Duquesne Professors and Students Build Modular Synthesizer

by Dr. Paul Miller, Assistant Professor of Musicianship

Duquesne's modular synthesizer being builtThe modular synthesizer, pioneered by Robert Moog, Don Buchla, and others in the 1960s made electronic music available to a wide range of students, researchers, artists, and enthusiasts with a low cost, build-as-you-go design philosophy. Duquesne has now begun to construct its own modular synthesizer thanks to the collaborative efforts of Dr. Melikhan Tanyeri and Dr. Paul Miller.

Tanyeri, a bioengineering professor and Miller, who serves on the Musicianship faculty, quickly struck up a friendship at Duquesne's monthly meetups for new faculty last year. Before long, they realized they had a common interest in building a modular synthesizer. Seeking a more hands-on, interactive approach to teaching signal processing and analysis in Duquesne's core bioengineering sequence, Tanyeri wanted to use audio signals to enhance students' experience and immersion in the abstract technical realm of signal processing. Miller's years of study with electronic music guru Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany inspired him to jump into the modular synthesizer world last year. He took advantage of Pittsburgh Modular—a world leader in the field of modular synthesizer design located just a short drive from Duquesne's campus—to get a solid start.

Tanyeri and Miller wrote a successful Faculty Development Grant in January 2019 and obtained funds to purchase core modules in the University's new synthesizer. They were also able to hire undergraduates Benjamin Bernarding (class of 2021) and Greta Zewe (class of 2022) to assist in testing Tanyeri's curriculum and building the synthesizer. Most of the modules were sourced locally from Pittsburgh Modular, which offered Duquesne a generous discount as well as stylish free t-shirts.

Over the summer, the four worked as a mentor-student team, meeting biweekly. Now, with Tanyeri's class ready to launch and the core modules of the synthesizer working, Duquesne students can look forward both to a more rich experience in the bioengineering program and an equally rich, top-of-the-line tool for realizing musical expression. Miller also recently had a presentation involving the synthesizer accepted by the national Society for Music Theory and will present research with UPitt Ph.D. candidate Brian Riordan at the Society's annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio this fall.

The first public performance on Duquesne's synthesizer will be by Greta Zewe on August 29, 2019 at 9:30 p.m. in a concert with Dr. Miller's musical improvisations on his own personal synthesizers. In the spring semester, Miller will offer a directed study to students interested in exploring sound design. Over the next year, Miller hopes to fill out the case with a few other modules that will provide an even more engaging experience to Duquesne's students and audiences.


Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 8,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University’s academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim.

It's time for bigger goals
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