Oct 19, 2015 | By Benedict

A metallophone is a musical instrument made up of metal bars tuned to different notes, which can be struck with a mallet or beater to make a sound. The instruments have been used in Asian music for millennia. The glockenspiel, not to be confused with the wooden-barred xylophone, is one recognisable type of metallophone, which can be heard in the sumptuous recurring motif of Radiohead’s 1997 hit ‘No Surprises’. Building a metallophone is a complicated process, which is one reason why each key of such an instrument tends to be of a simple shape, like a bar.

Researchers at Harvard, Columbia University and MIT became interested in discovering sounds created by different metal objects when struck by a mallet or beater. This inspired the team to computationally design a 3D printed metallophone, with a sound quality close to professionally manufactured instruments.

The team of researchers were able to produce a set of optimised 2D water jet cut animals and 3D printed cups which together form a musical scale. The team took user-supplied 3D shapes and target frequencies, modelling the geometry of the object to realise the desired pitch and amplitude of each part. In typical manufacturing process of metallophones, each metal bar has a manually-tuned ‘dimple’, usually on its underside—not the side which is struck with the mallet. This dimple is usually added after the bar itself has been created, and serves to provide each bar with its unique frequency.

The 3D printed metallophone project allows designers to design the tuned instrument in one go. This removes the need for a manually-tuned dimple, as the ‘tuned’ object can be fully designed with optimised CAD software. The software is even able to provide users with a sample sound that the printed object will emit when struck.

The special optimisation of object geometries requires the navigation of a complex energy landscape. To make this process more efficient, the team deployed Latin Complement Sampling to speed up finding minima and provide probabilistic bounds on landscape exploration. As well as producing near-professional sounding instruments, this method also expands the scope of shape and sound that can be produced. The technique permits the optimisation of sound spectra so that overtones can be created—a single object can, for example, be struck to emit three octaves of the same note, producing a richer, fuller sound. It also allows for the dampening of specific frequencies.

The team of researchers believe that their technique will allow even novices to design metallophones with unique sound and appearance. Their own aesthetically pleasing design contains ‘keys’ shaped like animals and cups. The team’s paper, in which the findings of the project are detailed in full, can be found here.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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