Adam Schmidt, School of Music, Theatre & Dance

The Hummellaphone is a multidisciplinary research project in which I will design and build a new musical instrument. This research will infuse novel and creative engineering practices with the traditional craftsmanship and musicality involved in instrument design. The foremost example of this is the utilization of guitar string sustainer technology originally developed by Paul Vo, featured on the Moog Guitar and outlined in his US Patent US7667131B2. By the end of the Winter 2022 semester, I recreated this technology from the ground up on a 1-string guitar, but I am now going to apply it to my instrument which sustains steel rods rather than guitar strings. I already have an initial prototype of the Hummellaphone, which was first conceived and built in Professor Gurevich’s Interactive Media Design II course last winter. This new instrument will result in an open-source platform for conducting research in the realms of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), New Instruments forMusical Expression (NIME), and Haptic Interfaces. I will finish the instrument by the end of Fall 2022, and I will continue iterating and refining throughout Winter 2023. The development of the Hummellaphone is an exploratory endeavor with a few guiding questions:

  • How can I use my experience as an instrument builder to inspire and empower my colleagues in this discipline
  • How can we reconcile the expenses/labor that goes into technological development while keeping the technology accessible and affordable?
  • How will the bidirectional relationship between musician and instrument be deepened through use of haptic technology and the creative use of feedback?

I aspire to design and build musical instruments and develop novel musical technology professionally. A chance to practice project management, develop my technical skills in electronic/mechanical/acoustic engineering, and hone my skills as an inventor and craftsman will help push me towards these aspirations. By learning how to source components, face self-imposed deadlines, and communicate my research, I will bolster my ability to conduct independent research and establish myself as a competent designer, artist, and inventor in the music technology industry. The Hummellaphone is rich with opportunities for demonstrating engineering and acoustics concepts, and I hope to use the Hummellaphone and my research as learning and teaching tools forSTEM students. I will showcase to the PAT and engineering communities what is possible using the tools we develop in our coursework in conjunction with the resources available on and off of campus. This will highlight that engineering is undeniably an art form and that creativity and technological development are inseparable. By arranging simple materials such as wood, steel, copper, and magnets, the Hummellaphone isolates and showcases many acoustic principles and demonstrates how musical complexity can arise from basic geometry, signal processing, and craft. I hope the whimsical and playful nature of the instrument will invite dialogue with these communities that spans from the philosophy of instrument design to learning how to choose microcontrollers, source electronic components, and design printed circuit boards. I can imagine the documentation of building and iterating the Hummellaphone developing into a series of workshops and open-source guides that develop and reinforce electrical engineering fundamentals in students that learn best through doing and making.

On a broader scale, I am passionate about building technology that is affordable and accessible to those that want to use it. How can I reconcile with the high costs of novel musical technology development even though I would like to build technology that is accessible? I will be building the Hummellaphone through this lens and considering how I can keep elements of novel instrument development open source and affordable. By providing software files, hardware files, and documentation at no cost to those interested in utilizing similar technology for their own projects, I will challenge the status-quo of patenting and licensing technology that could otherwise be accessible for anyone that is interested in it. I will be leading the research on the Hummellaphone, but it will involve numerous collaborative efforts with my professors, industry professionals, and peers. I will share the Hummellaphone with musicians from SMTD to conduct user studies on usability and the inherent musical potential; my connections in the electronics industry will help me with circuit design and theory; my professors will lend their expertise in interactive design, acoustics, haptics, and digital fabrication; my peers in SMTD will lend their highly developed musicianship.Together we will collaborate to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the Hummellaphone through an iterative process. I am looking forward to investigating many of these interesting questions under the guidance of our esteemed PAT Faculty, many of whom have expertise and prior research in these fields of interest.