Jan 8, 2015 | By Alec

As 3D printing’s potential is really only limited by your own imagination, it’s hardly surprising that it has already ended up in the hands of musicians too. Up to now, we’ve seen a number of interesting musical applications, such as these 3D printed replicas of parts of classic and unique instruments, that have brought new life to museum pieces.

However, one Yale student has taken 3D printed music to a whole different level, and has developed an entirely new instrument: the Helmotz’s Harmonious Homebrew. If that sounds a bit like a special type of draft beer, you’re on the right page, for this interesting instrument basically consists of a series of beer bottles and 3D printed mouthpieces. By selectively applying compressed air through a clever system, this is basically a keyboard that produces sounds reminiscent of blowing into an empty beer bottle. Isn’t that clever?

No, this isn’t just some crazy invention by an autistic frat boy. For its British-born inventor, Jordan Plotner, is currently a sophomore in American Studies at Yale while also working as a composer of music for films, TV and commercials. As Jordan explained, he is ‘constantly trying to find new instruments and new sounds that I haven’t heard before.’ And a Helmoltz’s Harmonious Homebrew certainly would certainly fit that slot.

Jordan explained to 3ders.org how he decided on this unique instrument:

"I compose music for film, television and commercials, and from my experiences working in Los Angeles, New York and London, I have found that composers are always looking for new sounds and new instruments to give their own compositions novelty. I decided to build an instrument with a familiar yet distinctive sound that I could then incorporate in my own musical compositions. I set out to build a keyboard instrument that created sound by blowing air across tuned beer bottles."

Liking the sound of blowing across a bottle, Plotner experimented with a set-up of twelve bottles and an external air source that would allow a musician to easily play it. "My first step, was to find an air source." Plotner told us. "After a series of trial and error with various sources of air, I decided to use compressed air as a means of powering the 12 beer bottles. Because there is an endless supply of compressed air, and the pressure can be regulated, it solved several issues that arose with the other air sources."

The only problem was that this didn’t result in the sounds made when blowing into a bottle yourself; instead, the high velocity and narrow tubes through which the air travelled created a series of unsatisfactory high frequencies. "When one blows air across a bottle, the full range of frequencies is generated, so I decided to create a mouth-like simulation that could achieve the same effect." Plotner explained.

And this is where 3D printing came to the rescue. Using pictures of his own lips, Plotner designed a series of lip-shaped mouthpieces in SolidWorks. On the other side, these featured a small circular opening to attach to the air tubes. These mouthpieces were then 3D printed using an Objet 30Pro 3D printer from Stratasys.

These mouth pieces were subsequently incorporated in an organ-like construction, featuring bottles, a keyboard surface cut out of acrylic and a series of arcade-style video game buttons to control each of the twelve valves. "When one of these buttons is pressed, an electrical signal is sent to to the solenoid valve causing it to open, and allowing air to pass through the tubes and out the 3D printed mouthpieces." Plotner said.

The result is a very impressive 3D printed instrument, that can produce a large variety of sounds by filling the bottles with alternating levels of water. Different sound effects could potentially be achieved through different mouthpieces and air pressure, making this a very versatile instrument.

So the next time you come across a beer commercial, you could very well be hearing sound effects enabled by Plotner’s interesting 3D printed creation. But its potential rises far above just beer; Plotner gave his Helmoltz’s Harmonious Homebrew a yellow and blue paint job for aesthetic reasons, but this also makes it a suitable option for an entirely different commercial branch; "I later realized that it would work well in a commercial jingle for an Ikea product". So who knows what it can be used for?

If you’re interested in how it sounds, just check out this brief YouTube clip:


Posted in 3D Printing Applications


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