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Bowsynth: the expressive musical synthesizer

Electronic musical instruments have been used alongside their traditional audio counterparts for many years, however synthesizers remain unable to emulate the subtleties of stringed instruments.

The sound of a violin is shaped by fine movements of the bowing arm and hand, which makes the instrument so expressive. These complex movements can’t be captured with a keyboard alone.

DylanMenzies.00_02_44_07.Still010.2Bowsynth is a high quality electronic instrument that uses an optical flow sensor alongside a keyboard controller to capture the bow’s motion in three directions. This innovation makes it possible to easily and intuitively add natural expression to a synthesized piece.

The instrument has been created by Dylan Menzies, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southampton, who has applied expertise gained at one of the world’s largest audio technology companies and several international research positions.

“Novice or experienced musicians can quickly learn to play this instrument expressively,” he explains. “This is a huge advantage over learning to produce a good sound from a real string instrument, which can take years of practice.”

Bowsynth, Dylan MenziesHorizontal movement across the Bowsynth sensor mimics the normal stroke movement of a bow, while transverse motion can be used to control the level of vibrato, a skill that is very difficult to master on a traditional violin. Tone is selected using an attached keyboard, with all of the actions communicated to Bowsynth’s own synthesizer software.

For producers, Bowsynth provides a completely new way to create compelling string content efficiently and with full editing capability. On stage, Bowsynth is an inventive new instrument that does not suffer the feedback problems of acoustic instruments or the poor sound quality of electric strings. General musicians can use Bowsynth as a fun way to perform expressive pieces without years of training, while the more adventurous can try out the instrument as a gateway to abstract new sound and interface experiments. Bowsynth also provides an accessible education tool for learners of all ages to be introduced to string instruments.

“We already have a working prototype which has received a positive reaction in the media, and many requests from individuals and retailers,” Dylan adds. “The manufacture of a batch of high quality pilot devices is underway and the plan is to sell these to professional and semi-professional musicians.”

Bowsynth has been designed to interface with the industry’s MIDI technical standard so that it can be plugged directly in to any digital audio workstation running the synthesizer software. “We’ve produced our own synthesizer – plus an adapter for existing synths – and we aim to help other companies make their products work with the Bowsynth controller directly,” Dylan explains.

Dylan is currently looking for mentors and business partners experienced in the music technology industry to help carry the business forward. You can get in touch with him using the contact form on this page.

Dylan has protected his innovation with patents in the UK and the USA. “Eventually,” he says, “we aim to use the technology to produce a device with mass consumer and educational market appeal.”

Read more about Bowsynth at

Get in touch with Dylan Menzies

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Dylan Menzies

Senior Research Fellow

Dylan is a Senior Research Fellow in the Acoustics Group at the University of Southampton. Since graduating in Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, he has undertaken research at the University of Notre Dame, USA, and De Montfort University. He has also gained valuable audio industry experience in a spell with Sony.

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