Student Emil Ernstrom with his “hurdy-gurdy” prototype (left), and his final design of the “Wild Hurd” (right).
This past semester, students from the Center for Engineering Innovation and Creative Design visited the Collection with their professors for the course ENAS344/MUSI371 – Musical Acoustics and Instrument Design. This course combined the concepts of musical acoustics with the design and construction of musical instruments. Theoretical concepts were supplemented with historical and musical perspectives on instrument design, and culminated in the creation of novel musical instruments.
Kaifeng Wu examines the Collection’s Stroh viola (left) and explains his design of a continually resonating string (right).
The students toured the museum in February and were presented with examples of both standard and innovative instrument design. Instruments such as our Stroh viola, walking stick violin, nyckelharpa, and hurdy-gurdy were offered as representatives of uncommon and avant-garde construction, while the backdrop of our permanent collection provided a well-curated sampling of traditional instrument making.
Upstairs in our keyboard gallery, the students encountered the other major element of both their course and music making: the acoustical environment. We’ve collaborated with the engineering department before to help describe the acoustical phenomenon of our keyboard gallery, which doubles as a performance hall for our concert series. The space serves as a prime example that the acoustical properties of the room in which sound is produced is just as important as the resonant qualities of the instrument which creates it. Although many students also explored electronic means of amplification, the study of acoustical science helped to provide the fundamental understanding for musical instrument design.
Professor Larry Wilen explains a design prototype (left). Elias Brown with his final product: “The Hollywood Bowl Live” (right).
Later in the semester, the museum staff was in turn invited to tour through the CEID to observe the students at work during their lab hours. Professor Larry Wilen was on hand to elaborate on the works in progress, while the students were focused on utilizing the resources the CEID had to offer. Our staff encountered innovative elements such as 3D printed mouthpieces, laser-cut instrument bodies, and arcade game-style buttons for keys.
Jack McAllister presents his instrument “Light Fingered.”
The course culminated on May 4th with a live demonstration of each newly created instrument. The students eagerly showcased their designs to an audience of invited guests and performed upon their final products which were simply only ideas less than six weeks before. An article by WNPR journalist Patrick Skahill detailing the evening’s event, along with video and audio example, can be found here.
We enjoyed our collaboration with the students and faculty of the Engineering Department and look forward to seeing and hearing what sights and sounds emerge from the desks of the CEID lab in future.