Who else wants new musical instruments?

Win $10,000. The king of music instrument competitions is out again. Get your entrees ready for Guthman 2014. Georgia Tech’s annual competition to make music instruments.  Guthman 2012 inspired the Atlantic to write this piece, “Why is it so hard for new musical instruments to catch on?”

“It might just be a symptom of modern life. We don’t have as much leisure time as we once did to learn a new musical instrument. And why would parents invest years and thousands of dollars into lessons for some newfangled instrument for which no music has been written, when the violin is right there? Even if so inclined, who would they find to teach it?”


Today’s inventors of new musical ideas aren’t starting from scratch, they are building on top of the concepts of previous makers. The MPC sampler is now available for your iPhone. (Wait, what?) Samplers and synthesizers use inspiration from the piano to establish themselves, but now are morphing in their own.

Gestural musical instrument that is starting to develop. Still without a proper name: “Hands” “Powergloves?”  is an instrument based on jamming sensors onto a glove, and using that data to drive audio. Here is a youtube of Michel Waisvisz who started out of Steim back in the 1980s, passed the torch to Latetitia Sonami who in turn passed it on to Onyx Ashanti. This concept has survived three iterations now. (At least!) Watching performances of this, one might say the music can’t stand on its own,  but as a show, the whole experience is captivating. The problem is this: For the artists, it takes too many man hours to master music composition, musical performance and instrument manufacturing if your concept is starting from ground zero.

Michel’s version was built from scratch. Sonami used kits from Steim. And now, Onyx Ashanti is 3d printing his components. The time from “concept” to performance has drastically been reduced for each generation. Barriers for duplicating the instrument have gone down. The base of past performers and teachers are growing. Moore’s law is back again, and its raising the quality of instruments.

The biggest barrier for new musical instruments from enjoying the benefits Moore’s law is survival. Most new interfaces don’t make it past two years, or even past a few generation. But these “Hands” seems to survive.

And with the X-Box kinnect, the development time is getting even smaller, duplication easier and examples more widespread. Using the Kinect interface to control Ableton is becoming more popular. Cry or cheer, but kids growing up today or more likely to see an X-box in their home instead of a piano or violin. Eventually, their neuromuscular intelligence will dwarf anything that current inventors could comprehend. Once that future generation of musicians no longer needs to spend time inventing their instrument, and can apply their gestural vocabulary to just playing it – then we hear something great. And Shapechanginginstruments.com can finally celebrate a new type of musical instrument for the 21st century. Who else wants to see new musical instruments?


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