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Home > iSGTW 17 September 2008 > iSGTW Feature - Ancient musical instrument comes back to life

Feature - Ancient musical instrument comes back to life


Image courtesy of Seer, scx.hu

An ancient musical instrument can now be heard for the first time in centuries, due to the grid and a computer modelling project.

ASTRA (Ancient instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application) has recreated the sounds of the Epigonion, a harp-like  musical instrument from ancient Greece.

Most of our knowledge of the Epigonion is based on archaeological finds, historic pictures and ancient literature. It was apparently a wooden stringed  instrument with a sound that modern musicians guess sounded like a modern harp or a harpsichord. The ASTRA team members compiled the sounds of four Epigonion instruments to recreate a medieval musical piece, making this the first time that these instruments have been heard performing together.

Using archaeological data as a starting point, ASTRA team members created a virtual model of the instrument, and then reproduced the sound the instrument made by simulating its behaviour as a mechanical system.

The physical modelling process required large volumes of computing power, typically about four hours to correctly reproduce a sound lasting only 30 seconds. To bring together sufficient power, the ASTRA project used the GILDA and EUMEDGRID grid computing infrastructures, which link computing resources across the Mediterranean at up to 2.5 Gbps through the GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT research networks.

“The combination of GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT networks and grid computing infrastructures provide the immense computing power vital for this exciting project,” commented Giuseppe La Rocca, co-ordinator for ASTRA. “Previously the amount of computing power needed to recreate ancient music was unobtainable, but the use of high capacity research networks provides us with the ability to turn our research into reality.”

Image courtesy of Yejun Kim, sxc.hu  

Synthetic Epigonion

“The success of the ASTRA project demonstrates how high-speed networking technology can underpin research collaboration across a wide range of subjects and allow the academic world to work together across multiple locations,” said Dai Davies, General Manager of the British non-profit organization Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe, or DANTE. “This project is delivering a fascinating glimpse into the music of the past for the benefit of the students and researchers of today–we look forward to hearing more music as ASTRA develops.”

Musicians are thrilled too. “This is an exciting project for us, and for musicians and historians around the world. For the first time we can actually hear the musical sounds of the past, using modelling techniques rather than guesswork,” says Francesco De Mattia, director of the Conservatory of Music of Salerno. “Recreating the sound of the Epigonion instrument and the compilation of this musical piece is a great achievement and is the first step towards our goal of constructing a full orchestra in the future.”

—Dan Drollette, iSGTW

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