Fun with Musical Acoustics

date September 28, 2012
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Friday, September 28, 2012 4:00 p.m. in ETC 4.150

Dr. Thomas G. Muir
Applied Research Laboratories
The University of Texas at Austin

Musical acoustics has fascinated the intellect of man since pre-historic time, when tunes were played on flutes made from feathers and of bone, as well as lyres made from yokes, turtle shell resonators, and gut strings. Some anecdotal comments are offered on the achievements of some great philosophers, scientists and engineers in the art of organology, the study of musical instruments, which include, for example, Pythagoras (550 BC), Galileo (1638), down through Wheatstone (1828), and many others. Recently, the availability of applications (apps) on smart phones, pods, pads, tablets and laptops has offered a wide assortment of very good tools for casual, and even professional use in musical acoustics. These apps include assets such as sound level meters, FFT and octave band analyzers, as well as signal generators and more, all offering opportunities unheard of by the masters, enabling the educated user to contribute to the art, which previously required laboratory facilities. Some examples of iPhone app results are given here through an experimental study of an American reed “pump” organ, recently restored by the author. These instruments, popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries, have long provided interesting pursuits involving their acquisition, restoration, history and musicology, as well as performance. Some acoustical curiosities of the author’s instrument are described, including mechanical design, means of sound production, reeds, reed spectra, stop types, and intonation. Recordings are played to demonstrate the tonal quality of the various stops and playing options, and video sound clips of professional artists playing restored instruments are presented.