Shbobo Shnth patches and appreciation


It really depends on your definition of “playable as a standalone instrument” as well as your personal motivation and determination to make the shnth meet that definition.

The sounds are defined by shlisp code and that code is up to you. The four pressure bars, the buttons, the LED, and the antennas, all work as described, and are quite sensitive input devices. So that part is covered. But sound generation is on you. If you are especially concerned about 12TET tuning or other more traditional western music concepts, you’re going to have to put in quite a bit more effort than if you aren’t.

For many ciat-lonbarde enthusiasts, “playable as a standalone instrument” and “tool for making surprising noises” does not contain a meaningful distinction.


Excellent description! I want to add that you can upload multiple patches and program transitions, this way you can advance through multiple patches and create your movements/live set that way. There’s this great patch in the inforumors patchpack by khzmhz which has 70 pages and acts like a live set. I would love to do a whole liveset on just a shnth one day. :smiley:

Anyone here using their shnth v2 as a stereo effect processor? Would love to see/build more patches for mangling external sound.


For many ciat-lonbarde enthusiasts, “playable as a standalone instrument” and “tool for making surprising noises” does not contain a meaningful distinction.

yeah, I get that… but clearly there’s a line somewhere, right? I feel like if I can’t develop a mental model of how an instrument works, I might as well be listening to an rng.


There isn’t necessarily one line that everybody shares, no. But my hunch? You probably wouldn’t enjoy the shnth all that much. But now I’m speaking for you, and I may be wrong!


Yeah, so my question is: which side of that line does it fall on for you? :slightly_smiling_face:


I see it as a playable instrument that would be absolutely hopeless in an environment where 12TET tuning is an expectation.

But I’ve also heard rumors that even 12TET is possible with enough elbow grease.


In the case of the shnth, the instrument works in the way you define it through the code you write for it. There are a number of different inputs - what they do is up to you. So in many ways you define your own mental model of the instrument and how this works within the physical parameters (bars/buttons) it gives you.
Paraphrasing @jasonw22’s initial response there I feel.

Let’s approach this a different way. What would you want to do musically with a shnth? What makes you feel it’s something that you might be interested in?


Sure, it’s a general purpose microcontroller, but the physical interface, the programming environment, and the ecosystem of existing patches all shape what’s going on.

I like the sounds I’ve seen here. Programming in a strange lisp environment appeals to me. I also like the aesthetics of the shnth and ciat-lonbarde in general. I don’t care much about 12-TET (but of course it’s sometimes convenient).

Not trying to interrogate y’all, just looking for subjective experiences.


guess i’m one of those who finds the question a little opaque or hard to fit. as in, i don’t know actually what a playable instrument is, if it isn’t a tool for making surprising noises. (saying this with a conservatory background in string performance.)

so, i have a shnth (a prototype, it has some physical quirks) and i find it to have a broad range of use cases. you can very simply set it up so that (say) one set of buttons are gates, one set are octave switches, barre-presses and the antennae modulate timbre, and each barre is a fixed base pitch. a straightforward gesture-sound mapping which, for some, might constitute a playable instrument.

or you can make rather complex self-generating or “random” textures of course. no doubt that the ecosystem encourages sort of exploratory and chaotic applications.

for tuning the num/denom paradigm lends itself well to just intonation, as well demonstrated in @wednesdayayay’s lovely vids above (thanks for those!)

and to me, i guess i find shnth/shlisp’s actual sound palette relatively limited, but not in an unpleasing way. it feels a bit nostalgic, like playing with csound in the 80s. i kinda wish there were more options for straightforward lowpass filtering.

thanks for the question, it has inspired me to dig the thing out of a crate and take it on the train with me.

that’s super interesting! i think probably anyone who plays music, makes instruments, studies music theory, conducts, engineers records, builds amps, &c, has some kind of analytical instinct in the presence of sound. but that can take all kinds of forms, and for myself its something to be, i dunno, selectively suppressed or engaged at will (ideally, not always easily.)

personally i’d find it totally hopeless to maintain a sufficiently detailed mental model of how all the instruments work in a given piece of music, in real time. and one aspect of the art of orchestration is about totally subverting or annihilating the possibility of such a model.

do you have similar reactions to, say, compositional structure, or electronic production techniques? like, you have to fully work out the structure or signal flow, or experience discomfort / chaos? (i have friends like this)

i remember my dad listening to a record i had just made. “what do you think?” “it’s great! there’s some intermodulation distortion around 800hz.”

that would be hard. shlisp opcodes are ARM assembly. i’ve long thought (and said on this forum a few times) that it would be a cool project for someone to emulate each opcode in C. then shlisp would be a portable system. i’m never gonna find the time.


I love this. Each of us sees the world through a unique lens (sometimes especially unique!)


I played with some Peter B stuff with zero context a couple years ago when a friend sponsored a workshop event in SF. I had nearly identical questions as @gretchen when I stepped away. My take on Ciat-Lombarde is it is a conceptual art project. From the psychogeographic circuit board designs to the meticulous woodworking, to the absurd naming of SHLISP (reminds me of an Eyebeam project called ABSML) to the color palette of the jacks and buttons.

But my personal messing around with a few instruments and the videos I’ve seen of others doing the same left me wondering about the border between handling a sculpture which outputs randomness and a designed object where a particular performance can be repeated a second time.

It me.

Despite my personal dislike of multitrack recordings and overdubbing, I get anxious if I don’t know how a thing works before I use this thing. Probably because if I can’t remember how I got a sound I won’t be able to make it again.


There are forms of music (group improv) where everything you (plural “you”) do fits this description. It’s OK to need more predictability in your own music, but for some folks it just isn’t necessary.


so without getting into things like “what is a conceptual art” and “what is performance” and “what is repeatable” [*] i’ll just say pragmatically that shnth is potentially a lot more deterministic than any of the analogue C-L instruments.

i love pete and have known and worked with him for coming up on two decades now (holy hell.) i think some of what you’re reacting to is the noise culture that has grown with/around C-L and not just the work itself, which is very nuanced and has as many influences from classicism as from, i dunno, “trip culture.”

pete is a real engineer, and the C-L instruments are all deliberately placed on a scale of predictibility and chaos. all can be used in a pretty straightforward way (basically by leaving them unpatched) but of course this is not a typical way for people to use them; they’re intimately connected with some of the more awesome noise improv practitioners of the last decades, like nautical almanac, smegma, mv carbon, pete’s own projects, &c.

i think these instruments really reward sustained investigation and the development of technique/control, in a way that is really rare in the space of electronic instruments.

in another thread jason referenced some writing about the “shinths” which (despite names) are actually utterly different from the “shnths” and in some ways the opposite - “shinths” was a project from many years ago that was specifically about broken and unpredictable things (basically a purpose-built circuit bending environment.) “shnth/shlisp” is a whimsical but perfectly coherent musical programming environment that is really pretty flexible within its parrticular limitations.

btw: sorry if all this sounds defensive, it’s not meant to be (doesn’t need my defending) but i think there’s a lot of quite meaty things to think about in C-L stuff beyond the “spazzy noise” aspect, and you’re doing yourself a disservice by reducing them to the status of RNGs.

this is really interesting:

I get anxious if I don’t know how a thing works before I use this thing

but i mean, C-L instruments are really transparent - the circuit is right there! you can just look at it and see exactly how it works. its just that the designs are very sensitive, and self-modulating, a combination that invites chaos - but doesn’t mandate chaos - after all the same could be said about most acoustic instruments. (it’s impossible to exactly replicate a violin gesture, and takes a lot of practice and work to keep the vibrating hair-and-wood system from driving itself out of control.)

([*] spoiler: i’ll claim that all art is conceptual, and if it’s truly repeatable then it’s not truly performance. but that’s my own weird thing.)

What else is there

It is likely I handled a “shinth” and perhaps something else that did karplus-strong?

I get the noise/improv cultural aesthetic and have fond memories meeting a guy named Andy Bolus who played a circuit bent Japanese to English translator by touching a pile of cut up meat.


karplus-strong sounds like a “shnth” - little wooden box with an ARM in it running Weird Lisp.

“shinths” were these large bare PCBs with lots of contact points, that tour was in like 2004 or something.

andy bolus (evil moisture)! ha. yep

i mean, i’ll put it another way - peter plays tuba as well, and his tuba playing is definitively on the “freaky” side of that instrument’s performance methodologies :slight_smile: but the tuba is not (only) a sculpture that emits random noises.

and yet another - glen gould and pablo casals made historically lauded recordings of bach, not without immense effort, many rehearsals, many takes. no-one would call those performances “repeatable.” i just don’t think it’s a simple dichotomy, but really gets to the heart of why people like to play music live (or don’t)


If you were at the same workshop that I went to at Noisebridge in June of 2016, that was about Tocante and shnth.




Yup, that was the one. The Tocante is a beautiful sculptural object.


Yeah, although we assembled shnths that day, he really didn’t get into shlisp very deeply (the focus was more on the Tocantes). Which is kind of a shame, because shlisp kinda seems like something you might enjoy.


It all comes down to intentionality, right?

I think with noise music culture the intentionality is often expressed in the choice of instruments and tools, whereas with like classical or pop music one intentionally plays certain tones (or at least progressions) with certain durations. I think most of our aesthetics are somewhere between those two? Or modular feels like that, at least to me.

I think the shnth is somewhere between there too, between programming it and playing it.

For me personally I get frustrated with instruments that don’t let me develop expertise with them. I do like steep learning curves, but there needs to be some kind of learning going on…

Maybe “deep” is a word I’m looking for?


I think shnth qualifies, thanks to shlisp. There’s absolutely a “there” there.