Ancient Musical Instruments Play Again Through Astra Project
3 September 2008
Ancient musical instruments can now be heard for the first time in hundreds of years, due to a new computer modelling project. ASTRA (Ancient instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application) has recreated the sounds of the harp-like Epigonion musical instrument from Ancient Greece and has performed one of the oldest known musical scores dating back to the Middle Ages. To achieve this it used the advanced GeANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT research networks to link high capacity computers together, sharing information to enable the computer-intensive modelling of musical sounds.
Knowledge of the Epigonion musical instrument, dating back from the Ancient Greek era, is based on archaeological findings, historical pictures and literature. Using this archaeological data as an input, it was then transformed by a complex digital audio rendering technique to model the actual sound of the instrument. This advanced physical modelling synthesis creates a virtual model of the instrument and reproduces the sound that the instrument might have made by simulating its behaviour as a mechanical system. The Epigonion is a wooden string instrument that musicians have likened the sound to something similar to a modern harp or a harpsichord. The ASTRA team have 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. Samples of the Epigonion and the musical piece can be accessed at http://www.astraproject.org/examples/dufay.mp3
"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 Professor De Mattia, Director of the Conservatory of Music of Salernoand Co-ordinator of the ASTRA project. 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."
"The combination of the high speed GeANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT networks and grid computing infrastructures provide the immense computing power vital for this exciting project," commented Dr La Rocca, Co-ordinator of ASTRA gridification. "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."
The physical modelling process needs extreme amounts of computing power - taking about four hours for a high powered computer to correctly reproduce a sound lasting only 30 seconds. To bring together sufficient power and to share information the ASTRA project is using the GILDA and EUMEDGRID grid computing infrastructures, which link computing resources across the Mediterraneanat high speed (up to 2.5 Gbps) through the GeANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT research networks.
"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, DANTE. "This unique 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."
The benefits of the collaborative approach used in this project are far reaching. ASTRA not only makes it possible to recreate instruments that previously would have been either too expensive or too difficult to manufacture by hand, it also allows any model and its associated data to be accessed by our collaborators. Research data can therefore be shared around the world, making it a truly international project of immense value to working archaeologists and historians.