3-Way Planar Potentiometer

I think that nonlinearity is critical in the study and practice of art; figuring out the relationship of one thing to another without falling on the prejudice of zero-sum duality. You can see that in Shock: and in The BLOODY-HANDED NAME of BRONZE as well as my music.

You’ll notice that my music doesn’t use a keyboard. Mine is a common enough position to take in experimental music, where the 12 note scale is considered a particular cultural artifact that’s no more useful than any other way of perceiving frequencies and their relationships. But controllers rarely take into account the nonlinearity that the synthesizers themselves do.

Ribbon controllers get away from the stepped notes, allowing both slides and abrupt jumps in, say, pitch, allowing you to play “notes” or bend them around in potentially infinite variation. But they’re still linear and dualistic: sliding your finger to the right makes a parameter go up. Sliding it left makes it go down.

There’s a neat way to build a ribbon controller, though, that allows you to use two fingers at once. Each end of the ribbon is a separate parameter. When you press down with one finger, one value goes up while the other goes down. But if you put down two fingers, you can make them operate semi-independently; whichever finger is closest to the left affects the left parameter and whichever is closest to the right affects the right parameter.

If this were a violin, imagine that the bow, which can move slower or faster to affect volume, was tied to its vicinity to the bridge, which introduces some really weird harmonics. With a 2-ended ribbon cable, you can couple or uncouple those parameters. You can have volume affect the harmonics or you can separate them.

Then it dawned on me that you could do this with any number of parameters. And that if you use an odd number, they are always coupled nonlinearly. And that got VERY interesting!

Coincidentally, I have a triangular caution sign I found in the middle of the street.


I’ll be back in the workshop later this week. I can’t wait to start experimenting with this. I’ll probably do it on my Twitch stream, which you should subscribe to!

Modular systems are a function of industrial society. But do people of The Fifth World still know how to agree to standards? With their acute interest in efficiency, I think they might have carried that lesson forward!

9 thoughts on “3-Way Planar Potentiometer”

  1. The math is escaping me at the moment, but you should be able to extract a fourth parameter inversely? related to the sum of the area/ resistance short-circuited by all touches by driving the conductor with a current source rather than a voltage. Something like a transistor with a fixed bias, with the voltage at the emitter being proportional to the total resistance from the current source to all three “regular” voltage terminals.

    1. Oh, that’s interesting! The device is for voltage control so it would need extra circuitry to get that current to safe near-zero levels, but the head of the Black Centipede is a pretty substantial power supply anyway. Thanks!

  2. Hi Joshua,
    I bought your Game Shock many moons ago, and have enjoyed using it to explore Imagined worlds and cultures.
    I’m reaching out to you because your name was mention on a Kick starter called, The Mountain Witch.
    The comment suggested that you were going to edit the game.
    The Kick starter was created by Timothy Kleinert but has nosed dive with no updates since early 2019.
    I was hoping if you could shed some light on the situation, or news of Timothy if he’s ok.

    Kind Regards Paul
    Hey will be checking out Fifth world looks great, have you not tried a Kick starter yet?

    1. Hi, Paul,
      I’m the book designer, not the editor. I share your concern, in no small part because I’ve been unable to contact Tim, either.

      The Fifth World isn’t my project! The Story of Lord Golden and Everyone Loves Him is a contribution to the big, shared world. It’s a community project by Giuliana Lamana and Jason Godesky that you can find at https://www.thefifthworld.com/ . They’ve run it on their own dime rather than Kickstarting, despite having some really spectacular stuff for sale.

      You can see my work in the Shop menu at the top of the screen! https://glyphpress.com/talk/shop

      1. Thanks for the Reply Joshua,
        That’s a bummer about Timothy, I was looking forward to his revised edition of The Mountain Witch. Lets hope he’s ok and returns to finish it.
        Oh yea, I twigged later Fifth World wasn’t yours 🙂 will check out you new games. Cheers for the post.

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