Printing tools to make art: Can instruments built using additive manufacturing have place and meaning alongside their wood and metal counterparts?
3D printing, though new on the block, has so many potential uses, but perhaps what interests me most is creating the tools to create art and in this case, music. I’m fascinated by the concept. While most previous methods for creating an instrument require the removal of material from an object to reach a finished product, additive manufacturing is practically waste free, printing only what you design.
I’m interested in printing an Irish flute. I chose this because of its simplicity, small size and relative ease of play. The greatest challenge will be in tuning, which ideally would be in the key of D. After speaking with Arlen though, I’m now considering alternatives, such as just intonation, following an algorithm or even random hole spacing.
Beyond a specific instrument, the practicality of printing any instrument would be huge. Though I have little to no experience with the Irish flute, I find it fits best then my goal of using 3D printed instruments for educational purposes. This is a cheep and quick way of producing a gateway to a new art for many people, especially in a classroom setting where budget and supply may be short.
Being able to print an instrument allows for faster prototyping that doesn’t require the time and tools that say wood working does, nor the expertise of a practiced luthier. In addition, any tinkerer would have the ability to fully customize any piece they wish to print. Making the instrument suit his or her needs specifically, whether that be in pitch, color, shape, size or tamber. Arvid Jense states that, ‘While all of these things are cool, they’re all replications of existing traditional instruments, and aren’t touching the new geometrical and structural possibilities of 3d printing. (Though, this quite mirrors early electronic instruments, which were mostly trying to emulate existing instruments in sound).’ He implies that the real ingenuity of this technology will come with experimenting with new and unfamiliar designs, something that that is already being explored on Thingaverse.
Olaf Diegel, a professor at Lund University in Sweden, recently created what he calls the world’s first live concert with a ’3D printed band.’ He has designed and printed electric and bass guitars, keyboard housing and even a drum kit (all of which are for sale, none of which are affordable). In a video featured on digitaltrends.com, you see his students playing the track ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes To Hollywood on printed instruments (Mugatu’s brainwash theme from the film Zoolander). Diegel’s instruments are under the brand name Odd and you can find them for sale at www.odd.org.nz.
‘No two instruments sound exactly alike, and players frequently have widely differing opinions about what constitutes a good sound. There are many factors which contribute to the sound of any given traverso, among which are embouchure size and shape, interior dimensions of the bore, and type of material from which the instrument is made’ (Solum, 67). John Solum, in his book The Early Flute, outlines what goes into making a flute, what the factors involved are and why they’re important to the finished product’s sound. I wonder about these effects with PLA. Since the instrument is less dense and softer (in regards to the overall material strength), how will a printed flute sound in comparison to one made of wood?
It’s most important to students and people looking to experiment with new instruments. Students, because they could in theory have access to a 3D printed instrument for very cheep and be able to learn the basic techniques. Take a 3rd grade music class for example, if the school wanted to try teaching the recorder, but didn’t have the funds, they could order a batch of 3D printed models for much cheaper.
Printing instruments empowers people that want to explore sound. With prototyping taking a matter of hours, instead of months with traditional practices, musicians and students can create, test and perfect any idea they choose to design. I don’t believe that such technology will find it’s way into concert halls anytime soon, but for the curious musician of the future, this world of 3D printing opens many doors.
- John Solum. The Early Flute. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
- “Shands_2010_HowToBuildASimpleNorthAmericanStyleFlute_2010_03_01.pdf.” Accessed October 20, 2014. http://www.flutopedia.com/refs/Shands_2010_HowToBuildASimpleNorthAmericanStyleFlute_2010_03_01.pdf.
- Tretbar, Alex. “Take a Listen to the First Ever Concert Using Only 3D-Printed Instruments.” Digital Trends. Accessed October 20, 2014. http://www.digitaltrends.com/music/students-hold-first-concert-with-only-3d-printed-instruments/.