Live Electronic Musical Interfaces:
An electric Tuba

Dave Krooshof

What's this electric tuba you have?
It's a combination of several things: It's a fairly simple oscillator, that is oscillating 1 to 2 octaves underneath my voice pitch, so this is an analogue synthesizer in a way. Secondly itís a 'brain', routing the sound though several filters. But most visible of all, it's a wooden controller, with holes for my thumbs and for wires. With some tension, a aluminum strip is screwed over it. It this strip six switches and one pot are mounted. These control the brain. A VGA cable is used to transport all data to the synth and brain. The volume control is organized by a gate/compressor/limiter.. On top of the wooden grip, is a microphone, for the voice control primarily of volume and pitch.

It has a liquid and fat electronic sound, that has no physical equivalent, nor the side effects of mechanic instruments. If you found dead notes on your bassguitar or ever tried to find the best way to pickup a double bass with a mike, you know which nasty side effects I mean. This bass has no feedback. I was afraid it would react to loud drums, but it doesn't, so I can be a good tendem (a bike for two) with a drummer or DJ. It's a flexible controller, in the sense that I can play both staccato an long glissandi. It's intuitive to play, I can play any bassline the moment I think of it. 

Why an electronic bass?

I consider myself genetically programmed to play bass. My grandfather was a tubaist, his father played the double bass. I grew up listening to guitar orientated songs and later playing the bass guitar. As I became interested in electronic music, I just built a instrument that's a combination of all the instruments above:
Itís controlled by voice, therefor uses singing skills, it has a microphone and buttons on a handheld controller making it reminding of a tuba. It's made of wood and metal like a guitar, uses filters like in guitar effects. But the main difference is that it uses an electronic oscillator as the sound source, giving a heavy electronic bass sounds like those popular in Jungle/Drum'n'Bass.


An intuitive interface

1. Dedicated
It started dreaming of an electronic instrument that was intuitive, easy to play (especially from the RSI point of view) a liquid sounding, dedicated bass instrument.
I choose a single purpose apparatus over the multi purpose, as I need it to be perfect at this one function. Normally the quality of synths is mainly measured in it's number of possibilities, but I consider this variable to be irrelevant, as it leaves the user with a dinosaur interface, and text displays to understand what it does.

Multi purpose equipment already gave me an huge OS, massive word processors, too many functions under the buttons of my VCR and an incomprehensible microwave oven.
2. No dumb Knobs
One thing that is utterly uninteresting in knobs is that they tend to stay in one place when you no longer touch them. Another is that anyone can reach any setting at any point in time. So in stead of two pots that control pitch and volume respectively, I decided to use my voice to control these. That, as expected, gave me far more interesting musical movements then the knobs of my old prototypes. The goal is reached.

3. Timbre
I'd love to be able to use my tongue one day to control timbre, as I would with a harmonica. The talkboxes are a very direct option, but did not prove to be of much use on very low frequencies. One aspect is done in volume, as the louder I sing, the more distorted the bass sound gets. Easy. But also the filters (LP, BP & AP) gain in effectiveness with more overtones in the sound. 

4. Pedals for the Fingers
Guitarists need to press buttons with their feet. This is too slow for me, and I have my hands free, so I moved these buttons up to my hands for greater playing accuracy. Futher more, I made a little brain from relais. With the use of this small relais brain, I can change the route the sound travels through the effects.

I love relais. I call it a brain, as me and Xavier van Wersch have built a huge relais based computer running on 230 Volts, that is behaving by itself, using a floor with 25 switching tiles as a hint of an input, and 8 speakers plus 8 230Volt outputs as its outputs. It's behavior is organizes by letting relais switch themselves and each other as cellular automata (game of life).
5. Future?
Next on my wishlist a tongue controller. Followed by the wish to have a controller thatís directly connected to my neurons.
This brain was designed and made in '98
by Dave Krooshof, to interconnect
parts and pieces of the XafLab:
an Art Gallery soundapparatus exp.
Bookings and info via


Why playing the bass is cool.

It's the base of harmonic listening, as well as an important addition to the rhythm.
If you strum a C chord on a guitar while I play an A, we hear an A minor.
These features give the bassplayer an important yet subtle role in the band. Interesting enough, in the last 10 ages of western music, the bass is getting a more and more prominent role in music That's seems to be an exponential curve. In the last years I notice more bass-awareness among listeners (and their need for heavier amps to serve their needs). Drum'n'Bass it's newest peak, it even outdated reggae and house.
Playing the bass gives an almost physical contact with the listeners, not only their eardrums move, but their pants too.
Last but not least: Where guitar soli happen right in the most sensitive and most damageable part of the ear (1-4 KHz) Bass sounds are said to be harmless. Not everybody agrees on this, as the bass sounds have to pass the high frequency areas of the basulair membrane first, but my feeling is these are passed untoughed.

It's not to green though, no to enviromental to play bass: bass sounds need far more energy to be as loud as the guitarsoli and snaredrums. That's because humans are relatively deaf for low frequencies, but it's also the physical aspect that makes people long for deep and low basses.

For you're listening pleasure, I sampled this Electric Tuba. The sounds need to be played in Macromedia's Flash. They're 6k, 60k, and 233k respectively. Click the images to load them, close the popup windos to stop.

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BTW: Be sure that you have Flash player version 5 or higher, as your browser might crash if you use an old player. You can check your player that at Macromedia's site.

The Hague 28-10-''00

Dave <email Dave Krooshof>   See also: 'Live Musical Interface'
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