UNIQUE NEW INSTRUMENTS & COMPONENTS:
Section includes the following (24) new instrument types:
Microtonal Lego Guitar
Stratocaster, 75th Anniversary
Wintergarden Marble Machine
Steve Parker’s musical instruments make no sound. Instead, this trombonist repurposes brass instruments as sculptural listening devices. His inspirations are the early-20th-century military sound locaters — some called war tubas — that were used to detect approaching enemy aircraft before the invention of radar. Parker’s instruments exude a similar gangly menace, with yards of Seussian tubing ending in the flared bells of trombones and sousaphones.
Parker’s devices — some wearable, some attached to a gallery wall — become part of compositions that play with the dimensionality of sound. They also connect music with aggressive modes of listening like surveillance and espionage.
“They are picture frames — but they are more than that,” Parker said in a video interview from the American Academy in Rome, where he is currently 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 effect on the listener is disorienting. He likes how the repurposed marching band instruments — rich in associations with warfare, protests and modern gladiator sports — can be transformed into tools for communal listening. And he enjoys the “bit of bricolage” that goes into disassembling instruments and soldering their components with copper pipes from the hardware store. In the process, he said, “I’ve become quite friendly with my plumber.”
“I’m basically an unreasonable cellist with guitar envy,” Clark Battle said. As an improviser, he admired the chordal flexibility of a piano or guitar. But, as he explained in an email exchange, he wasn’t willing to give up the flexible pitch of his chosen instrument, the cello. He began to wonder what a piano might look like that allowed a musician to vibrate and slide notes — as you can on the cello.
The result is the Evolano — an “evolved piano.” The instrument has keys, action and hammers like a piano, aligned along a central ruler. The strings move with the keys, sliding over a curved fret that determines pitch. Chords are played much in the traditional way of a keyboard, by pressing multiple keys. But by moving the hands, the entire chord structure can travel smoothly, as in a cello glissando.
Battle said that his study of kung fu had impressed upon him the importance “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.”
For years, Tolgahan Cogulu has been teaching the guitar to play new notes. “I love the guitar,” he said speaking in a video interview recently. “However, I cannot play my own music.”
Turkish music relies on microtones, while the traditional guitar has frets that arrange pitch according to Western tuning systems. In 2008, Cogulu designed a microtonal lego guitar with movable frets, but it has remained a specialist instrument.
One day his young son Atlas made a Lego replica of his father’s microtonal fretboard. Cogulu immediately realized its potential. “It is a miracle idea,” he said. “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 student at Istanbul Technical University, came up with the idea to 3D-print a base plate for the fretboard. The Lego pieces are snapped into place, and a set of 3D-printed movable frets are attached on top. Production was almost laughably cheap, Cogulu said, and only briefly halted when they had used up all the thin single square pieces in Atlas’s Lego collection that are essential to their design.
In lessons with his students, Cogulu realized he had hit on a tool for teaching music theory. With its movable frets, the Lego microtonal guitar makes visible the changing intervals in various Western, Turkish and Balinese modes. Cogulu and his team are making the 3D-printable files available to anyone for a modest contribution. He also plans to build fully assembled versions that he hopes will be useful in music schools.
Experimental pianists have long toyed with hand-held electromagnetic devices called EBows that make the piano’s strings vibrate without direct contact. Prototypes exist of pianos with a built-in electromagnetic component, but their size and expense keep them out of reach of most performers.
The composer David Shea dreamed of an instrument that would turn any concert grand into an electromagnetic piano capable of producing both traditional sounds and the evenly sustained drones of electronic music. “I thought, could there be a traveling version that would be modular and could be constantly adapted by anyone playing it?” he said in a video interview with Monica Lim, a fellow pianist-composer who helped shape the design.
Their breakthrough idea was a mini computer for each note that hovers above the string without touching it. A pianist can play both the electromagnetic component and the traditional keyboard at the same time — “a dialogue,” Shea said, “between the old and the new” — or perform in duet with another person (or a computer) making the drones sing. The device is portable and easy to install.
“It’s more like a layer that sits on top of the other, more percussive sound activated by the keyboard,” Lin said.
The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition celebrates the best new ideas in music, design, and engineering. This year, 29 finalists from 15 different countries competed for prizes awarded by a panel of judges and by popular vote.
The Segulharpa is new and unique among electro-acoustic instruments. This large circular walnut instrument holds 25 steel strings, which are “bowed” by powerful magnetic fields. Touch sensors are embedded into the grain of the wood, and as the player touches the surface, wonderfully complex interactions are created inside. Unlike traditional wooden stringed instruments, the strings oscillate from intentionally played notes as well as from frequencies of nearby vibrating strings. Inventor Ulfur Hansson said it took him seven years to finish this instrument.
No matter the design or invention of an instrument maker, the fate of a new instrument is dependent on a virtuoso musician showing its potential or a composer writing a magnum opus that utilizes it well. In many cases, that takes a great deal of time. For Adolphe Sax’s invention, even today musicians like Colon Stetson are experimenting with modern techniques to make new music for the instrument in ways Adolph Sax never imagined back in the mid-1800s. In honor of Sax’s 200 birthday, below is a list of newly invented instruments. Like for the saxophone, whether they eventually find a place in the musical world or fall away as a novel footnote in history will depend on the creative people who might champion their cause in this century or the next.
Singer Imogen Heap has been leading the charge to develop the Mi.Mu Glove. (https://youtu.be/CvyVQqCO8pY) (RQ 10). In a promotional fundraiser video, Heap said she uses computers and electronic effects in her music, but she wanted a way to play her computer as expressively as she would an instrument. The result is the Mi.Mu Glove, which allows pre-programmed sounds to be triggered and manipulated by the wearer’s gestures, motions or place on the stage. Sensor-based instruments that make use of gesture or the performer’s position is actually a somewhat crowded competition. Efforts at build a “data glove” date back to 2005, and students at Cornell created the Aura data glove earlier this year.
The yaybahar is a Turkic acoustic string instrument invented in 2009 by Görkem Şen. (https://youtu.be/_aY6TxC1ojA) (RQ 8). The instrument is played with a bow on two strings with two metal wires connecting to frames amplifying the sound.
Bjork (1966-) is an Icelandic pop singer and songwriter who has made an name for herself by pushing the boundaries of music. In her music she features her own ethereal style of singing along with different combinations of sound, sometimes even inventing her own instruments to create it. As Iceland’s most famous pop musician she continues to make though-provoking and eccentric music.
In 2011 she released her album Biophilia, which features her unique sound along with new instruments she commissioned just for it. This album incorporates new instruments, music videos, online apps, and other mediums to create a musical experience all its own. One of the main new instruments featured on this album is the Gameleste, played on the song “Virus.” The Gameleste is a combination of a gamelan and a celeste. It incorporates bronze bars into a celeste housing to create a toy piano like high register and a lower register that is reminiscent to the also newly created Hang drum. By combining the two styles this instrument creates a juxtaposition of very simple and pure as well as deep and ethereal sounds.
The song “Virus” (https://youtu.be/VJ7p5uvm0RU) (RQ 10) in which it is featured, tells the story of a cell being taken over by a virus. The music starts of very simple and light to show the microscopic world within our bodies. After this intro Bjork beings to sing and the song becomes increasingly complex using many rhythmic and melodic patterns found within Balinese Gamelan music. Along with the gamelan rhythms and tones the gameleste creates the sound of wind chimes giving the song even more of an ethereal and other worldly feel.
The gameleste expands the possibilities for new and creative sounds and allows the musician to experiment with sounds that would other wise be nearly impossible to harness. For instance, gamelan requires a large group of trained musicians to play, but with this instrument a single person can use the general timbre of a gamelan for their own musical experimentation. Considering that this instrument retains the form of the celeste as a keyed instrument it can still be notated like a piano in western staff notation, which further extends the possibility of its use to all musicians.
Bjorks creativity with the invention and use of the gameleste shows that new instruments can be created and explored without hindering the music itself. New instruments can only be beneficial for music. They sometimes may not be appealing to the musical community but without them progress within music cannot be made. I think the gameleste is a wonderful invention that helps span the gap between western music and that of Indonesia. Bjork’s “Virus” pushes music into new territories and I happily travel along as I listen to this music.
The study of musical instruments (‘organology’) is the study of the human condition. Every culture is defined by its own distinctive set of trills, whistles, parps, honks and beats, and every corner of the world has evolved its own location-specific indigenous instrument to renew a sense of cultural identity through noisy self-expression. And instruments evolve – never more so than now, in the midst of a technological revolution that has opened up entirely new ways to make music. So settle back and compose yourself as we look at new instruments that look set to accompany us into the world of tomorrow:
In development for 8 years with funding of over £10m / $16.5m, the Eigenharp is a slow-crafted technological marvel. 120 keys (each one tilting to give a flexible tone), percussion buttons, built-in sound management capabilities including recording, playback and looping, and a potentially limitless range of noises thanks to running on uploaded digitally sampled sounds. It is played via keyboard, tap-pad and mouthpiece – and the result is an instrument that sounds like a band. An example: “The Bond Theme” (https://youtu.be/zcVqJh0qEMc) (RQ 9).
Similarly digitally enhanced are the electric violins, a family of new hybrid instruments that are sufficiently well-established to become a mainstay of the modern music scene. Thanks to electrical pickups inside or outside the instrument’s body, the violin’s vibrations are run through electronic processing and transformed into any sound under the sun – most effectively, the noise of an electric guitar. Witness the magic of Ed Alleyne-Johnson (https://youtu.be/vUO6kYLb6As)(RQ 7) performing on the streets of Chester, England.
No, this isn’t the first good-to-go version of Minesweeper: this baby is for making beautiful music with. The 16 x 16 grid of LED lights on the Tenori-On responds to touch and to real-time looped programming, creating soaring, rippling compositions that mesmerise beginners and experts alike (Peter Gabriel is a fan). If you want a hands-on demonstration of its power, listen to Andre Michelle’s ToneMatrix, an online AudioTool-powered simulation (https://youtu.be/xy4c_ScANcY).
Musical instrument or chest expander? You’d be forgiven for asking – but the Samchillian is a new, ergonomic-minded take on the keyed instrument, with each key representing a relative, not fixed, note. As the musician plays, the function of each part of the instrument is constantly changing, allowing a full range of musical expression (provided the player has a really good memory, of course). Here’s a demo by Eitan Shefer: (https://youtu.be/DbOIBIwg_E4) (RQ 10).
Moving further into the realm of instruments that look like anything but – we have the BeatBearing. Instead of generating noise itself, the BB triggers the timing of preselected types of percussion – simply drop a steel ball-bearing in the right slot to get the beat you want, when you want. The inventor isn’t interested in manufacturing his design: instead, he has published the plans on DIY-tech online magazine MakeZine to encourage people to build their own – and with more than 1 million views of this YouTube demo: (https://youtu.be/wreP8FMupyM) (RQ 9). At the start of this year, we reckon there will be plenty of takers.
At least the Hapi looks like what it is (well, kinda) – a steel drum with a hole in the base that allows the player to control the amount of noise emerging, using their lap. Since each key (or “tongue”) is part of the main body of the instrument, each note is accompanied by a subtle resonant harmony from other musically compatible notes. Time for a demonstration: https://youtu.be/PW-GZ05htLE (RQ 8).
At first sight, you’re looking at a lady trying to listen to her iPod underwater, and a collection of buff young people stood up in a hot-tub. In fact in both pictures depict music-making, via an electroencephalophone – a device that converts brainwaves into sound (and therefore a quintephone). The lady is psychotherapist Ariel Garten participating in a concert performance – and the “hot-tub” trio are an electroencephalophonist and two assistants accompanying on electrocardiopgones (https://youtu.be/oNlDb5toEBE).
Daring you to not burst out laughing when it gets underway is the Drawdio, a homespun theramin. There are a number of ways to make one (cheaply and easily), but the working principle remains the same in all models – it runs a current through the graphite deposited from the end of your pencil (or any other appropriate medium, including yourself), and translates it through a synthesizer to create a noise like a kazoo in a gale. Here is a sample: https://youtu.be/PV_w38ldZaE (RQ 8).
But for breadth of lateral thinking, hats off to Smule, the inventors of the Ocarina iPhone application. Using the phone’s built-in movement sensors and touch screen, your phone becomes either a wholly keyed instrument…or a kind of flute, by detecting the passage of your blown breath and translating it into intensity of sound. Once you’ve finished your piece, upload it to the Ocarina online community and listen to the work of others. A virtual instrument that automatically shares its output online – can you get more contemporary than that? Have a listen: https://youtu.be/RhCJq7EAJJA (RQ 9).
A Theremin experience has never been more accessible than with the Moog Theremini. The unique instrument is updated by Moog to be incredibly player-friendly while retaining an authentic Theremin experience. A built-in feature allows players to quantize their playing using selectable scales while controlling the amount of their pitch quantization. This function can be disabled to use the Theremini with an original Theremin tone, freeform and unquantized. Along with built-in scales and quantization, an onboard tuner and thirty-two sounds can give the Theremini a voice that can be vintage or modern for a variety of tonal possibilities. With the Theremini, Moog has brought a Theremin experience that is functionally thorough, inventively designed, and deeply musical. A tutorial: https://youtu.be/8bakI0ITCqQ.
VERSELAB helps you capture, refine, and finish your ideas. The fluid, hands-on workflow simplifies music making with modern vocal recording, pattern generators, thousands of ZEN-Core sounds, mastering effects, and more. Plug-and-play integration with Roland’s Zenbeats app expands your production capabilities using your computer or mobile device. Make a song in less than 10 minutes: https://youtu.be/DBuX_cDCTdU.
An Artiohon Orba is a handheld synth, looper, and MIDI controller that lets anyone make music immediately. Play notes and beats on its touch-sensitive surface, add effects with movement gestures, and layer your ideas into songs with the built-in looper. Connect to the Orba App to customize your instrument and share your creations with friends. It’s never been easier to make music, anywhere you go.
Overview and Demo: https://youtu.be/yoxUlNmhQWw
First Impressions: https://youtu.be/HhgMX41a6Bo
Make Songs in Seconds: https://youtu.be/Mvk5FiLjbsU
Make a Song (part 1): https://youtu.be/4IFwSKKg6Us
Make a Song (part 2): https://youtu.be/AV8MCylKQQk
Aerophone AE-10 is a digital wind instrument that lets you play sax, clarinet, flute, violin, synth sounds and many more. Since it supports traditional sax fingering, the AE-10 is instantly familiar to acoustic sax players, especially with a mouthpiece-mounted breath sensor that responds like an acoustic horn. The AE-10 also features 128 high-quality sound models including soprano and baritone sax, clarinet, trumpet, string instruments, and an array of expressive synth sounds. And the integrated speaker and battery operation means that you can play these sounds anywhere. With built-in speakers, headphones for late-night practice, battery power capability, and DAW connectivity, the Roland Aerophone AE-10 is the versatile, play-anywhere choice that supports you in every musical scenario. An example of one application: Roland Aerophone “ensemble with acoustic saxophones” (https://youtu.be/j2OPsVJlpe4) (RQ 8). More examples follow…its simply amazing what one professional player can produce:
Roland Aerophone AE-10 Version 3.0:
“Synth sounds:” (https://youtu.be/K7tpRw3NRh0) (RQ 10).
“Looper performance with new synth sounds:” (https://youtu.be/OsD7vIa_Ovw) (RQ 10).
“Wind and Brass sound:” (https://youtu.be/CcWwrRQld8c) (RQ 10).
“Strings and world instruments:” (https://youtu.be/ZyxLgZVkwTw) (RQ 10).
“Bass and Vocoder sound:” (https://youtu.be/Z8EnvHM9zXg) (RQ 10).
“Sound customize examples:” (https://youtu.be/If518Tw8_Tk) (RQ 10).
“Alistair Parnell`s performance featuring new synth sounds:” (https://youtu.be/BUVaLA0cstE) (RQ 10).
Nothing beats the sound of your favorite acoustic sax, but sometimes its tone might not be quite right for the job at hand. Whatever scenario you’re playing in, the Aerophone AE-10 has the onboard digital sax sounds you need. Choose from alto, tenor, soprano, and baritone sax types, all of which respond just like their acoustic counterparts. Playing dynamics, articulation, and even the organic overtone changes caused by your breathing are all reproduced thanks to Roland’s advanced SuperNATURAL modeling technology. A dedicated “Sax Section” layers four types of sax for playing together in unison, and you can pull off a seamless performance with the Full Range feature, which automatically switches between sax types by key range.
The Aerophone AE-10 also features sounds from other wind instruments including trumpet, trombone, clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, and more. Powered by Roland’s SuperNATURAL technology, which faithfully matches the behavior of the originals, these sounds help to expand your musical range. Ethnic instruments like shakuhachi and erhu are on hand too, offering authentic pitch and tonal fluctuations that echo their acoustic counterparts. Aerophone AE-10 even includes stringed instruments such as violin, cello, and contrabass, each one capable of unique musical expressions since you control them by breath and fingering instead of bowing. Once you’ve tried the individual sounds, you can create one-man ensembles by layering multiple wind instrument sounds with the Brass Section setting. The AE-10 is also packed with a selection of the latest synth sounds that are specially tailored for wind instrument performance with fully optimized breath control.
Venova: is a casual wind instrument, here with a limited-edition red body. Designed to be an inexpensive and accessible alternative to traditional winds, the Venova’s state-of-the-art design blends the simplicity of a recorder with the rich sound of a saxophone. An example from Yahmaha Music London: (https://youtu.be/h_p8z57IXkk) (RQ 6). The result is a fun-to-play instrument that’s equally at home in the hands of an experienced player or a complete beginner. Created with state-of-the-art Yamaha technology, the Venova features a branched-pipe structure that gives it a bright and rich timbre with plenty of volume. Its ABS resin body is smaller, lighter and more durable than conventional wind instruments. You can even get it wet – it’s water washable and easy to clean, making it perfect to take along to the park, a barbecue, or even the beach.