Graham Fisher

Iteration #1: The Idea


What are the boundaries of creating musical instruments?

On a planet already loaded with too much stuff, what idea is worth turning into more stuff?  Stuff that transcends stuff.  Stuff that makes music, oscillating vibrations of the air and/or itself. Stuff that dematerializes and then rematerializes meaning.  Stuff translating a dialogue between matter and immateriality.

My idea is to create a plethora of 3d printed instruments.  Some initial ideas include a variety of percussion instruments: a guiro, a series of tonal “wood” blocks, a cixixi rattle ring, a few shakers and perhaps a “steel” drum.  I will certainly have to experiment with designs to perfect the acoustic properties of each idea since for the most part these instruments were created using wood or other non-plastic materials which have quite different timbre profiles than the P.L.A we are using.

As technology advances so does the art of the time period.  Advances in recording techniques and manufacturing materials in the early 20th century completely altered the popular music landscape, increased its accessibility and dramatically changed its artistic direction.  Developments in music production in the past few decades have changed the way music is created.  DJs and producers can be inspired, write, record, mix and perform all in the same day using a computer with infinite varieties of digital instruments and orchestration, some prerecorded, some altered and even some completely imaginary.  3d printers allow a further level of customization and manipulation of sound.  Computers using 3d printers are able to create impossible to construct instruments through traditional means of instrument.  The possibilities are endless: exotic timbres, acoustics built into architecture, custom instruments, at home, printable orchestras.  This is the new evolution of our ever-changing musical tools.

Parker, N. G. “Biomedical Materials.” Longitudinal Acoustic Properties of Poly(lactic Acid) and Poly(lactic-co-glycolic Acid). 9 Sept. 2010. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

There are a number of science labs across the country and the world experimenting with P.L.A (the filament we print with) and using it in surprising contexts.  This particular study test P.L.A for use as a sound dampening material to use in construction.  Traditional sound dampening materials are heavy and expensive but specially designed P.L.A fiber pockets could be quickly printed and used cheaply in modern construction. (This application of P.L.A is kind of the opposite purpose that I would be using it for in my experimentation but the research data is extremely valuable.)

“3D Printing In Popular Culture: A New Character Is Born – Blog-” 3D Printing In Popular Culture: A New Character Is Born – Blog- Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

3d printing is so new that much of the general public doesn’t even know it exists.  This article documents a few examples of the emergence of 3d printing into popular culture and its applications in fashion, representation in media and potential in video games.  It could turn into a fad.

“3d Printed Instruments.” Printed Instruments -. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

3d printed instruments are of course the subject of my inquiry and this article was what first inspired me to appreciate its potential.  This page contains hundreds of prototypes and tested examples of theoretical and applied 3d printed musical instruments.  Some are variations on existing instruments enabling new sounds; others are attachments and accessories, still others are imaginary instruments with the potential to create some very unique timbres.

So what?  How can that question even be asked?  The implications and applications of 3d printing have not yet even begun to be explored.  We have no idea how this device might alter our culture, our perceptions, our religions.  This is assuredly an exciting time to be watching all this unfold and I believe that music and musicians, undeniably at the forefront of experimentation and technological innovation, is an interesting place from which to observe the progress.  Plunging into this avenue of investigation will not only allow me to do research in a field that is at its infant stage and which requires an enthusiastic involvement that I luckily possess but will further progress my own musical development.  I hope to exit my investigative engagement with tacit knowledge in the process of 3d printing and its acoustic properties as well as a few useful creations that I can be proud of and utilize to their full extent.