Art & Sculpture

Eight 3D printed musical instruments coming to Ottawa Symphony Orchestra

The Ottawa Symphony Orchestra’s (OSO) 3D String Theory Project has designed, and will produce, eight functional 3D printed string instruments for a live classical performance at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum (CASM) later this year.

This project is a collaborative effort between the OSO, Canadian violin maker, Charline Dequincey, additive manufacturing network Canada Makes, and Winnipeg’s Industrial Technology Centre. New York-based Composer Harry Stafylakis will also write an original piece of music to be performed at the orchestral debut influenced by the new sounds made from the 3D printed instruments.

Making music with 3D printing

The 3D String Theory Project is an ongoing project that explores the possibilities of creating new sounds and instruments using emerging technologies.

Although 3D printed polymer materials have yet to match the sound quality and resonance of wooden instruments, engineers and musicians have been able to customize their own accessories and prototyped instruments at a low cost using the technology

“Instead of making just small, medium and large, you can make it exactly the size a person needs. In the same way, a larger person could have a violin made that’s slightly larger,” said Frank Defalco, Manager of Canada Makes.

The eight instruments to be printed include two violas, four violins, and two violoncello da spallas — small cellos played like a violin.

3D printed prototype of a violin. Photo via Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.
3D printed prototype of a violin. Photo via Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.

OSO Concertmaster, Mary-Elizabeth Brown tested the first iteration of one of the 3D printed violins and noticed it had a different sound range (or palette) than her 18th-century Italian violin.

“It was a different kind of soul,” said Brown. “I got the sense that if I spent some time with it, I might not be able to make it make the sounds that my Italian instrument makes, but that I would be able to find a wide range of colours [sounds] that would allow me to be expressive.”

According to OSO Musical Director and Conductor, Alain Trudel, the project is currently making further iterations to improve the tonal qualities of the 3D printed instruments.

Optimizing musical instruments with 3D printing

As part of the 3D String Theory Project, OSO also launched the National 3D Printed Musical Instrument Challenge earlier this year which encouraged participants to design ergonomically-optimized instruments to help address performance-related injuries suffered by musicians.

Precision ADM engineer Jared Kozub is one of three finalists in this competition. His design features a 3D printed titanium pitch shifting mechanism created to improve the hand position on the ocarina – an ancient wind instrument.

A metal ocarina designed by Jared Kozub. Photo by Jared Kozub.

Secondly, Robert Hunter, a Ph.D. candidate in the biomedical program at the University of Ottawa, created a 3D printed clarinet and brace made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polylactic acid (PLA). This design is narrower and lighter than a traditional clarinet and the brace functions to support the weight of the musician’s thumbs.

Robert Hunter with the first iteration of his 3D-printed clarinet and brace. His design was printed with the Ultimaker 3D printer. Photo via Ottawa Citizen.

Lastly, Victor Martinez, a product designer and faculty member at the Wilson School of Design, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), has designed an electric violin with a chin-and shoulder-rest system that adapts to the posture and playing style of the musician.

The winner, who will be announced later this week, will perform with their musical creation in the collective debut of the 3D printed instruments at the OSO’s concert at CASM, on November 4th.

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Featured image shows 3D printed prototype of a violin. Photo via Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.