What possesses somebody to invent a brand new instrument? Ask the finalists of this 12 months’s Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, and also you get totally different solutions — amongst them boredom, curiosity, frustration.
The artistic impulse is commonly sparked by a query: What if a piano may sing? How does a guitar study to play microtones? Can a keyboard instrument be taught to swoop like a cello? Some of the entrants needed to widen their talent units to embody woodcarving or soldering. One sought assist from his plumber; one other from his Lego-obsessed 7-year-old.
In a traditional 12 months, finalists get to see their creations come to life in entrance of dwell audiences. Though the annual competitors, organized by the Georgia Institute of Technology, befell on-line this 12 months, movies submitted by the contestants have allowed viewers to dip right into a world teeming with ingenuity. On Friday, the university announced the winners.
The guitarist Kaki King, one of many judges, mentioned in an interview that it had been nicely nigh unimaginable to check and rank entries that included a harp-guitar hybrid and an electronic khipu primarily based on an historical Andean encryption methodology utilizing knotted strings. King mentioned that what in the end guided her was the tactile attract and magnetism of an invention.
“As players, writer and composers,” she mentioned, “you have that desire to put your hand on something, and that determines the measure of its worth.”
Here are 5 highlights from the competitors, brand-new members of the massive household of devices.
Ulfur Hansson (Reykjavik, Iceland)
The design for Ulfur Hansson’s electromagnetic harp got here to him throughout a monotonous class in faculty. He logged into a pc graphics program and drew a doodle: a round line looping inward, gathering in a heart-like form on the middle.
“It was definitely vision before sound,” Hansson mentioned in a telephone interview. That coiled diagram, which emerged from a mathematical ratio, now adorns the flat wood floor of a shieldlike construction that conceals 24 strings made to vibrate by electromagnets. The magnets might be activated by keys carved into the entrance panel or remotely by laptop, releasing an ethereal hum, like a ghostly organ.
Because the strings can vibrate both at their elementary frequencies or at one of many harmonics of their overtone sequence, the segulharpa is “kind of chaotic,” mentioned Hansson, who has carved 4 of the devices and solders the electronics by hand. “It’s always evolving as you play. You can feel that it’s shaping itself.”
David Shea, Monica Lim and Mirza Ceyzar (Melbourne, Australia)
Experimental pianists have lengthy toyed with hand-held electromagnetic units referred to as EBows that make the piano’s strings vibrate with out direct contact. Prototypes exist of pianos with a built-in electromagnetic part, however their measurement and expense hold them out of attain of most performers.
The composer David Shea dreamed of an instrument that may flip any live performance grand into an electromagnetic piano able to producing each conventional sounds and the evenly sustained drones of digital music. “I thought, could there be a traveling version that would be modular and could be constantly adapted by anyone playing it?” he mentioned in a video interview with Monica Lim, a fellow pianist-composer who helped form the design.
Their breakthrough concept was a mini laptop for every word that hovers above the string with out touching it. A pianist can play each the electromagnetic part and the standard keyboard on the identical time — “a dialogue,” Shea mentioned, “between the old and the new” — or carry out in duet with one other particular person (or a pc) making the drones sing. The gadget is moveable and simple to put in.
“It’s more like a layer that sits on top of the other, more percussive sound activated by the keyboard,” Lin mentioned.
Microtonal Lego Guitar
Atlas Cogulu, Tolgahan Cogulu and Rusen Can Acet (Istanbul)
For years, Tolgahan Cogulu has been educating the guitar to play new notes. “I love the guitar,” he mentioned talking in a video interview not too long ago. “However, I cannot play my own music.”
Turkish music depends on microtones, whereas the standard guitar has frets that organize pitch in accordance with Western tuning techniques. In 2008, Cogulu designed a microtonal guitar with movable frets, nevertheless it has remained a specialist instrument.
One day his younger son Atlas made a Lego reproduction of his father’s microtonal fretboard. Cogulu instantly realized its potential. “It is a miracle idea,” he mentioned. “It’s the most popular toy in the world, and it’s the most popular instrument. And if you combine them it becomes a microtonal guitar — because you can move the frets on the Lego studs.”
Rusan Can Acet, an engineer and graduate scholar at Istanbul Technical University, got here up with the concept to 3D-print a base plate for the fretboard. The Lego items are snapped into place, and a set of 3D-printed movable frets are hooked up on high. Production was nearly laughably low-cost, Cogulu mentioned, and solely briefly halted after they had used up all the skinny single sq. items in Atlas’s Lego assortment which are important to their design.
In classes together with his college students, Cogulu realized he had hit on a instrument for educating music principle. With its movable frets, the Lego microtonal guitar makes seen the altering intervals in varied Western, Turkish and Balinese modes. Cogulu and his workforce are making the 3D-printable recordsdata obtainable to anybody for a modest contribution. He additionally plans to construct totally assembled variations that he hopes shall be helpful in music faculties.
Clark Battle (United States)
“I’m basically an unreasonable cellist with guitar envy,” Clark Battle mentioned. As an improviser, he admired the chordal flexibility of a piano or guitar. But, as he defined in an e-mail alternate, he wasn’t keen to surrender the versatile pitch of his chosen instrument, the cello. He started to marvel what a piano would possibly appear like that allowed a musician to vibrate and slide notes — as you possibly can on the cello.
The result’s the Evolano — an “evolved piano.” The instrument has keys, motion and hammers like a piano, aligned alongside a central ruler. The strings transfer with the keys, sliding over a curved fret that determines pitch. Chords are performed a lot within the conventional approach of a keyboard, by urgent a number of keys. But by transferring the fingers, the whole chord construction can journey easily, as in a cello glissando.
Battle mentioned that his research of kung fu had impressed upon him the significance “of honoring the natural vertical symmetry of the human body.” As for the sound, he added, “I honestly had no expectation for the tonal aspects of the instrument. Since there’s no precedent for the tonality it would sound like whatever it did.”
Steve Parker (Austin, Tex.)
Steve Parker’s musical devices make no sound. Instead, this trombonist repurposes brass devices as sculptural listening units. His inspirations are the early-20th-century army sound locaters — some referred to as struggle tubas — that had been used to detect approaching enemy plane earlier than the invention of radar. Parker’s devices exude an identical gangly menace, with yards of Seussian tubing ending within the flared bells of trombones and sousaphones.
Parker’s units — some wearable, some hooked up to a gallery wall — change into a part of compositions that play with the dimensionality of sound. They additionally join music with aggressive modes of listening like surveillance and espionage.
“They are picture frames — but they are more than that,” Parker mentioned in a video interview from the American Academy in Rome, the place he’s at present a fellow. “They not only select and amplify certain sounds; they also resonate at certain frequencies. Because the instrument vibrates when the sound hits it, it harmonizes it in a subtle way.”
Parker says the impact on the listener is disorienting. He likes how the repurposed marching band devices — wealthy in associations with warfare, protests and fashionable gladiator sports activities — might be reworked into instruments for communal listening. And he enjoys the “bit of bricolage” that goes into disassembling devices and soldering their elements with copper pipes from the ironmongery store. In the method, he mentioned, “I’ve become quite friendly with my plumber.”