This is a set of 16 Helmholtz resonators. Made from sections of brass that were spun on a lathe, they are wonderfully light and easy to hold. Helmholtz designed them to demonstrate his theory that all vowel and musical sounds are composed of combinations of simple, pure notes (Helmholtz’s “Theory of Timbre”). He correctly observed that musical sounds, particularly the higher tones, are often perceived as a single mass of sound.
This set of resonance bars, each with its’ own resonator, can be used in an interesting demonstration. First, because the bars are physically identical, they both have the same resonant frequency. And that sound is strongly amplified by the wooden resonators on which the bars are mounted. In the demonstration, the two instruments are placed some distance apart and the first bar is struck sharply to make a tone. Because the two bars are identical, the second bar will respond to the sound of the first by making the same tone.
The Media Archaeological Fundus (Medienarchäologischer Fundus, or MAF) is a collection of teaching and working materials held at the media theory department of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The MAF is a valuable source for historians of acoustics because of the range of mechanical and electronic devices that it contains, along with its special focus on operability and technological functioning. Media theorist Jussi Parikka has called it the “original lab” that led to the creation of other academic collections based on experimentation and “artefactual methods” of research.
Leon Chisholm (Materiality of Musical Instruments, Deutsches Museum)
The standard interface of pianos, organs, and other keyboard instruments, with its pattern of twelve interlocking keys, is a compromise by design. The twelvefold division of the scale into fixed pitches has both shaped and served Western music since medieval times. Yet the notes of this scale form pitch relationships that, for the most part, only approximate the intervals of the natural harmonic series. Over the centuries, scientists, inventors, instrument makers, composers, and musicians have explored myriad ways of accommodating and even overcoming this discrepancy. One strategy for mitigating the limitations of the standard keyboard’s twelve-tone octaves has been to add extra notes to create within the keyboard’s scale microtonal divisions, or intervals smaller than a semitone (the distance between two adjacent notes on the piano). Consideration of some notable early modern examples of microtonal keyboards, including those associated with Nicola Vicentino and Gioseffo Zarlino, can help to contextualize later developments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when microtonal instruments served a variety of aesthetic, philosophical, and scientific ends.
The German scientist Ernst Chladni was one of the pioneers of experimental acoustics. His research on different kinds of vibrations served as the basis for the scientific understanding of sound that later emerged in the 19th century.
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