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Jonathan Sparks playing the Nomis musical instrument (via the artist)

Instruments that translate electronic music into physical actions and acoustic instruments that sound as space-age as any synthesizer are just some of the 20 semi-finalists in the 2015 Guthman Musical Instrument Competition. The annual competition hosted by the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) is now in its seventh year of celebrating new ideas in musical instrument design.

On February 20, Georgia Tech will host a finals concert (which will also be live streamed) featuring the sonorous creations. From the Cantor Digitalis open-source, singing software, controlled by hand gestures, to Matthew Steinke’s acoustic Tine Organ, controlled by MIDI, that has the sound depth of a cathedral pipe organ, there’s an impressive mix of innovative engineering for music. Below is a playlist of five of the finalists.


Turkish musician Görkem Şen’s yaybahar is a completely acoustic stringed instrument played with a mallet, which sounds as futuristic as anything out of Mos Eisley Cantina. This effect comes from the vibrations of the strings, which connect through coiled springs to the drum frames, where they’re transformed into sound that echoes back and forth.


Brooklyn-based artist and musician Jonathan Sparks created the Nomis to take loop-based music “up off of the floor, out from behind the laptop.” The device is controlled by spinning an octagonal wheel between two towers of light to record and then transfer the sound.


GePS (Gesture-based Performance System) by the Swiss artistic duo Cedric Spindler and Frederic Robinson is a performance-based system where music applications can be controlled through hand movements in a special glove embedded with sensors. You can even build your own through Creative Commons-licensed documentation.


The du-touch by French collaborators Brun Verbruggh and Jules Hotrique looks a bit like a galactic accordion with its two-sided body and honeycomb of LED keys. These light up when you’re learning to play a song, making it as intuitive as gaming, and the instrument includes a synthesizer and a feature to loop sequences.


Much like the Holophonor of Futurama, the Holophone by California-based Daniel Iglesia creates three-dimensional images as it’s played. These are projected in real-time based on both tactile and vocal input, and are seen through 3D glasses.

The Finals Concert of the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition will be on February 20 at 7pm in the Klaus Building Atrium at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...