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This Synth Lets Anyone Compose Just Like Bach

Meet Luisa Pereira’s Counterpointer, a synth that creates three-voice melodies according to the rules of counterpoint.
All images courtesy the artist

Classical music is a rarefied field of study. But technology has put synths and drum machines into the hands of people who’ve never learned to read music, democratizing composition and performance. This democratization has mostly taken place in the realm of popular music, however, leaving the classical tradition as exclusive as ever. But Brazil-born and New York-based artist, engineer, and musician Luisa Pereira is bringing these two worlds together. The ancient rules of counterpoint meet accessible tech-based music making in The Counterpointer, a synth that allows anyone to create elaborate polyphonic music.

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Counterpoint, a set of guidelines for multi-voice composition, dates back to the Renaissance. Bach is the greatest master of the art—counterpoint is ever-present in his dizzyingly dense compositions. But you don't have to be a fan of Baroque music to be versed in counterpoint; children's rounds like Frère Jacques and Row Row Row your boat are familiar examples of basic contrapuntal technique. Still, counterpoint isn't something that most non-classical musicians or music fans spend a lot of time thinking about. Pereira tells The Creators Project that she wanted to take counterpoint, “out of academia. It’s not dry—it’s really fascinating." She's made many versions of The Counterpointer, which she first developed as something more akin to a midi instrument consisting of a controller and computer app. Today the Counterpointer stands alone, a sleek wooden box to which Pereira has hand-soldered the synthesizer chip.

“[The Counterpointer] is somewhere between an art object and a musical instrument,” says Pereira. It spans one octave, allowing you to arpeggiate eight notes. Once you create the major or minor key melody you like, you can switch on soprano and bass harmonies above and below it, creating a composition in three voices. Playing with it is astonishing—I watched a machine create in a few seconds compositions of the sort I spent years studying to write in school, and never came near to mastering.

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As an instrument, it’s got an exceedingly gentle learning curve–anyone can create something that sounds musical in just a few seconds. But it’s rich enough in depth of possibility that it’s a useful tool for experienced musicians as well. The Counterpointer taps into two traditions, one ancient and fundamental, the other still burgeoning, accessible, and very exciting. And as Pereira puts it, “Assuming you can start from scratch is pretentious." She's presenting The Counterpointer at Moogfest this spring, and will roll out a Kickstarter campaign to fund its production on a larger scale. So keep an eye out—soon you'll be able to get your hands on a Counterpointer of your very own.

To learn more about Luisa Pereira's work, click here.

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