The Zhaltar at Makers Day

The Zhaltar won for Best Thing That Makes Sound on Makers Day at the Hillsdale Public Library!

The Zhaltar display at Hillsdale Public Library
Playing the Zhaltar

Introducing the Zhaltar

I started designing this new instrument at the beginning of 2022 and finally have a playable prototype. The name Zhaltar comes from the Slovak name for a psaltery. It’s played by plucking the strings, and it’s fully chromatic, with a range just over 5 octaves (C2 to C#7). The zhaltar is a solid-body instrument and a MIDI controller.

Zhaltar prototype

The strings are colored the same as on a piano. The right-hand and left-hand set of strings are each arranged as a whole-tone scale, with the left hand set being a semitone higher than the right. This means that once you learn a melody, you can easily transpose it by moving it up or down a string.

The strings and pickup contacts are made with Aquila Nylgut to give the sound a lute-like mellowness. The MIDI controller functions are still in development. I’ll post some musical samples, as soon as I teach myself how to play the thing!

The iPhonarium 2022

iPhonarium 2022 version

This is what the iPhonarium has evolved into. This whole rig is be 100% battery-powered, so I can make noise anywhere.

Top to bottom:
Vox DA-5 amp
iPhonarium case with 4-channel mixer, battery pack and MIDI hardware
Keith McMillen K-Board (connects to 4S)
Akai EWI 4000s wind synth (I use it only as a MIDI controller, connects to 5S)
iPhone 4 running JR Hexatone (a classic, but not on the Apple store any longer)
iPhone 4S running Grain Science (love that app)
iPhone 5S running ThumbJam (still on iOS 10, so I can run old 32-bit music apps)
iPhone SE running iVSC3 (fantastic weird noise app)
Akai LPK-25 with foot switch jack mod for sustain (connects to SE)
Ancient Traynor foot switch
Korg iKontrol (connects to iPhone 4)

This the final iteration of this version. Newer iPhone have a larger form factor that will require a rebuild from scratch.

The iPhonarium

A new instrument I’ve developed over a year, the iPhonarium includes 4 interlinked iPhones, mini-keyboard controllers, a wind controller interface and an audio mixer, all in a small wooden box I can carry under my arm. This photo shows an early version, when it only had 1 keyboard:

An early version of the iPhonarium

In effect, I’m running 4 tiny computers each with 24 to 126 music apps on each. There are some really outstanding synth apps out there, covering every different type of sound generation, including my favorite, physical modelling. This gives me great flexibility plus redundancy: if one phone goes down, I can move to another in seconds.

The whole setup, including my amp, is battery-powered, so don’t matter if AC power is available or not. Here’s a video where I accompany poet Janet Hamill. This setup used voice harmonization and 2 keyboard-operated synths:

This synth can also be placed in the center of a small table and played by up to 4 people at once. That’s the Jam Station incarnation. I entered this in the 2016 New Jersey Makers Day and won $50 for “Best Thing That Makes Sound”!

The iPhonarium at New Jersey Makers Day, 2016