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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
E-strings for the future musician
Violinist Joshua Bell, BBC
Bell: Produces weird sounds with the hyperviolin
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Alfred Hermida, Assistant editor, Technology, BBC
By Alfred Hermida
BBC News Online technology staff
The symphony orchestras of the future could be saying goodbye to the traditional wood section in favour of electronic violins, cellos and violas.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US are developing a series of what they call hyperinstruments.

The latest is a hyperviolin, which is being road-tested by acclaimed classical violinist Joshua Bell.

"Musically, it is pointing to some interesting things," Mr Bell told the BBC programme Go Digital. "The possibilities are limitless."

Wireless bow

The hyperinstrument project is designed to use technology to give extra power and finesse to virtuoso performers.

Violinist in an orchestra, BBC
Are the days of the violin numbered?
The team at MIT is focusing on designing computer systems that measure and interpret the human expression and feeling that goes into playing an instrument.

With the hyperviolin, it is trying to capture the most intricate aspects of violin bowing technique through wireless hardware technology embedded in an enhanced bow.

The slight changes in acceleration, speed, and force applied to the bow while it is in play are measured.

Then, sound synthesis software converts the data into music.

'Interesting effects'

The researchers approached Joshua Bell, who is now an Adjunct Associate Professor at MIT, because of his interest in computers and new technology.

Things are taking me by surprise and it's kind of weird and psychedelic at times

Joshua Bell, violinist
He has been impressed by the versatility of the hyperviolin.

"When it is connected to a computer, it allows me to make some very interesting sounds and effects," he said.

"I can play and it will sound like a flute or a human voice, yet played using the technique of the violin that I have learnt."

But he is not quite ready to give up his Stradivarius as the hyperviolin still has some way to go.

"We're working to make it feel more organic. The sounds are constantly changing, depending on what I'm doing with my bow.

"Right now, things are taking me by surprise and it's kind of weird and psychedelic at times," he says.

"Perhaps eventually we will have an instrument that feels like second nature, the way a real violin feels to me."

Interactive music

The hyperinstruments group at MIT started work in this field in 1986, led by Professor Tod Machover, a composer in his own right.

Peter Gabriel, BBC
Peter Gabriel has used hyperinstruments
The researchers are currently concentrating on two areas.

First, at designing high-level professional instruments that measure the most subtle and sophisticated human performance.

Secondly, by building powerful, interactive entertainment systems for the public, such as interactive music games and music learning systems.

The hyperinstruments have been used by some of the world's foremost performers, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Peter Gabriel.

Joshua Bell
Endless possibilities
See also:

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01 Oct 01 | Sci/Tech
Music's digital future
16 Apr 02 | Sci/Tech
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