It's probably best to make clear from the outset that Konkreet Labs' Synth in a Book is, for now, one of a kind. But as a demonstration of just what can be done with a MeeBlip hackable synthesizer kit, it may just be the perfect specimen. Though this particular hack may not be for the faint of heart, MeeBlip's range of synths include all-in-one kits suitable, MeeBlip says, for everyone.
The Synth in a Book combines a DIY MeeBlip kit with a beautiful vintage cookery book by Mary Hahn. Most impressive is that Konkrete Labs' Gwydion ap Dafydd incorporated a custom front panel into the custom-built case.
"My panel is a piece of epoxy hardboard from a hobbyist shop," Gwydion told Gizmag. "I took the MeeBlip front panel measurements from the MeeBlip website, made a scale drawing on paper and then marked the epoxy panel through the paper and then drilled holes in the corresponding places."
Part of the charm of the Synth in a Book are the retro stylings of the knobs and slide switches, the latter bringing certain practical advantages. "I replaced the original MeeBlip rectangular slide switches with more expensive round toggle switches" Gwydion explained. "This meant I could just drill round holes everywhere instead of having to cut rectangular ones. The switches were also chosen so that the panel would rest on their 'shoulders' at the same height as for the potentiometer knobs."
To add rigidity to the device, Gwydion added six support columns between the front panel and the MeeBlip PCB. "On the panel topside, the screws are countersunk and glued, to allow the book's page to lie perfectly flat over the panel without any bumps."
The video below shows the Synth in a Book taking MIDI signals from an Ableton Live installation, itself controlled by an iPad running Konkreet Labs' Performer - an intuitive multi-touch controller app.
As for the MeeBlip at the core of the Synth in a Book, it's an open source virtual analog (so digital, but analog-sounding) monophonic synthesizer with eight knobs and sixteen slide switches, controllable by MIDI hardware or software, and fully hackable firmware (with some additional inexpensive gear). Its creators claim that the MeeBlip can be reprogrammed to sound subtly or radically different.
Flexibility appears to be at the core of the project's ethos, with MeeBlip being pitched as an ideal first synth, a unique-sounding addition to an established studio or a platform for music hackers. It's hoped that a community of users will coalesce around the project.
The MeeBlip is a collaboration between James Grahame of Reflex Audio and Peter Kirn of Create Digital Music. It can be had in a range of kits starting with a hacker-oriented micro Kit priced at US$39.95 which comes without case, switches and knobs. At the other end of the scale is an accessible SE Quick Build Kit (soldering not required) at $139.95.