A Ph.D. candidate in the Hyperinstruments Group of the MIT Media Lab has developed a new electronic sensing system to measure minute changes in the position, acceleration and strain of a violin bow.
The system can be used to evaluate different bowing techniques and may expand the expressive possibilities of the violin by electronic means, according to Diana Young, who built the gesture sensing system for the Hyperbow.
Young recently spoke about her work at the 151st meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) in Providence, R.I., and at the sixth International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression in Paris.
The Hyperbow is an enhanced bow, used in conjunction with a Hyperviolin. The latter, another product of the MIT Media Lab, is an instrument that makes no sound but creates an electronic output when played. The Hyperviolin can readily be played by anyone used to an acoustic violin.
"Electronic music is a way of combining my interests in music and engineering," Young said.
Young, who has a B.A. in music from Johns Hopkins University and a certificate in violin performance from the Peabody Conservatory, built the gesture-sensing system for her master's degree, which she received from MIT in 2001. Designed as a performance interface for professional violinists, the Hyperbow includes a set of accelerometers, gyroscopes and force sensors all installed on a carbon fiber bow.
Because the system is wireless, it interferes only minimally with the violinist's bowing.
Both the Hyperbow and the Hyperviolin have been played in concert, by the renowned violinist Joshua Bell among others; several composers, including MIT's Tod Machover, have created new compositions for them.
The Hyperbow premiered at the 2002 Conference on New Instruments for Musical Expression in Dublin. (You can hear samples of Hyperviolin music on the Toy Symphony web site, www.toysymphony.net, then follow links for Sound and Images/Dublin - National Symphony Orchestra/AUDIO Samples.)
The Hyperbow is just the latest in a series of Media Lab inventions on the vanguard of musical expression. Hypercello and Hyperinstruments were developed at the Media Lab by Joe Paradiso, Neil Gershenfeld and composer Tod Machover in the 1990s.
An abstract of Young's paper is available via the ASA web site.