Musical Instruments of the Future

Written by Ryan Jebavy • Photography by Shirlaine Forrest / Contributor, Getty • December 26, 2016

As the world anticipates the arrival of self-driving cars, an influx of virtual reality environments and other information-age breakthroughs, what innovations might we expect in the realm of musical instruments?

Software, plug-ins and apps have made mobile music-creation possible for virtually any recording musician with a smartphone and an Internet connection, bringing forth a seemingly unlimited number of sounds, tools and effects for production. Songwriters and performers are already taking full advantage of many of these, while also exploring even newer, stranger creations including technologically enhanced traditional instruments. And in the not-so-distant future, it's likely an increasing number of musicians will add virtual reality to the mix for music composition, collaboration and performance.

From Harry Partch to Robert Moog to Björk, musicians have long been fascinated with developing new ways to express themselves, inventing myriad instruments of differing sounds, intonation, dynamics and timbre. Björk created a few for her Biophilia tour (2011-2013), including the beguiling Gravity Harp. Meanwhile, the Eigenharp suite of hybrid instruments was introduced in 2009.

These days, crowdfunding has opened the door to even further innovation. Two very recent examples include the Dato Duo, a simple synthesizer/sequencer catering to children, and Artiphon's Instrument 1, a multifunctional wonder that can emulate several instruments in unique yet intuitive fashion.

Outside of brand-new inventions, recent modifications to existing traditional instruments have also been accelerating. For instance, the MPiano from ALPHA features a weight-adjustable keyboard, allowing the performer adjust the amount of finger pressure according to which virtual instrument is being played. Though somewhat less esoteric, popular brands like Yamaha have also continued to improve instruments like the electric violin, while Gibson has introduced gadgets like Min-Etune, a compact battery-powered robot tuner for guitar.

Perhaps a virtual piano won't replace a Bösendorfer grand at Carnegie Hall any time soon, but virtual applications (such as SoundStage and Aerodrums) may revolutionize how beginners learn to play instruments. Beyond that, the combination of sophisticated 3D audio technologies (like OSSIC) with virtual reality goggles is already enabling musicians to rethink how they create, perform and listen to music.

While controllers and virtual instruments continue to become more sophisticated, customizable and dynamic, so will the sound quality and virtual libraries they can control. Keep track of the latest at the annual NAMM Show—a flagship convention for music and technology. The 2017 show is right around the corner. For more info, check out namm.org.

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