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A Symphony of Circuit Diagrams and Source Codes

New Research Project Aims to Develop Electronic Musical Instruments for Eternity

© TU Berlin/PR/Ulrich Dahl

"If you learn to play the violin, you can play pieces composed for the violin. The same holds true for the piano or other traditional instruments. In the area of electronic music, however, there is a large deficit in terms of developing this new form of music, because the requisite instruments simply do not exist", says Prof. Stefan Weinzierl, Head of the TU Berlin Chair Audiocommunications. What on first hearing sounds positive: "The opportunities to express oneself musically through electronic sound synthesis are practically unlimited", is not without drawbacks nevertheless: "Over the last 60 years, musicians and their instruments have no longer been bound to the process of sound generation. Virtuosity, expressivity, and even the personality of the performer could be dispensed with."

In his new research project, Weinzierl is seeking to develop new musical instruments that are 'permanent' and not ephemeral, in that they can be played exactly the same way again." These can be interfaces in the form of touch-sensitive tablets or a dancer's movement, which in turn trigger electronic sounds via sensors." The Einstein Foundation, an institution promoting cutting-edge research in Berlin, is supporting the project with approximately 700,000 euros.
Prof. Dr. Alberto de Campo from the Institute for Time-Based Media of the Berlin University of the Arts is the closest partner and co-host to the three-year project "Design, Development and Dissemination of New Musical Instruments" (3DMIN). "Over the past few decades, numerous concepts concerning digital, hybrid and electro-acoustic instruments have been put forth. Many artists have built their own electro-acoustic instruments. Nevertheless, these concepts are still not reflected in musical education or the area of contemporary public performance practices", says Weinzierl.
An innovative approach is required in order to develop new musical prototypes and interfaces, in addition to a network comprised of experts from the fields of musicology, musical acoustics, music technology, composition, computational art and design. "Firstly, we need to determine to what extent artists might be interested in having access to such an instrument, in addition to ascertain the significance of the bond generated by the instrument between gestures and sound in terms of how such performances are perceived by the listening public. The greatest challenge of the project is to unite the different expectations and requirements of composers, performers, designers and listeners", says Prof. Weinzierl. It still remains to be seen in which technical form this can be implemented.
The instruments, sounds and musical pieces developed during this project will be documented and made available to other artists and researchers as open source software, e.g. published in the form of a source code. Prototypes and their building blocks are to be reproduced on the basis of 3-D printing, which will involve designers and specialists in computational art. Empirical experiments concerning the interaction between gestures and sound are also elements of the project's portfolio, as is collaboration with the German Research Association (DFG) research group SEACEN, which is tasked with simulating virtual acoustic surroundings and also an object of study of Stefan Weinzierl's Chair. The spatial distribution of sounds using these new musical instruments is also an element of our research.
Stefan Weinzierl is optimistic: "I very much hope that we will be able to develop two or three innovative instruments that can establish themselves commercially and inspire composers and performers alike."

Prof. Dr. Stefan Weinzierl
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