Georgia Tech Competition Explores New Musical Frontiers

These instruments won’t be showing up in your local music store in the near future, but they sure look cool. Held at Georgia Tech, the first annual Guthman Musical Instrument Competition provided music-loving inventors with an outlet for their ingenuity. Entrants were required to create a new type of instrument and perform a composition using it before a panel of judges. The guidelines provided plenty of freedom in terms of what would would be considered a viable entry: “Instruments may generate sound acoustically or electronically, they may exist in physical or virtual manifestations, and they may be played by humans, robots, or computers. They may modify, improve, or extend existing instruments — including the human voice – or they may offer entirely new design paradigms.” The contest was founded by Sharon Galloway in honor of her late husband, who led the school’s Department of Architecture for over a decade. Judges were provided by Georgia Tech and sponsors Wired and Harmonix, the company responsible for Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Copies of the latter game were awarded to 4th, 5th, and 6th place winners, while the grand prize winner took home $5,000.

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More than 60 entries were presented during the judging days at the end of February. Some instruments looked like they belonged in a robotics lab, while others would have fit in at Toys ‘R’ Us — one consisted of a Sudoku puzzle board that changed its tune, depending on the success of the player’s progress. Another contestant created handheld MIDI controllers to bring “air guitar” to life. The winning “Silent Drum” involves the manipulation of light and shadows to generate computerized sound.

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