Georgia Tech Competition is a Breeding Ground for Genuinely New Musical Instruments


Teri Nagel, Georgia Tech College of Architecture

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This year’s winning invention lets you make music with everyday objects

  • MO MO
  • MindBox Slot Machine MindBox Slot Machine
  • Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee

The third annual Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition at Georgia Tech’s Center for Music Technology awarded first prize to “MO,” a system by French group Interlude Consortium that enables sophisticated music-making with everyday objects such as kitchen utensils and soccer balls. MO was one of 20 inventions evaluated for musicality, design and engineering by an expert panel including Tom Oberheim, inventor of the first polyphonic music synthesizer; Sergi Jorda, inventor of the reacTable tabletop musical instrument; and Georgia Tech Professor Jason Freeman.

Inventor-composers from six countries came to discuss their ideas and perform on their instruments. This year’s top picks included:

“The quality of the entries this year was extremely high and very diverse,” said Freeman. “Some entries were acoustic or mechanical extensions to instruments, and others were primarily software-based or hardware-based.”

Entrants ranged from hobbyists—a security guard and a first year medical student—to academics who develop new musical instruments as a profession.

"We want the Guthman Competition to continue expanding its reach, around the globe and across disciplines,” said Gil Weinberg, director of the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology. "It seems that every year our entries push the envelope further, exploring new ways in which new instruments can lead to novel forms of music expression."

MO was awarded a grand prize of $5,000 by Tech alumnus Richard Guthman in honor of his musician wife, Margaret. In total, $10,000 in cash was awarded to the best novel musical instruments.

“[The judges] were inspired by the sort of wonder of MO—that anything can become a musical instrument—along with the hard work and engineering that went into creating a form factor that is really robust, compact and extensible, and the software that makes it so easy to use,” Freeman explained. “It’s a platform for making new instruments as much as it is an instrument.”

“MO was designed with a large scope of applications in music and performing arts,” said Frederic Bevilacqua, a researcher at IRCAM in France, and MO’s presenter at the competition (along with Julien Bloit, and with sounds from Andrea Cera). The easy-to-use software makes MO a prime tool for youth music education, and is being tested in that area. MO was created in the framework of the Interlude project by a consortium of six organizations: IRCAM (coordinator), NoDesign, DaFact, Grame, Atelier des Feuillantines and Voxler. It is supported by ANR (French National Agency for Research) and Cap Digital. Phonotonic also is a contributor.

Second prize winner MindBox Slot Machine was commended by the judges for its “ingenuity for instrument design.” The instrument is encased in a vintage slot machine and centers on a very powerful idea in music: a modern take on the idea of the canon composition, where three discrete voices represented by the three slots are controlled independently.

“MindBox interprets a very simple concept that’s been with us for hundreds of years into a very powerful mechanism that is easy to perform on, and also can create—with practice—really compelling, sophisticated music,” said Freeman.

MindBox’s creators at the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe are planning an international traveling exhibition. “We are in negotiations with Asian and European museums,” said Berlin based artist and composer Christain Graupner, who presented the instrument at the competition. MindBox is a work from the media art installation series H.RPMC (Re-Performing Musical Charakters).

Leon Gruenbaum, a New York musician and a graduate of Harvard University, captured third prize with Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Cheeepeeeee, a patented MIDI controller in the form of a modified ergonomic keyboard. The instrument's keystrokes denote changes of pitch, rather than fixed pitches, allowing the performer to play the exact same sequence of keys no matter what key signature he or she is in, simplifying finger patterns and allowing unusual, rapid improvisational flurries.

Gruenbaum has performed internationally with this instrument in his own group "Genes and Machines," as well as with guitarists Vernon Reid (Living Colour), James Blood Ulmer and others.

Four other entrants that were selected for the final performances are:

A call for entries to the 2012 Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition is scheduled to open in August 2011. Visit for updates.

The Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology is an international center for creative and technological research in music. Through collaborative partnerships, startup companies, interdisciplinary research projects and experimental performances, the center produces new modes of expression for performance, composition and listening. The annual Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition is a platform for reaching out to the rest of the world and bringing like-minded inventors and composers together to develop their ideas and careers.

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Center for Music Technology, Compose Music, computer music, Guthman Competition, music technology
  • Created By: Teri Nagel
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Mar 4, 2011 - 2:05pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:08pm