Making Music

Making Music



Art & Technology


University of Notre Dame


Researchers: David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and Sean Connors

Faculty and undergraduate students from the College of Engineering at the University of Notre Dame have collaborated with Grammy-nominated music ensemble Third Coast Percussion and composer Glenn Kotche (who is also the drummer for Grammy-winning rock band Wilco) on a series of educational and performance projects that explore the relationship between the STEM fields and the arts. Each of these projects involve the design of custom acoustic and electronic instruments, built around a restricted set of pitches, for performing specially composed musical works. The WAVES program is an educational program originally designed for fifth grade students, where the audience—up to 300 members at a time—performs with Third Coast Percussion on these instruments. The program uses oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer apps to visualize musical dynamics, pitch, and timbre. WAVES has since been expanded to an all-ages program that has been performed at many K-12 schools, universities, and museums, including the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wild Sound is a performance work composed by Kotche that explores the evolution of human creativity and the relationship between composed and “wild” sounds, in which the performers construct their instruments on stage and the sounds of construction are part of the musical score. It has been performed in a number of cities across the U.S. and Europe.

This exhibit is highly interactive and features examples of instruments that visitors can try out. The instruments have been fabricated using a wide variety of maker technologies, including laser cutting, 3D printing, CNC machining, and Arduino processor hardware, software, and sensors. It also uses iPads with oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer apps so visitors can visualize the relationship between, for example, the size and shape of instruments and the sounds that they produce.