World Music's DIVERSITY and Data Visualisation's EXPRESSIVE POWER collide. A galaxy of INTERACTIVE, SCORE-DRIVEN instrument model and theory tool animations is born.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


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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Instrument Models

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.

The lute family is perhaps hundreds of instruments strong. A few 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.

Generic Configuration Base

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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


About Cantillate -

Autodidact. Laird o' the Windy Wa's. Serial Failure with Attitude. Bit of a Dreamer..

Comments, questions and (especially) critique welcome.