A virtual musical instrument capable of creating sounds not possible in the physical world has been developed at York University.
Professor Howard demonstrates the virtual music system
The computer software program allows musicians to create sounds by exploiting the principles of how strings, drums and wood blocks work in the real world.
As a result it is possible to create a variety of new sounds, for example a cymbal that sounds as if it being plucked with a bow.
"The project is about creating new instruments you can't create in the real world," said Professor David Howard, Head of the Music Technology Group at York University.
The software is not as attractive as the instruments it represents
"For composers it allows them to work with sounds that are, literally, out of this world," he said.
Musicians can manipulate the software using a mouse and joystick, which vibrates to allow them to feel the music as well as hear it.
So far the system has been put through its paces at a Christmas carol service in a York church.
To accompany the traditional choir, composers came up with a variety of solo performances from a cymbal.
"It was quite strange to have a computer on stage and some people were sceptical," said Professor Howard.
"But many were pleasantly surprised and thought that it worked well. They were particularly surprised by the organic nature of sound which you don't normally associate with electronic synthesizers," he added.
Professor Howard is hoping to make the software program freely available on the web so that people can play around with it.
He is also considering developing it farther to incorporate vocals.
"In theory it could be modelled on any instrument," he said.