Patreon and affiliate links, are also providing glimpses into the process as they go. Here’s the flexure expression in action. (Flexpression! Wait… no, forget I ever said that, and I promise never to say it again.)

It’s all one hot-glued 3d-printed breadboarded mess, which has its own charm. That Daisy brain means it’s powerful as a synth, capable of running everything from C++ and Arduino to Max patches made with gen~ and Pd and more, all on a board that costs around 30 bucks.

Navarre Bartz over at Hack-a-Day caught this one, too, and they have more hot flexure action:

An open-source modular flexure construction set

Print your own flexures

But what made me especially interested in this was having recently revisited this beautiful creation out of 1978 China. A continuous touch control in one hand for pitch and a flexure keyboard in the other hand for amplitude yields tremendous results. (That’s the same setup, fundamentally, as Lev Termen employed in his Thermin, too – adding greater, more controllable expression with simple sensor inputs by separating pitch and amplitude across two hands.) It doesn’t hurt that the setup fits naturally in the muscle memory of experienced traditionally-trained players.

Scan to the middle to watch that come to life. It’s some truly ingenious work by inventor Tian Jinqin.

It’s great to see this return to DIY design – and to getting back to novel ideas around how to play, not just the same dull keyboards. Keep us posted on what you’re creating and playing, too.