Arts Blog

Music Innovation

The human race, as a whole, has made huge strides in technological advancements when it comes to how we make music. Just looking at the evolution of the piano gives us an idea of how far we’ve come – beginning with harpsichords, which could not sustain tones, and evolving into marvelous grand pianos that have sustain pedals and use hammers to strike the strings.

Our eagerness to make music is nothing new; some of the earliest known musical instruments were wind instruments discovered in Germany. These ancient flutes were made from avian bones and mammoth tusks, and scientists estimate they are between 43,000-45,000 years old. People tend to search for music everywhere regardless of whether or not they play a traditional instrument, and in doing so we have invented – and stumbled across – some very creative ways to produce music in our surroundings.

Leonardo da Vinci’s knack for invention did not stop at flying machines and under water breathing apparatuses; One of his designs was for the Viola Organistaa piano-shaped instrument that combined bowed strings and a keyboard.  Although da Vinci himself was never able to build the instrument, Polish pianist Sławomir Zubrzycki built the Viola Organista depicted in da Vinci’s drawings. The Viola Organista plays a little like a piano, but produces the sound of a stringed instrument :

Of the many different forms of singing, one of the more uncommon styles was developed in Sweden, and is called kulning. During medieval times, Shepherdesses needed a way to share messages over long distances, and they developed a form of song that utilizes voice in a way that increases the sound produced from the normal volume of about 60 decibels to around 105 decibels. Not to be confused with yodeling – which hails from Switzerland – kulning utilizes different tones and pitches, and is audibly different from yodeling.  In addition to being a creative and effective way to share information across the Swedish landscape, it is also beautiful to listen to:

To most, birds perching on telephone wires is a familiar and often overlooked part of daily life, however, to the trained eye, scattered dots across lines can have a curious resemblance to notes on a staff. In 2009, Brazilian artist and musician Jarbas Agnelli saw a picture of birds on telephone wires while reading the paper, and made this very connection. He then decided to turn the birds into actual notes and “play” the music they made:

In keeping with the theme of music inspired by nature, I would like to share with you “Years” by Bartholomäus Traubeck. Traubeck designed and created a record player that plays sections of tree trunks like albums using a camera, programming, and piano tones to depict the rings and blemishes of different trees. The resulting music is haunting, with sustained tones and an eerie resonating sound. For a fascinating interview with Bartholomäus Traubeck, check out Data-Garden’s brilliant interview with Bartholomäus.

From flutes made of bone to albums made from trees, it is clear that after thousands of years we still have yet to tap all of the musical resources we have available to us.


Barness, Sarah. “Dream-Like Song Created From Birds Perched On Electric Wires Proves Nature Is Perfect (VIDEO).” The Huffington Post., 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Wright, S. “To Call the Cows Home: A Selection of Swedish Kulning – by Sheila Louise Wright.” N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

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Intern: Winter 2017


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