Graham Fisher

Iteration #2: The Text


What are the boundaries of creating musical instruments?

Struck by a blinding flash of luminous innovation, by a fertile moonbeam of unencumbered imagination, my gaping mouth opened like a landing strip.  I hoped that the vacuum of each of my inhales would draw the object of my amazement just a bit closer, reeling in the machine and the person who pulled it down the sidewalk.  The little man who pulled the machine was drawing quite a lot of attention from the passing crowds, children everywhere dropped their ever-changing lollipops and let go of their kaleidoscope balloon animals as sounds from the machine hit their ears, their parents had to pry them away.  But the man kept rolling down the street, a big smile on his face and an arm behind him towing the enigmatic piece of audiophonic equipment mounted in the bed of a bright red radio-flyer wagon.

I could not let this opportunity pass me by, this little man had created something magical and I would never forgive myself if this wonderful device was blogged by one of my competitors.  My paranoia began to escalate as more and more eyes, undoubtedly endowed with retinal mounted computer interfaces turned to the man’s singing, trilling creation.  And so I shook off my dumbstruck pose and took off to get the scoop for my tech blog.  Walking up to the man he seemed slightly perturbed as I blocked his way.  Before he had time to utter a grievance I tapped my teeth together, enlivening the audio recording device implanted in my front tooth, and let spill out a long embellished streak of compliments and ass-kissing whirlwinding him into a docile mindset, ripe for an interview.  He was clearly proud of his work and the attention it was getting.  “Nothing in the world like it,” he boasted to me with a grin from ear to ear.

First, before you hear the noble words of the machine’s most illustrious creator, I will attempt to describe his device without a breadth of mechanical understanding or the aid of photographic evidence.  Positioned upright in its red radio-flyer trolley, the apparatus looked like a disheveled heap of band instruments smushed together, as if on the way to a concert a brassband’s tour bus had crashed, entangling all the components of the luggage compartment.  But instead of a static pile of brass and wood the machine bent and moved, constantly rearranging its flexible parts into different formations, never staying in one position for very long but resurgences of familiar shapes happened in varying intervals.  It all seemed to be made of the same material, its dullish grey hue was characteristic throughout however the flowing nature its movement was alien to any alloy I had knowledge of.  Suddenly down the street an AI driven magnetic railcar shrieked on its tracks to halt for crossing pedestrians, from a passenger seat someone yelled and shook their fist out the window.  Instantly, as if struck by the lightening, the mysterious device remodeled itself, shaping a corner into a dull grey cone.  Simultaneously another corner took on the characteristic of a semi hollow box.  Emanating from these two openings I was amazed to hear audio loops of the sounds of the shrieking railcar and the yelling passenger mimicked perfectly.  These sound clips were then stretched and rephrased, woven into an audiological ecosystem of other sounds from the busy street being mimicked by the machine.  This was an incredible invention indeed.  The ability to create an entirely unique and creative soundtrack to one’s environment based on the sounds present in one’s environment in real-time without digital interference, staggering.  The implications are earth-changing.  What does this mean for the future of music?  What does this mean for the future of musicians?  How does this change how we interact with sound?  I intended to find out.

“What is this thing?” I asked, clearly still dumbstruck.

“My latest invention! It’s a Phonaudiopneumatic-transmogrifying-soundscapliofier!” explained the visibly bubbling inventor while stumbling over the name.  I had to ask him to repeat it at least five times.

After taking me back to his workshop and walking through a hanger full of tools and failed versions of the machine I came to learn that it was made out of a special composite material (patent pending) only recently developed by the inventor that reacted sympathetically with the sound wave vibrations in the air.  The waves acted like ocean waves on a cliffside, eroding it particular depressions based on the characteristics of the sound, bass sounds dug out large caves, higher sounds cut out little swaths, etc.  The real insight had come when the inventor had discovered that he could use high functioning computer analytics to process the raw data from the material, introduce counter frequencies and use the depressions from the incoming sounds to emanate outgoing sounds in the exact same frequency.  Then he implanted a music generative algorithm AI into the whole system to coordinate the process and BAM the device was born.  The radio-flyer had been the easiest way to get it around town without having to build an integrated housing.  He told me his favorite activity was to going to the park or the beach and watching the machine draw a crowd of children as it sung them bird songs and sea shanties.

“Where did you go to school?  From whom did you get your chutzpah?” I asked, anticipating loads of emails from my blog readers.

“I was launched into this direction by fellow student collaborators from the Evergreen State College.  For decades their 3d printers have been churning out inventions in acoustics, experimenting with materials and designs for the exploration of sound.  But what initially attracted me to the idea of combining computational design with musical properties was an article I found online.”

“The person who created this article clearly understood the effect that computational design could have on music and musicians.  They catalog experimental instruments, instruments that have no equivalent using traditional building techniques, instruments that could not be made without computers and 3d printing.  The article also explores 3d printed enhancements to traditional instruments as well as the printing of the instruments themselves.  This is where I got the idea to take advantage of natural occurring sounds but then also to advance them past the limits of traditional sound making.”

“Another landing point of discovery was a design I encountered from a Swedish drum manufacturing company.  This company sought to compress all the timbres of a full drum set into a small and portable package, the Gigpig.  This self-contained percussion instrument set up can be folded into itself, allowing a drummer to set up quickly and easily, making impromptu performances virtually anywhere possible.  The intelligent design, created using computer software turns a huge drumset with five or six different drums as well as all the hardware and components into one small fully functional, full sounding instrument.  Finding this liberating contraption bolstered my confidence in computational design’s ability to craft instruments perfectly designed for the performer.”

“As much as I love browsing the internet for ideas and inspiration, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of a project academic journals and peer reviewed articles are far more reliable for credible and well thought out information.  One of the first pieces of academic writing that I came across which applied to my purposes was a biomedical journal that explored the acoustic properties of a common 3d printed filament, PLA.  This information was extremely valuable when I was composing an easily moldable material that would be ideal for my project.”

“Another model for my experimentation with 3d printed instruments came from a case study out of Oxford.  In this instance, a professional cornet’s interested in 3d printing found archaic designs for a cornet which hadn’t existed for hundreds of years.  With lots of diligence and hard work she was able to create a computer model of the ancient instrument and print it out.  While not playable it did provide a working model for master craftsmen to be able to create the instrument in its native form.  Just another example of lost arts being revamped by 3d printing.”

“Finally, the last component of research which aided my developing project was a glimpse into the business and anthropological impacts of the 3d printing revolution.  As many new technologies inspire competitors and thieves I was quite worried about attracting people who might choose to steal my idea and hamper my research so this article was very helpful, outlining ways to prevent this and how to launch my idea to the free market.”

I closed the interview with a handshake and goodbye, the sounds of which were promptly mimicked and mixed into a composition by the Phonaudiopneumatic-transmogrifying-soundscapliofier, a soundtrack to my departure.

Works Cited

“3d Printed Instruments.” Printed Instruments -. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.

“Biomedical Materials.” Longitudinal Acoustic Properties of Poly(lactic Acid) and Poly(lactic-co-glycolic Acid). N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.

“Early Music.” CAD Modelling and 3D Printing for Musical Instrument Research: The Renaissance Cornett as a Case Study. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.

“Home.” Gigpig Percussion Instruments. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2014.

Striukova, Thierry Rayna And Ludmila. “The Impact of 3D Printing TECHNOLOGIES on Business Model Innovation.” (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

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