Georgia Tech’s music competition invites innovators to build one-of-a-kind instruments

The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition and concert is dedicated to identifying the newest and greatest ideas in music. Each year, Georgia Tech invites musical inventors from around the world to share their creations and ideas about the future of music. Professor and chair of Georgia Tech’s School of Music, Jason Freeman, recently joined “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes to explain the competition’s history and the extraordinary innovations it celebrates.

Interview highlights:

The evolution of the competition, from classical academia to experimentalism:

“It actually began as a piano competition, and it was created by Richard Guffman, an alum of Georgia Tech, who really wanted to do something to pay tribute to his wife, Margaret, who is a wonderful pianist…. But as Georgia Tech and the school of music here was really changing our approach to music, we were increasingly looking at ways to engage music and technology together,” said Freeman.

“With the idea of ​​the musical instrument being at the center of the competition, we are able to bring in science and engineering and design and computing,” he continued. “All of these things come together in this interdisciplinary mashup that really helps us see the visions of different creators from around the world.”

An adventure in sonic invention:

“Last year’s winner, it looks like, kind of, a giant wooden circle about the size of a small person… and it has a bunch of various sensitive buttons on it, and electromagnets, and strings on the back,” Freeman said. “As you move your hands across these buttons, it actually activates these electromagnets that create acoustic sound coming out of the instrument…. The sound that comes out of it is, ultimately, a very physical, acoustic kind of sound… like playing a keyboard or a synthesizer, and a little bit like playing the accordion, and a little bit like playing a video game.”

†[The Glissotar] looks like a soprano saxophone or a clarinet… but instead of the keys, or the holes on the clarinet where we might expect them, what you see is a continuous ribbon, and you can slide your fingers across that ribbon so that you can play continuous pitch the same way you might on a violin or a cello,” Freeman said. “The things that come out of this Glissotar are truly incredible and bend my mind because it sounds like a saxophone, and yet it can not possibly be a saxophone that I’m hearing.”

Never-before-heard music with local Atlanta musicians

“During the concert, we match up each of our finalists with a local musician here in Atlanta… and so we pair them up during the day, on Saturday,” said Freeman. “They meet each other for the first time that day, and they spend a day together, and they develop a short performance…. Our musician here in Atlanta might be performing on this new instrument. Sometimes they may be doing a duet together. The creator may be playing their own instrument along with a musician here, whatever they feel is really going to help showcase what that instrument can do.”

The Guthman Musical Instrument Competition at Georgia Tech takes place from March 10-12. Finalists perform in a concert on Saturday, March 12, at the Ferst Center for the Arts. Tickets and more information are available at

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