How That Giant Homemade Modular Synth Wound Up At MIT

Like electronic music pioneers Robert Moog and Don Buchla, who came before him, Joseph Paradiso seemed destined to become a synth wizard. As a child, he was fascinated with music; soldering his own creations and experimenting with tape looping.

A teenage interest in prog rock switched him on to synthesisers and after moving to Zurich in the mid-1970s to study at ETH, Paradiso built his own very epic modular synth from scratch.

Paradiso said, “I was obsessed with building modules. By the end of my stay, I had built over 70 modules. It just grew and grew and grew, a little like that Stephen King book Rose Red, the house that kept on growing.”

Paradiso joined the Draper Laboratory in 1984, where he researched spacecraft control systems and precision alignment sensors for large high-energy physics detectors.

In 1994 he joined the MIT Media Lab, where he is now Director of the Responsive Environments Group, which explores how sensor networks augment and mediate human experience, interaction, and perception.

His giant synthesiser is now on display at MIT at the Science and Fusion Centre and you can find a list of the current components in it here.

At MIT Media Lab, Paradiso and his students created, PatchWerk, a web app that let individuals from around the world come together and commandeer Paradiso’s synth creation. Forty thousand users controlled the synth over the span of several weeks and the project was a success but is currently no longer in operation.

Unlike Paradiso’s own synth, which can continue to make music whenever he has an urge.