University shows off its weird music instruments that Queen Mary’s boffins come up with

Youngster enjoying Dr McPherson's music lecture at Queen Mary's

Youngster enjoying Dr McPherson's music lecture at Queen Mary's - Credit: QMUL promo

Traditional instruments have been transformed by computer science to create sounds previously impossible which were demonstrated at the annual Children’s Christmas lecture in east London.

Dr Andrew McPherson demonstrates how you can tweek a piano by computer

Dr Andrew McPherson demonstrates how you can tweek a piano by computer - Credit: QMUL promo

The lecture by Dr Andrew McPherson at Queen Mary University in Mile End showed limitations of traditional instruments.

He also presented some of his own creations to the audience of students, parents, teachers and the public.

“There are lots of things you can do with a piano,” he told them. “But one thing you can’t do is continuously shape a note after you’ve played it. You press a key, the hammer hits the string—and that’s it.”

As a viola player, Andrew is used to altering notes by bending the pitch or playing vibrato, for example.

Willing young helpers were enlisted to improvise on one of Andrew’s own creations, the Magnetic Resonator piano, which allows you to keep shaping the sound even after pressing down, by altering pressure, position and other elements.

“There’s this whole world that lives between the notes,” Andrew revealed added. “In some ways, the world that exists between the notes is more interesting.”

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His talk at the university’s Institute of Engineering & Technology also demonstrated TouchKeys, a new musical instrument that transforms the piano-style keyboard into an expressive multi-touch control surface. These are ‘touch’ sensors that can be added to the surface of any keyboard, measuring the location of the musician’s fingers on the keys during performance.

Festive mince pies and hot drinks were dished out after the lecture, served at an exhibition of instruments created in the university’s School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science. The instruments on show ranged from the Arduinitar controlled guitar to the Collidorscope collaborative musical microscope.

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