Imagine your 10-year-old coming home from school after band practice and begging you to let him play a… SculpTon? It doesn’t quite have the same ring as a saxophone, but the SculpTon may be one of the instruments of the very near future.

The upcoming Margaret Guthman Musical Instrument Competition features a number of creative — and slightly bizarre — musical instruments. The instruments will be judged by their tone and innovative design. Many of the instruments selected to compete have nontraditional sounds, and most use technology to enhance the way their instruments are played.

Now in its sixth year, the competition at the Georgia Institute of Technology has produced such instruments as the Adjustable Microtonal Guitar, the Electrumpet, and the Silent Drum. Twenty semi-finalists were chosen this week, with the final round of the competition scheduled for Feb. 19 and 20. Here are some of the innovative instruments that have made it this far.


Yaybahar; Görkem Şen

The yaybahar is an acoustic instrument made of wood, strings, and a coiled spring. To play the instrument, you can hit or slide a bow made of wood—similar to that of an orchestral string instrument—along the two long strings suspended in the center of two drum heads. Or, slide the bow up at the top of the instrument and play the strings like you would on a standup bass. Hear the many eerie tones of the yaybahar here.

The sponge; Martin Marier

To play the sponge, users have to generate energy. It’s made of foam, meaning it has to be bent, twisted, hit, or squeezed for the electrically programmed instrument to translate into different sounds. See for yourself.

Buildacode; Mónica Rikić

Buildacode uses physical blocks and a webcam setup to make programmable music. To play, users set up the blocks in a certain order in front of a camera connected to a program. The program reads the cubes and either plays when the cubes are hit with another block or repetitively played in sequence at a certain speed. See it played here

The O-Bow; Dylan Menzies

The O-Bow produces a sound by running a regular violin bow over an electronic interface that acts as a violin string. To produce a pitch, the instrument uses a synthesizer that creates an electronic violin sound when pressed simultaneously with the bowing. Here’s a quick demo.

SculpTon; Alberto Boem

Exploring the field of “sound sculpting,” the SculpTon is played by taking a malleable controller containing sensors and molding it in different ways. The sensors connect back to a software interface that produces different sounds. Learn more about how it works and hear it played.

Nomis; Jonathan Sparks

Played by touching an octagonal surface connected to two light towers, the nomis creates sounds that can be used in repetition. When a part of the octagon is touched, it lights up and produces a note. Players can tap out a tune and then loop it by spinning the octagon around. See the full light and sound performance here.

The Holophone; Daniel Iglesia

The Holophone translates audio into 3-D shapes. By using a tablet interface, players determine the audio stream that, when played, projects a 3-D image (seen using 3-D glasses). Here’s a demonstration.

The D-Box; Victor Zappi and Andrew McPherson

The D-Box wants to be hacked. A self-contained instrument containing a speaker, sensors, and a computer board, the instrument can be played as is or opened up and programmed to fit the player’s needs. See how it works.