Hartland musician explores the relationship between music, emotion with homemade synthesizers

Posted at 9:02 AM, Jan 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-25 10:02:56-05

HARTFORD — A Hartland man is on the quest to understand the deeper meaning of how sound moves us.

The great thing about music is that it makes us feel. Certain chords and musical progressions trigger our emotions in different ways. Major chords tend to make us feel happy and minor chords tend to make us feel sad. Liking or not liking a song is subjective, but certain sound frequencies make us all generally feel a similar way.

Michael Huber is exploring the relationship between music and emotion one frequency at a time.

Home Made Snyths
A collection of a few of the homemade synths Michael Huber created.

He has created dozens of homemade synths in his Hartland home. It's his hobby. Along the way, he has experimented with sound frequencies to learn more about how music moves us.

“It’s really like a cool exploration of machines and the limitations of machines.”

He created a synth that feeds into an oscillator or a sound wave translator. The oscillator shows the relationship between two sound waves both visually and audibly. Listeners can hear the two notes go from dissonant and conflicting to consonant and together. Plus, anyone looking at the screen can see the sound waves find cohesion.

“Why when we hear a major chord it has a certain effect on us psychologically and then also kind of what’s the underlying mathematics. That’s kind of the lens that I view it through that makes it happen," he said.

An oscillator connected to a synth shows two sine waves or sonic frequencies.

Huber even created a tool to translate his theta waves, or brainwaves, into sound waves, so he could more or less hear his psychological state. He uses a toy electroencephalogram (EEG) made for children he found at a thrift store. Essentially, it records neural activity that corresponds to high-stress and low-stress states.

With the headset on and plugged in, Huber can hear his mental state. As he closes his eyes and breathes rhythmically, the pitch gets higher indicating a more meditative and relaxed state. When the pitch drops, Huber's brain emits stress signals.

It's part scientific experiment and part fun hobby.

The hardware inside one of Michael Huber's homemade synths.

Ever since Huber was a child he said he was interested in deconstructing and reconstructing electronics.

"I mean, I remember as a kid my parents would bring home scrap electronics or get the neighbors to bring home scrap electronics just so I could take them apart," he said.

About 15 years ago, that curiosity turned into tinkering with synths and sound waves. His homemade instruments became more complex. That's when he began to think about the nature of sound and frequencies as a conduit to stimulate emotion. It's an abstract topic that incorporates hard and soft sciences. It's not easy, but it is fun. Making music and studying sound is his hobby.

“The type of music I make might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve had okay responses to it. Definitely more it’s like a release like I can get kind of lost in that state.”

You can listen to some of the songs he published on his Soundcloud. Subjectively, we don’t have to like his music. But we generally all have the same emotional response depending on the chords and sounds he chooses.