Cybersynth – the Theresynth improved

After finishing the Theresynth I thought of a way it could be significantly improved.

A little while before, I had experimented with alternative methods of inputting QWERTY keyboard information to the computer, by removing the circuit board and attaching different kinds of switches (See ‘A New Use for USB Keyboards‘).  I reasoned that the same might apply to gamepads/game controllers: as long as the USB chip inside was still attached to the USB output, it would still be recognised by Pure Data, no matter what kind of switches were used to control it.

In order to test this theory I bought another game controller of the same type as the Theresynth (A ‘PCLine Rumble Game Pad’), took it to pieces and threw away the buttons it came with, leaving just the joysticks and the USB cable attached to the circuit board.

Just as I had done with the dismantled QWERTY keyboard, I scratched away the surfaces of the tracks where a couple of the switch connections had been, soldered wires to the board and push-button momentary switches to the wires.  I plugged the board into the computer via its USB cable and opened the Theresynth patch in Pure Data.

I followed the steps to set it up, as I described in the Theresynth post, and, sure enough, Pure Data recognised it, just as if it was the game controller, rather than a circuit board hanging off the end of a USB cable; when I pressed the test buttons I had soldered onto the board, the ‘hid’ object recognised them just the same as the buttons on the original gamepad.

Confident that I could operate the Theresynth with any type of enclosure for the circuit board, I considered how I could rehouse it.  An obvious thought struck me: I had recently bought a plastic Cyberman head (if you aren’t a fan of Dr Who, they have their own page in the Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyberman) for about 50p from a local charity shop, and it was clear that the eyes were spaced apart almost exactly the same as the distance between the joysticks.  This was a clear sign of what I should do next.

In short, I transplanted the gamepad circuit board into the Cyberman head, with the joysticks in the eye sockets and 12 or 14 buttons round the outside in a vaguely ergonomic layout.  A chance visit to a Poundshop during the course of construction produced a nice USB-powered chain of blue LEDs, and I glued these at stategic points on the inside, producing an eerie glow when the instrument was plugged in.  Another spare USB Type A socket from one of my broken Apple keyboards took the place of the hard-wired output lead, and the Cybersynth was ready for action.


I took the opportunity to make some improvements to the Theresynth patch in Pure Data, adding, amongst other things, a facility to change the starting note from A to any other suitable pitch.  I automated some of the device number/control checks at the beginning, and the switching on of Pure Data’s audio.

The starting window now looked like this:


The Pure Data patch for the Cybersynth is here.  (Click ‘Save Link As’)

This photo guide, which I produced for myself before putting the circuit board inside the head, gives an indication of what the buttons are for, and what functions are included in the patch:

Cyberman Controls

I never figured out quite what to do with the former hatswitch controls.  In the end I stuck the switches on the back of the neck and used them for a sort of trill effect – the top button raises the pitch by a 5th when pressed, the bottom one lowers it by a similar amount.

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January 2012

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