We’ve all heard that joke about the world’s smallest violin, right? Thanks to 3D printing, not only is there now really such a thing — along with the violinist that makes it weep — but there’s an entire, miniature orchestra that can evoke a sublimely moving, heart-wrenching concerto sublimely.
The Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix, Arizona, decided to create a new exhibit for their facility, which houses 16,000 “musical instruments and associated objects” and displays around 6,500 of them on an ongoing basis. The instruments come from over 200 countries around the world. The instruments and ephemera are used with a broad variety of musical genres.
At the MIM you’ll find exhibits on musicians as diverse as Taylor Swift and the Metropolitan Opera; you’ll see Dick Dale’s guitar, Pablo Casal’s cello, and even one of Elvis’ bejeweled jumpsuits. You’ll also find the world’s first 3D printed orchestra.
The MIM contacted several London-based musicians, most of whom play in the London City Orchestra. After agreeing to participate in the project, the musicians were asked to visit one of London’s premier 3D printing studios that specializes in 3D printed figurines, including selfies — my3Dtwin. The company, says its website, “was started by two Polish brothers who wanted to work for themselves and to put their various technological skills to good use.”
The brothers began working out of their garage in 2011 and have made improvements to their early, on-the-fly technique so that they can offer state-of-the-art full-body scanning, expert 3D modeling, and highly refined, remarkably detailed and full color 3D prints of their clients. The enterprising brothers came across another London-based 2D and 3D solutions and software company, Cadventure, which helped them develop their process for creating the beautifully detailed figurines.
Each of the musicians involved in the project stopped by my3Dtwin’s London studio to be scanned in the company’s 360-degree photo booth. Once the musicians were scanned and the images converted to the detailed, 3D models, my3Dtwin used 3D Systems ProJet printers to create 1/12-scale figurines, which are actually printed in plaster of paris. As they are printed in full color, no finishing is required in that regard, although slight refinements such as smoothing and light sanding can sometimes be required.
The MIM was delighted with the results. Their beautiful, tiny orchestra is part of an interactive exhibit. Displayed on top of an 84” monitor generously donated by NEC Display Solutions, when the sound is activated by a visitor to the exhibition, the monitor lights up when an instrument or instruments are playing and those individuals and sections of the orchestra are highlighted. The pieces featured in the exhibition are excerpts from “standard orchestral works,” the longest of which lasts for four minutes. As the music plays, observers get the assistance many of us long for when listening to classical music at a remove from the musicians performing it, in figuring out which instruments are contributing at a given time.
Probably not surprisingly, the musicians were all scanned in poses in which you would customarily see them when they are performing. There’s an impressive 3D printed reproduction of a grand piano, complete with sheet music and pianist; cellists sit side-by-side in their chairs in one of several rows of musicians playing string instruments, with eyes trained on either their sheet music or the conductor who stands at the front of the half-circle. Tiny stands hold sheet music and one of the more delightful pieces, the harp, is arranged in the exhibition in close proximity to the the figurine of a woman holding a minuscule triangle.
The figurines are truly masterfully produced and the display itself an ingenious use of 3D technology. It is exhibited in the MIM’s Europe Gallery. The MIM’s website includes digital images of select objects in the collection, including photographs of the installation of the 3D printed orchestra.