March 11, 2009 New technology means new ways to create and express music and new types of interfaces that broaden the definition of a "musical instrument" way beyond traditional parameters. Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology seeks to recognize the creators of new musical instruments with the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition. The first winners of the competition include a robotic guitar, SLABS touch pad and a Silent Drum that generates sound by manipulating the elastic spandex head of a drum shell.

Jaime Oliver’s Silent Drum was the big winner taking first prize. The instrument is a drum shell with an elastic spandex head, illuminated from the inside, that uses shapes and shadows to compute and control sound. As the player pushes down on the spandex head, a video camera tracks the shape of the resultant shadows and sends these images to the computer, which analyzes them and outputs the tracked parameters to control the sound of the instrument. Oliver says the Silent Drum, “opens up new possibilities for gestural control of sound, through the acquisition of traditional and non-traditional percussive gestures.” (watch the demo below and let us know what you think).

Other entries included Sorisu, which responds and accompanies a player’s movements in the game Soduko; the Tongue Music System; and a star-and-circle-shaped contraption with exposed wires that uttered slow, mysterious sounds.

Guest judges Eran Egozy, of video game development company Harmonix Music Systems, and digital music writer Eliot Van Buskirk joined the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology to score the instruments for their musicality, design and engineering. The panel selected Oliver’s Silent Drum ahead of a robotic guitar created by Eric Singer from the League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) in second place and the SLABS Touch Pads by David Wessel of the Center of New Music and Audio Technologies at the University of California, Berkeley, which took third place. The competition doled out more than USD$15,000 in prizes and will become an annual event.

Darren Quick