Rethinking the Design of Wind Controllers


A work colleague was talking about his Yamaha WX7 today, and it reminded me of a project I did at Dartmouth College 25 years ago. For my Masters thesis project, I designed and built a wind controller.

Rather than use fingerings based on a real wind instrument as commercial wind synths do, the “Bleauregard” wind controller used a completely artificial fingering with some interesting properties. Basically the four fingers of the left hand specified the “Pitch Class” (the note within the octave, or the “note name” if you prefer), while the four fingers of the right hand specified the octave number.

For both hands, the pattern of the fingerings followed a 12-step Gray code, in which moving up or down by one step always involves changing a single bit (i.e. moving a single finger). In practical terms that meant that a semitone step anywhere in the instrument’s 12-octave range required moving only one finger in the left hand, plus one finger in the right hand at octave boundaries.

Here’s the basic fingering:

Bleauregard fingering

Bleauregard fingering

You can download the full thesis here: “Rethinking the Design of Wind Controllers”.

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About Gerry Beauregard

I'm a Singapore-based Canadian software engineer, inventor, musician, and occasional triathlete. My current work and projects mainly involve audio technology for the web and iOS. I'm the author of AudioStretch, an audio time-stretching/pitch-shifting app for musicians. Past jobs have included writing speech recognition software for Apple, creating automatic video editing software for muvee, and designing ASICs for Nortel. I hold a Bachelor of Applied Science (Electrical Engineering) from Queen's University and a Master of Arts in Electroacoustic Music from Dartmouth College.
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