Jun 15, 2015 | By Alec

3D printing technology has previously been used to design some pretty crazy instruments, such as this 3D printed beer bottle keyboard. However, California-based artist Matt Pearson has taken a more natural approach to 3D printed instruments, transforming a gourd into a very intuitive instrument. While it contains no strings, buttons or keys, music is played by holding the gourd and moving around, as you can see in the video below.

Matt Pearson and his team have been working on this project since March, with the goal of making music as interactive as life itself is becoming. ‘Our festivals are changing. Music concerts, museum exhibitions, live theater, and civic space are becoming more interactive, as audiences, influenced by the internet, come to expect a certain level of choice in their storytelling rituals (see: on-demand TV, gaming, immersive installations). These gourds are instruments for the activated audience member, who is able to shape the spectacle as they witness it,’ he writes on his webpage.

In that respect, the choice for a gourd is interesting, as it is one most ancient objects to be used as instruments. Having been used as containers and instruments for more than 10,000 years, Matt and his team are bringing it back to the contemporary world. ‘Gourds are the most ancient instrument form. Traditionally, they have been used by many cultures around the world as idiophones, which are shaken or struck to produce vibrational sound. Dried gourds are natural resonators, amplifying sounds with their firm outer walls,’ they explain.

But instead of shaking a gourd filled with rocks, this modern gourd instrument relies completely on your own movements. ‘These digital gourds are instruments that use motion data to control digital sound parameters. Inside the organic gourd form are motion sensors, which track the movement of the gourd, and a speaker, which amplifies those movements as digital music. The instruments are easy for non-musicians to pick up and play immediately, blurring the lines between audience and performer,’ they explain. And who wouldn’t be able to make unique music with one of these? From school children to seniors, everyone can dance with a gourd.

While originally consisting of just a crude accelorometer found in a Wii controllor, Matt moved on to a 9-DOF sensor that combines gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetic north sensor data to transform movement into sound. ‘To understand exactly where it is in 3 dimensional space, with no gaps. The sensor sends its data to a central computer running MaxMSP and Ableton Live (audio processing) via the Xbee network. Then, the computer sends audio signals back to the gourds over bluetooth, just like any commercially available wireless speaker,’ Matt explains. ‘This new set up allows any movement of the gourd to create a sound output. Players have a much more nuanced sense of feedback than before. Hopefully, this inspires a deeper curiosity for and exploration of the gourd’s capabilities.’

And to create an exit for all that sound, 3D scanning and printing technology was used to create unique covers for every gourd. ‘The missing part of the gourd is ghosted back as an algorithmically-tessellated, 3D printed part, a digital re-formation of the section of the gourd that was lost in this new union,’ they explain. In fact, there are two 3D printed components on one these gourds, the grill – which is just as unique as the gourd itself – and the speaker pod. ‘In this case, the grill and electronic housing would be a single part which is entirely biodegradable, and of course the gourd is biodegradable,’ Matt explains his choice for 3D printing technology.

The result is a very original instrument that will doubtlessly be a huge hit at any interactive music event. After all, you don’t need any musical talent to play it! Matt and his team are currently working on an interesting networking ability, or the incorporation of different movements into a single sound. ‘This would open up possibilities for larger crowds of people to experience a collective music-making moment,’ he says. Now that would be a sight to see.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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