An edible piano, a synthesizer that sings, a squeezable musical sponge, these are some of the tuneful devices created by inventors participating in the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition.
Sponsored by Georgia Tech since 2009, the contest attracts tinkerers from all over the world with hopes of winning the $5,000 first prize, and/or becoming the next Robert Moog.
Moog (it rhymes with “rogue”) invented the analog synthesizer that bears his name, and the Moog Music company is involved in the competition, underwriting a special preliminary contest just for Georgia Tech students.
The activities are part of the Tech Arts Festival. The nearly-monthlong series of performances, workshops and lectures began Feb. 14 with the theatrical presentation “Cartoon” at the Ferst Center for the Arts, and it continues through March 7. (For more information, go to www.arts.gatech.edu.)
Some 20 semifinalists in the Guthman contest will demonstrate their innovative instruments to a panel of judges this Thursday and Friday and compete for a total of $10,000 in prizes. The finals, 7-9 p.m. Friday, are free and open to the public.
Judges this year are DJ Hurricane, hip-hop producer and turntablist who worked with the Beastie Boys; producer/writer/engineer Graham Marsh, who has produced and played with Ludacris, Cee Lo Green and Bruno Mars; and Joe Paradiso, an MIT physicist and designer of music synthesizers.
They will be charged with evaluating inventions that run the gamut from high to low tech and exotic to familiar.
Among the semifinalists this year:
Made of wood, strings, springs and drumheads, this ungainly, otherworldly acoustic mutant was created by Görkem Şen of Turkey. He can be seen performing dreamlike sounds on YouTube and Vimeo. As of last week, Şen was still struggling to secure a visa to come to the U.S. for the contest.
This synthesizer creates a singing voice from a palette of different sounds (bluesy, operatic, breathy) and is controlled by a stylus on a graphic tablet. The player of the Cantor Digitalis appears to be scribbling in a notebook.
Dylan Menzies of Leicester, England, will present an optical tracking system that reads the motion, angle and speed of a violin bow, and uses it as an effective trigger for synthetic sound.
A separate contest, or “hack-a-thon,” for Tech students has drawn 70 entrants, including Mike Winters, a first-year Ph.D. student in music technology. Tech invites students to mesh their own devices with donated Moog synthesizers. Winters and his partners have built a sleevelike plastic cylinder that fits over a conventional drumstick and interprets speed, momentum, acceleration and orientation, translating those qualities into sound.
As he worked on his so-called MoogStik last week, he was unsure what the result would be once it was harnessed to the synthesizer. What he hoped to achieve was the hallmark of all good instruments, a “low floor and a high ceiling” — i.e., it should be easy to play, but should reward continuous practice with new capabilities.
The judges will evaluate the instruments according to three criteria: musicality, design and engineering, according to Gil Weinberg, founding director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology.
Some of these instruments are acoustic, like the dulcitar (a dulcimer with additional, sympathetic strings and movable frets), some are purely electronic, and some are a combination. “It’s apples and oranges, it’s very difficult to compare them, but that’s what makes it interesting,” Weinberg said.
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