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Sunday, April 20, 2014

But... What Would Beethoven Print? (3D Printing)

You just know the kind of organ
Beethoven would have chosen to print
There's been quite a lot in the media about wonderful advances in 3D printing in the medical field. No doubt about it, these are indeed noble uses for technology. Imagine being able to just pop that new appendix, still warm from the printer, into the fella on the table before you. Sure applications like print-on-demand bodily organs allows for great advances in medical science. But what really strikes my fancy, when it comes to 3D printing, is the creation of our own musical instruments. I'm not so much interested in the bodily organ as I am in the pipe organ.

The idea of a musician being able to design and create that pipe organ is what really intrigues me. Thinking about pipe organs  naturally leads to thoughts of  Beethoven. I'm guessing Beethoven would also have been more interested in printing a pipe organ than a fresh new lung or kidney.

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium!
(Joy, beautiful spark of the divinity,
Daughter from Elysium!)

These lyrics, from Beethoven's famed 9'th symphony, enhance one of the most beloved classical music pieces in the western world*.  Beloved by people, that is, who have access to classical music training. Outside of choral singing, for those who come equipped with the right sort of vocal chords, that training requires access to a musical instrument. 

Though this symphony has words, the emotions that stir in the hearts of the performers as they come together to make this music happen, can't be accurately described. In fact, it spoils the experience if you try.

Yes indeed, there are musical folks working on rolling their own instruments. Check out the beautiful creations on Six 3D-Printed Musical Instruments, and what 3D Printing Could Do for Musicians. Sure 3D print-your-own-instrument technology isn't yet exactly at the affordable-for-the-masses stage, but neither were cell phones just a few years back. Maybe it won't be too long before that day, a few autumns from now, when the kids line up to pick up this years social studies text, the math workbook, and their sixth grade instrument. There just waiting for Mrs. O'Houlihan to come back from the staff room with that replacement box of liquid brass for the classroom 3D printer.

Any parent who has ever ponied up for an organ, clarinet, french horn, string bass, or flute knows that a child's access to an instrument of her own can make all the difference, when it comes to  being exposed to the wordless and wonderful joys of making her own music. Will many kids give up before the age of 10? You bet. Is there any guarantee that an individual will make it to even third chair violin in a small local symphony? Nope. 

But I know that if, at the age of 8, more kids are given the opportunity to play a hundred renditions of Frère Jacque on that french horn they printed at home, then one day the freude! of Beethoven's 9'th symphony is going to be waiting out there for one more kid looking for a little wordless wonder. 

And one more kid is going to get a chance to be a part of a wordless spark of divinity, at one with the daughter from Elysium.

* Classic western music is extremely popular in Asia as well.
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Web Resources

3D Printing Organs, Other Medical Applications

Wikipedia: 3D Printing

Six 3D - Printed Musical Instruments and what 3D Printing Could Do for Musicians

Beethoven's 9'th Symphony Rules Supreme, as far as I'm concerned.