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These 20 Unorthodox Instruments Are Making the Music of the Future

When it comes to the Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition—the "X-Prize of musical instruments”—basic clarinets and guitars need not apply.

The Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition doesn’t crown any old clarinet or guitar. Nicknamed the “X-Prize of musical instruments,” the annual Georgia Tech competition showcases the revolutionary ideas and innovations that are changing the way music is made and experienced, and highlights some of the best instrument makers in the world. “A lot of what the judges have to deal with is trying to define for themselves what it means to be a musical instrument. Then they can begin to understand what is an effective or a particularly exemplary or transformative example,” explains Jason Freeman, an assistant professor at the school of music in the preview video.


This year, the competition featured 20 semifinalists, with instruments that ranged from sculptable interfaces to the Space Age string instrument, the Yaybahar. Below, check out the nominees, and stay tuned for the winners who will be announced in February:

1. Dulsitar by Judy Piazza

A combination of a dulcimer and a sitar, the dulsitar is specially designed to accompany devotional chanting.

2. Yaybahar by Görkem Şen

The Yaybahar is an all-acoustic instrument that makes cosmic low-end sounds. Listen to its otherworldly music here.

3. Dualo Du-Touch by Jules Hotrique

The Dualo Du-Touch might look like the accordion of the future, but the battery-powered instrument is unique in that it's an all-in-one controller, synthesizer, and looping sequencer with geometric keys whose notes are arranged in a simple, intuitive layout.

4. The D-Box by Victor Zappi and Andrew McPherson

This digital instrument is a 15cm wooden cube that bears a battery, a speaker, and an embedded BeagleBone Black, a miniature open hardware and software computer.

Photo: Alice Bell. Image via

5. Nomis by Jonathan Sparks

Jonathan Sparks' octagonal instrument aims to give loop-based music composers more power through the ability to manipulate sounds using gestures and light.

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6. ndial by Peter Busigel

"The ndial combines automated sampling and sequencing with manual controls to navigate sound worlds in unpredictable ways," explains creator Peter Busigel. Learn about the arcane sound box here.


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7. PushPull by Dominik Hildebrand, Marques Lopes, Amelie Hinrichsen, and Till Bovermann

This bellow-based hybrid accordion went though many iterations, which its creators have documented here.

8. Magnetic Percussion Tower by Ed Potokar

Ed Potokar's twisting sonic culpture is built from springs, steel, oak, aluminum, magnets, and an electronic motor.

9. Tine Organ by Matthew Steinke

This MIDI-controlled acoustic organ uses electromagnets and steel tines to create sounds similar to a pipe organ you'd hear in a cathedral.

10. Cantor Digitalis by Christophe d'Alessandro, Boris Doval, Lionel Feugère, and Olivier Perrotin

d'Alessandro, Doval, Feugère, and Perrotin's singing software translates data from hand gestures on a graphical tablet into sounds.

11. The Holophone by Daniel Iglesia

Tactile and vocal inputs become sounds and three-dimensional shape in real-time with the help of the Holophone.

12. Buildacode by Mónica Rikić

By manipulating Mónica Rikić's friendly foam cubes, children and adults alike can learn to "code" music.

13. Turner Winch by D. Turner Matthews

The ethereal-sounding Turner Winch involves the three stringed instruments that Matthews built for his Senior Composition Thesis. Listen to its ambiant sounds below and see more of Matthews' works here.

Performance Part II from David Matthews on Vimeo.

14. SculpTon by Alberto Boem

SculpTon is "A malleable interface for music expression oriented to live performances, which combines a deformable input surface and an embodied sound model of the human voice," explains Boem.


15. The O-Bow by Dylan Menzies

Simply put: O-bow is a sensor-based musical instrument played like a string instrument. Watch a demonstration here.

16. Aural Cavity by Sang Won Lee

Sang Won Lee's developed a creative way to transform feedback noise into beautiful music.

17. Ondes Martenot by Suzanne Farrin

This space-sounding electronic instrument was invented in 1928, but now it's undergoing a revival at the fingertips of musicians like Suzanne Farrin.

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18. Feedback Synth by Krzysztof Cybulski

Cybulski's experiment to control the frequency of acoustic feedback using MIDI keyboards sounds like a signal from extraterrestrials and looks like a robot.

19. GePS, Gesture-based Performance System by Cedric Spindler & Frederic Robinson

This data glove enables wearers to create music with hand gestures.

20. The sponge by Martin Marier

Marier laced a piece of foam with sensors that can detect when it's squeezed, twisted, or shaken. Watch him use it in this live performance.


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