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Airdate: Oct 07, 2010
Scientist: Bart Hopkin

Sounds - Categories

Sounds - Categories
Experimental musician Bart Hopkin describes how he created an uncategorizable instrument.

JM: Most of us are familiar with the traditional categories of musical instruments: strings, winds, brass, and percussion. But here's one instrument that doesn't play by the rules.

BH playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow

JM: I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. This instrument is called Savart's Wheel. It's the invention of Bart Hopkin, an experimental musician and one of the scientists and engineers in this year's Kids Science Challenge, our free nationwide competition for 3rd to 6th graders.

BH: If you think about the categories that are conventionally thought of, they don't make sense the criteria for organization aren't consistent is a piano percussion or string? There's a bunch of problems with thatSo, you can think a lot about what these categories are, and it's kinda nice to say, "Well, I don't care what the categories are." And the greatest thing is when you can come up with something that is hard to place in a preexisting category, ya know? I'm proudest of myself when I come up with something that's hard to categorize.

JM: Like Savart's Wheel. Picture a series of rotating ridged discs played with a Styrofoam cup. The faster discs turn, the higher the tone.

Almost all musical instruments have some kind of natural oscillation, and I made this god-awful sounding thing in which the oscillation is forced to happen at a certain frequency by mechanical means, and it's a hard instrument to categorize.

BH: The thing about these categorization systems is it's very hard to create aa truly exhaustive system forto cover all of reality all possible sounds and thea lot of problems come up with them. So in the end, I'm tempted to say, "Why worry so much about it?"

JM: You can see pictures of Savarts Wheel on our website. If you know of a third to sixth grader who would like to dream up their own uncategorizable instrument, check out Pulse of the Planet is funded by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.