February 29, 2024

For the past 26 years, the Guthman Competition at Georgia Tech’s Department of Music has introduced the world to strange and innovative instruments. The contest welcomes inventors from all over the world to build and explore the future of music, and together, they’ve produced some truly weird and exciting sound machines.

“We live in an era where it’s really hard to come up with the next guitar or the next violin, because the tools for creating musical instruments are so accessible to everyone now,” said Jason Freeman, chair of the Department of Music at Georgia Tech. Today, inventing a successful instrument forces you to work across different domains of industrial design, musical performance, and computation. An ability to see into the future helps, too.

The competition developed a serious pedigree over the last few decades. Past winners include instruments that have become well-known staples in the world of music, including Teenage Engineering’s OP-1, the Roli Seaboard, and the Orba. The competition involves all kinds of instruments. Many go on to become commercially viable products, others are niche tools for professionals, and some are standalone art objects unto themselves.

Georgia Tech announced the 10 finalists in the 2024 competition on Wednesday. The list that includes an astonishing range of music machines. One common theme that runs through many of them is accessibility.

“It takes a lot to be able to sit down and play Rachmaninoff. One of our goals is to kind of raise that initial floor, so your first interaction with an instrument is more than just being able to play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb,’” Freeman said.

As soon as you pick up any of these instruments, you’ll be able to make something you’ll really like. “But they still reward that deep engagement over time, so that your relationship with the instrument grows the more you invest in it,” Freeman said. “To my mind, that’s what makes for an ideal instrument.”

The finalists will meet on the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta, Georgia on March 8 and 9 to compete for $10,000 in prizes. In the meantime, you can get a preview of the future of music by clicking through the slideshow, or just scroll down if you’re on a mobile device.