When most of us think of a musical wind instrument, we generally picture what is essentially a tube with a mouthpiece at one end – something like a flute, recorder or saxophone. And while that's a tried and trusted design, the fact is that wind instruments can take almost any form. Weirdly-shaped instruments are more difficult to design, however, which is where a new computer program called Printone comes in.
Developed by a team from Autodesk and Dartmouth College, Printone starts with a user-supplied three-dimensional shape, along with the target notes that the user wants the instrument to be able to play. Based on that information, the software creates a hollow acoustic resonance cavity within the shape.
Next, the user chooses the size and location of the finger holes, along with the location of the mouthpiece. Printone plays back the notes that those choices will produce, so the user can alter them until they get what they want. If they wish, they can also just switch over to AutoTune mode, in which the program automatically determines the necessary size and location of the holes.
Once a satisfactory computer model of the instrument is created, it can then be 3D-printed and actually played.
So far, the team has used the technology to create 16 instruments, each of which was designed to play a certain melody. These include a dragon that plays Puff the Magic Dragon (seen above), a rabbit that plays Little Peter Rabbit, and a star that plays Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.
"With Printone, everybody can be a designer of new wind musical instruments," says Nobuyuki Umetani, head of the Design and Fabrication group at Autodesk. "You can transform almost any shapes you like into instruments and play your favorite melody."
You can hear some of the group's creations in the following video.