In development for 8 years with funding of over £10m / $16.5m, the Eigenharp is a slow-crafted technological marvel. 120 keys (each one tilting to give a flexible tone), percussion buttons, built-in sound management capabilities including recording, playback and looping, and a potentially limitless range of noises thanks to running on uploaded digitally sampled sounds. It is played via keyboard, tap-pad and mouthpiece – and the result is an instrument that sounds like a band.
2. Electric Violin
Similarly digitally enhanced are the electric violins, a family of new hybrid instruments that are sufficiently well-established to become a mainstay of the modern music scene. Thanks to electrical pickups inside or outside the instrument’s body, the violin’s vibrations are run through electronic processing and transformed into any sound under the sun – most effectively, the noise of an electric guitar. Witness the magic of Ed Alleyne-Johnson performing on the streets of Chester, England.
No, this isn’t the first good-to-go version of Minesweeper: this baby is for making beautiful music with. The 16 x 16 grid of LED lights on the Tenori-On responds to touch and to real-time looped programming, creating soaring, rippling compositions that mesmerise beginners and experts alike (Peter Gabriel is a fan). If you want a hands-on demonstration of its power, try Andre Michelle’s ToneMatrix, an online AudioTool-powered simulation.
Musical instrument or chest expander? You’d be forgiven for asking – but the Samchillian is a new, ergonomic-minded take on the keyed instrument, with each key representing a relative, not fixed, note. As the musician plays, the function of each part of the instrument is constantly changing, allowing a full range of musical expression (provided the player has a really good memory, of course).
And moving further into the realm of instruments that look like anything but – we have the BeatBearing. Instead of generating noise itself, the BB triggers the timing of preselected types of percussion – simply drop a steel ball-bearing in the right slot to get the beat you want, when you want. The inventor isn’t interested in manufacturing his design: instead, he has published the plans on DIY-tech online magazine MakeZine to encourage people to build their own – and with more than 1 million views of the Youtube demo (below) at the start of this year, we reckon there will be plenty of takers.
6. Hapi Drum
At least the Hapi looks like what it is (well, kinda) – a steel drum with a hole in the base that allows the player to control the amount of noise emerging, using their lap. Since each key (or “tongue”) is part of the main body of the instrument, each note is accompanied by a subtle resonant harmony from other musically compatible notes. Time for a demonstration, methinks…
At first sight, you’re looking at a lady trying to listen to her iPod underwater, and a collection of buff young people stood up in a hot-tub. In fact in both pictures depict music-making, via an electroencephalophone – a device that converts brainwaves into sound (and therefore a quintephone). The lady is psychotherapist Ariel Garten participating in a concert performance – and the “hot-tub” trio are an electroencephalophonist and two assistants accompanying on electrocardiophones.