Pneumatic technology is usually associated with machine control, but at the Medical Design & Manufacturing West Conference in Anaheim, Calif., it was about music.
Clippard Instrument Laboratory Inc., a maker of pneumatic components, demonstrated a guitar that employs 62 air cylinders and 62 pneumatic valves to play music. The brainchild of company namesake Rob Clippard, the guitar uses a combination of 5/16th-inch and 5/32-inch air cylinders to strum its six strings. It also employs a half-inch-diameter cylinder to provide an "acoustic thump" for the music.
Clippard's air guitar uses a combination of 5/16-inch and 5/32-inch air cylinders to strum its six strings. A half-inch-diameter cylinder provides percussion. (Source: Clippard Instrument Laboratory Inc.)
"Rob's musical, and he grew up with Clippard technology, so he just combined the two," says Edward Ehrhardt, sales application engineer for Clippard.
The Air Guitar plays Rob Clippard's own original songs, which are encoded in MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) protocol files. The files are communicated from an iPad to a microcontroller-based I/O board, which decides which valves to fire.
At the show, the Air Guitar drew crowds as it played a running loop of Rob's music.
The Air Guitar isn't his first foray into pneumatic music. He previously designed a 6-foot-diameter "music tree," which employed air to play strings, whistles, and cow bells. The musical tree is now housed at the Cincinnati Museum of Natural History.
Air Guitar Videos
Here's a video shot by the author at the MD&M conference:
Very cool riff on the air guitar and as vimalkumarp notes, a noteable effort to link art, music, and technology. My question for you Chuck is beyond the cool factor, what's the greater takeaway for engineers employing pneumatics in terms of how they too can leverage similar capabiliites to come with designs and controls that are out of the ordinary?
Beth: Pneumatics has always been known for its use in high-speed, precise motion applications, so I don't think this application would come as a shock to anyone who knows the technology. But this is one of those applications that looks more obvious in retrospect. I think the takeaway is its use in applications outside the prescribed boundaries of our usual thinking. I suspect there are other applications out there that don't require any great advances in technology, but just need someone like Rob Clippard who is willing to think outside the box.
So more of an inspiration and a reminder for engineers to think out of the box, even for well-known, highly established technologies. That in itself is an important lesson and one everyone needs to be consistently reminded of. Thanks for sharing, Chuck.
Out of the box? Actually pneumatic control and pre-computer age playback of musical instruments is an old concept. Some player pianos used air escaping through the slits in the piano rolls to control the hammers! And some of the carousel mechanical bands did likewise.
One of the pitfalls with mechanizing musical instruments is extraneous noise produced by the actuators. The clicking of the mechanical fingers of Clippard's air guitar would be unacceptable in a serious implementation.
Well, bronorb, its time for your humble opinion to change. Mechanized instruments can and do sound amazing when the engineering is done right. Check out Zenph Studios. These folks have developed a technology via DSP analysis of older audio performances of piano recitals that are turned into control files for reproducing the original physical performance and playing it back on a piano as though the dead performer was there!
bdcst, I don't think we're comparing apples to apples here. Why would I listen to an automated piano playing Gershwin (derived from an actual Gershwin performance) when I could just listen to the recording myself? Also, the Gershwin recording is ONE example of a performance by Gershwin of that piece of music. Do you think he played it exactly the same for every performance? Were other performances different? Better? Worse?
That is my point.The reason for recording music is to capture a single performance. If this is what the automated equipment is doing, it is no different than listening to a vinyl record, CD, tape, or mp3 file.
The nuance, expression, attitude, emotion and soul of the musician is what makes it special. You get none of that with a machine.
In the (Zenth Studios) reproduction instance you get all of the performer's nuances except for actually watching the performer who is long dead. And the reason for reproducing the performance on a real instrument, voiced to sound like the correct period instrument is to hear as close a reproduction to the original performance as possible. Nothing is more high fidelity than hearing an instrument with your own ears! Second best is a modern hi definition digital audio recording of that re-created performance. While you can listen for technique, timing, interpretation, you can also hear a lot more nuanced tonality and sound from a modern recording than an old scratchy acitate of low bandwidth and poor frequency stability, wow and flutter.
This type of performance restoration and instrument automation is a new era for the long sought after technology of capturing the moment for posterity. The Kodak moment! And it does work even if you doubt it.
Of course, short of being there you cannot recreate being in the live audience. But that too will happen someday as we learn to store infinitely more data and read it out at faster and faster rates with dirt cheap digital processors.
Yes, the performance is frozen in time and will not vary as it would if you attended multiple concerts of the same program. That's not the point. They're not trying to eliminate the human artist, at least not yet!
I see your point and I agree with the historical aspect of it. It would be interesting to hear the performance LIVE on an instrument from that period. But once would be enough. Other than that, I don't see the value in it. I would rather hear a new performer and their interpretation.
I think the takeaway here is the power to explore different possibilities. This kind of exercises will help to find out soultions hitherto thought impossible. It is one form of TRIZ I would say. Solving problems in one domain using the proven expertise in another domain. I know i am not really hitting the target here but the idea here is similar to that of using ultrasound to measure blood pressure. Though ultrasound is not an obvious choice for this, it can still be used.
What fun! I agree with vimalkumarp, this is a great example of what's possible when you think creatively about design: "what if we could..." "what would happen if..." This is the essence of what's been happening in Silicon Valley for several decades and anywhere engineers are encouraged and allowed to think outside the box.
Nice video, Chuck, and an interesting story. Do you have any idea what Rob plans to do with his air guitar? Doesn't seem like it's the type of gadget that would become a consumer product. Perhaps it works to show off his company's capabilities.
Right now, Rob, it looks like it's just going to serve as an attention-getter at trade shows. It's certainly very good at that. I was at the MD&D show for two days last week and this guitar consistently clogged the aisle around the Clippard booth.
Good exercise in engineering but means nothing musically. Guitars are a delicate combination of wood, steel, and sometimes electricity. When a human being puts fingers to the strings is when the magic happens. An iPad keyboard? Gimme a break. People are always looking for a way to play a guitar without actually picking one up and learning how to play. Yeah, it's not easy, but that's the point. If it was easy, everyone would do it.
I see a human versus machine guitar "shredding" contest here. Just like the battle between Garry Kasparov and IBM's Deep Blue, how about pitting this contraption against some of the guitar greats and see what happens over the next few years as technology works on catching up....
Now that's a darn shame. I think it would be very instructive to operate this gadget. Playing with a device like this embeds the technology into the brain. There's no way to appreciate it like pushing the button and seeing what happens.
A couple of folks have obliquely referenced this technology, over 100 years old. The Vorsetzer (invented in Germany around 1900 or so, so named because it "sat in front" of the piano for playback) was an ingenious mechanism that could actually record a performance by a master pianist (some of the artists that were recorded by these devices included Lizst, Chopin, and many other greats of that era). It recorded all of the nuances including finger motions, angles and speeds along with the same for pedals. I have some old extremely high-quality LPs that were made in the glory days of vinyl (late 1950's- early 1960s) with the Vorsetzer playing (on the same instrument used for the original recording, usually a Steinway or similar concert-quality piano). Thus I can actually hear performances that were done many years before the electronic technology had advanced to the level of true "stereo high-fidelity." There are many web sites about these amazing contraptions, and they even show up occasionally on eBay!
As a rather mediocre guitarist myself, I do understand that this new re-invention is only a curiosity today, with little or no musical value. That is most certainly not true of the earlier types, including the Vorsetzer, that did indeed provide a capability that could not, at the time, be attained any other way.
Try Google or Wikipedia. I did, although I was already somewhat familiar with the device from the LPs I have. I'll check the liner notes when I get a chance to visit my "archives." It was some type of analog (not electronic, of course, possibly pneumatic), not sure of te medium.
It was easier to find than I thought. It's actually a boxed set (6 sides, each with several pieces), but has NO liner notes (that I could find; they must be somewhere!), only what's on the label! This set was issued (mid-60s) by, of all things, the Book-of-the Month Club. 95% of the works are played by their composers. The list on the box cover includes Busoni, Debussy, Hofmann, Ravel, Paderewski, Grieg, Carreno, Faure, d'Albert, Saint-Saens, Leschetizky, Scriabin, Grunfeld, Richard Strauss, Scharwenka, Mahler, Gabrielowitsch, Josef Lhevinne, Granados, and De Pachmann. Excuse my inability to remember the keystroke combinations for the tildes, umlauts, etc. that are missing! The set title is "Legendary Masters of the Piano" issued by the Classics Record Library with the number 5735.
Charles, here's a link to look at. http://www.mmdigest.com/Pictures/Welte/seismic.html
Turns out that one of the vorsetzer/recorder makers (the one used to make the recordings that were later placed on my album, Welte) used recording seimograph technology! It was largely pneumatic technology (supplied by Auto Pneumatic Action Company).
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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