Patchblock programmable mini synth modules
Patchblocks, a modular synthesiser and signal processing system where you decide what the hardware does. You want a filter module? Turn your Patchblock into one! You want a crazy sounding bassline synth with built-in arppegiator? Make it so! We provide you with an empty canvas, your imagination fills it.
How does it work?
All you need is a Patchblock, a Mac or Windows PC and our free software. The software allows you to program your hardware module the way you want. This is done in a so called “visual programming language”, in other words, you don’t have to go into 100% geek mode and write code to make it happen. Visual programming is easy, you choose from a variety of low level sound processing elements and combine their functions by connecting them with virtual cables – a bit like a modular synthesiser, but in software. Your library of software modules includes signal generators and processors (e.g. oscillators, filters, delays etc.), signal routing options and even modules for algorithmic composition. Our editor lets you emulate how your patch will sound and once you’re happy with it you can upload it to your Patchblock hardware simply by connecting it via USB. Once programmed you can unplug the Patchblock and jam away.
What can I do with them?
A lot, it’s really up to you. Plug some of your other gear in and use them as a sound processor if you want. Make an awesome noise box that produces pure digital filth. Let them play a concerto of chaos based algorithmic sequences. But also don’t forget to think outside the box! Because you can combine several Patchblocks, you can make them work together. One Patchblock could for example generate an LFO (Low Frequency Oscillator) that you plug into another block to modulate processes that happen in there. Or you can create a chain of audio effects and processes. You can do this analogue style, by connecting them with audio cables, or via a digital connection, by clicking the Patchblocks together directly. Or even both!
The evolution of Patchblocks
I started to work on the project about 4 years ago, with only little experience in electronics, PCB design, embedded micro-controller technology, and desktop application development in C++. But I had a good understanding and vision of the interaction experience I was aiming for – some cross-breed between MAX/MSP, Arduino, Moog, and Lego. I had to learn that hardware development is a slow and tedious process due to long iteration cycles and difficult debugging. Particularly the audio input implementation took various iterations, in order to reduce noise levels. Once I received some funding support, I was hoping to be able to afford a proper injection moulded enclosure design. Unfortunately, the tool-manufacturing cost was still outside my budget. This might have turned out to the better though, as the 5mm machined acrylic panels give Patchblocks a tough, yet elegant techno-look, and a nicer and heavier feel than a cheap plastic enclosure. The Patchblocks hardware was ready in March this year, but lead-time delays of some components of the prototype series (due to an earthquake in Taiwan), intellectual property negotiations with my University, and eventually the determination of patentability delayed the launch until now. Patchblocks is currently being beta-tested by local electronic musicians, including Boxcutter. Have a look at the various stages of the hardware evolution.