New sounds and sights from old technology: “Cracked Ray Tube.” (Photo by Rob Felt)
All that and more was on display this past Thursday and Friday at the 2012 Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, an annual event to find the world’s best new ideas for combining music, design and engineering. The two-day competition took place in the atrium of Georgia Tech’s Klaus Advanced Computing Building.
Jason Freeman, a composer and an assistant professor at Georgia Tech’s School of Music, says the contest is a way to challenge the definition of what a musical instrument really is in our modern technological culture. “And inevitably the discourse surrounding that question becomes an integral part of the competition itself,” says Freeman, who is also director of Sonic Generator, Georgia Tech’s technology-oriented music ensemble-in-residence.
The top prize in the competition went to Marco Donnarumma for a biophysical interactive system called “Xth Sense.” Human muscles vibrate in ways that resemble the vibrations in acoustic instruments, though they are of course normally inaudible. Donnarumma, based in Edinburgh, Scotland, captures these vibrations through a combination of hardware and software to produce audible sonic events.
The second-place entry, “Cracked Ray Tube,” is described as “a collaborative hardware hacking project” by its Chicago-based creators, Kyle Evans and James Connolly. It involves self-generated audio-video feedback between two obsolete technologies: analog televisions and CRT computer monitors.
Taking third place was “LIGHTUNE.G” by Bohan Gagic and Miodrag Gladović, both from Croatia. The device harnesses the photovoltaic effect using arrays of solar panels. Electric currents are generated when the panels are exposed to light sources, which serve as input to create and control amplified audio soundscapes.
The panel of judges comprised Cyril Lance, chief engineer at Moog Music; media artist and researcher Atau Tanaka; and Parag Chordia of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology.