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Tuesday, July 12, 2016


World Music Instrument Models - Complete Configuration Freedom

Data visualisation techniques give us complete control over the configuration of world instruments - by instrument family. Rather than model just one instance of a given instrument, we can model each and every variation, allowing us -in time- to model at least 80% of the world's instruments from scratch. What applies to instrument models applies equally to the various associated theory tools.
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World Music Instrument Models

World music instruments have been broken down by form according to a number of classification systems, perhaps the most widely used being that of Hornbostel-Sachs. Here from around a half a dozen generic instrument families, a swath of different instrument forms are described. It should be noted that the instrument form covers the main aspects of construction, use and play but NOT finer-grain musical qualities such as number of channels or courses, tunings, scale lengths, temperament and intonation or even pitch. These latter qualities fall under 'function' - which Hornbostel-Sachs makes no attempt to quantify.

Generic Instrument Configuration Base

One of these instrument families, the 'lute' family is perhaps a few hundred instruments strong. Many share both 'form' (construction features), and musical 'function' (tunings etc) with other lute family members. A few lute family member examples?
Generic Specific Instrument Model Heirarchy Geneology Family Tree. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Instrument Configurations: from Generic to Specific
Base Instrument Builder (Configuration) Menu. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Base Configuration Menu
Moreover, what can be done for lutes can be done for any other instrument family, and we are free to reuse their underlying component definitions across a variety of other, indirectly related instruments.

In practise this means we can, with time, expect to build an entire global compendium of world music instruments - their implementation all guided by the same principles, conventions and configuration mechanisms.

Complete Configuration Freedom

The short video above (derived from in-browser experiments as part of a proof-of-concept) demonstrates simple principles applying to perhaps 80% of all world music instruments, namely:
  • the range of configuration characteristics is very limited
  • their impact on each other is simple and predictable
  • they can be both modelled -and manipulated- directly in the browser.
What this means is that from one (here 'lute-like') generic base, we can configure a not just a particular instance of a lute (such as guitar), but the entire lute family.

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Indeed, perhaps 80% of all world music instruments can be configured directly in the browser from one or more generic (instrument family) bases.

In the case of the lute family instruments, configuration is governed by:
  • temperament or intonation
  • number of notes per octave
  • scale length
  • number of channels
  • a general layout
The latter, layout is one common to all lutes, and defined by their description and position in the Hornbostel-Sachs classification system.

For certain instruments, there are aspects of layout relating to musical qualities NOT governed by Hornbostel-Sachs. Keyboard layouts, for example, are diverse, sometimes corresponding more to a tonnetz or lattice than simple arrays.C System Chromatic, diatonic Irish, Janko, Bayan).

Configuration Hierarchy

Bağlama (saz) Configuration. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory

<Bağlama (saz) Configuration
For each instrument family, the configuration hierarchy follows the layered, physical construction of the instrument concerned.
For a Turkish bağlama (saz), for example, from our generic base (the fingerboard with a default number of frets), we
  • add 3 courses and a moveable capo
  • reconfigure the frets to match 17 tones per octave
  • re-space the frets to conform to a desired regional form of just intonation
  • tune each of the courses to the desired Turkish tuning
  • adjust the instrument's scale length

Finally, we may decide the capo is not after all required. A tap or click and it's gone.

Schneider's Switchboard guitar & fingerboards
Instrument configuration can be done directly in the browser and saved for general community use.

This is neither trivial, nor is it 'clever' programming. It is, as with the instruments themselves, artisanal: requiring time, patience and meticulous attention to detail.

It is, however, entirely reusable, which more than repays the effort.

Configuration Order

List of Single Reed Wind Instruments, hinting at configuration tree size. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
Single Reed Wind Instruments
Clearly, any later adjustments to configuration can have impact on the rest of the configuration hierarchy.

These dependencies imply that -depending on configuration item depth in the hierarchy- everything 'downstream', that is to say physically above it on the instrument construction hierarchy, is adjusted to match.

The result is an -in practice sometimes huge- tree of potential configurations.

For single reed wind instruments (diagram to the right), for example, the list of instrument families hints at the it's size.

Yet once this order has been found, we have the key to component reuse - not just across the lute family, but across a vast range of related instrument families.

This is world music: diverse, intriguing, and (to 'western' ears and eyes) poorly understood. Enter the era of music visualisation and comparative musicology.

A galaxy of interactive, score-driven instrument model and theory tool animations is born. #VisualFutureOfMusic #WorldMusicInstrumentsAndTheory
A Galaxy of Musical Models Is Born


online music learning,
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music visualisation
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musical instrument models
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comparative musicology
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P2P musical interworking,
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WebGL, Web3D,
WebVR, WebAR
Virtual Reality,
Augmented or Mixed Reality
Artificial Intelligence,
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Scalar Vector Graphics,
3D Cascading Style Sheets,

Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.