Every year, musicians, engineers, and inventors introduce the world to sounds we’ve never heard before.
The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition is an annual event hosted by the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The big reveal may have been virtual instead of in-person this year, but the creations were no less incredible! Here are the five amazing, never-before-seen instruments that took home the biggest prizes in 2021.
1. First Place: the Segulharpa.
It took Ulfur Hansson of Reykjavik, Iceland, seven years to make this gorgeous electro-acoustic instrument! The circular walnut body holds 25 steel strings that are “bowed” by magnetic fields. Musicians use touch sensors in the wood to vibrate the strings, producing an eerie yet beautiful sound.
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Ulfur sculpted four of these instruments for the competition, soldering all of the electronic components by hand. “It is constantly evolving as you play,” he explained. “You can feel it shaping up.”
Listen to the first-place winner in the video below!
2. Second Place: the Synescope.
Brian Alexander of Michigan has spent his life taking things apart to see how they work. He modeled his instrument after an old-fashioned record player, giving it an “old-meets-new” vintage feel. Simply put, the Synescope converts graphic artwork into sounds!
Brian was inspired to create this instrument by a neurological condition he has that’s called synesthesia. This means he’s unable to experience one sense, like hearing, by itself. Instead, his sense of sight, touch, or even taste is triggered as well. He wanted to make an instrument to help others hear what he hears when he looks at art.
“I basically make tools and experiences that enable people to express themselves in ways maybe not thought of, or maybe not experienced directly,” Brian said. Check out his amazing invention in the video below.
3. Third Place: the Electromagnetic Piano.
David Shea, Monica Lim, and Mirza Ceyzar of Melbourne, Australia, made an attachment that fits on an acoustic piano and uses magnets to vibrate the piano strings. The device allows musicians to trigger notes using any stimulus, not just the keyboard. It also enables them to hold notes for as long as they want.
The device can be used on multiple pianos to create a unique electro-acoustic instrument that’s all new. Learn more about the Electromagnetic Piano in the video below.
4. People’s Choice: the LEGO Microtonal Guitar.
The LEGO Microtonal Guitar did not win the top prizes, but with more than 60,000 votes it was definitely a crowd favorite! This fun instrument was created by father-son duo Atlas Çoğulu and Tolgahan Çoğulu of Turkey.
Tolgahan got the idea while watching his son play with LEGO blocks. A musician for 30 years, the creative dad had been searching for new ways to play the microtonal sounds that are so popular in world music. They brought in engineer Ruşen Can Acet for help with their design, and the resulting instrument is as fun as it is functional!
Check it out in the video below.
5. Georgia Tech Faculty Favorite: the Evolano.
Here’s another cool instrument that might not have won but still turned heads. Clark Battle made the instrument to reimagine the string piano. It has keys, strings, and piano actions, but its main features are the dual sliding keyboards that move strings across a curved fret to produce different pitches.
According to Clark, “It is the first instrument capable of the intuitive exploration of divergent chordal glissando (the harmony heard in the THX theme music).” Amazing! Listen to the Evolano below.
As long as there are brilliant inventors like these in the world, we’ll never have a shortage of music. Congratulations to all the winners!
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