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Andrew Morrison’s interest in the Physics of the Steelpan Instrument

Global -  The 161st Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America takes place in Seattle, Washington at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel later this month, May 23-27, 2011. And why is this of interest, one may ask? Well, two of the invited presentations/papers focus on the Steelpan instrument.

Tuning a tenor pan instrument

In a May 25 session devoted to: “Musical Acoustics: Materials in Musical Instruments” chaired by Uwe J. Hansen, of Indiana State University, Department of Physics - an Invited Paper titled Material properties of steel in the steelpan is the subject of interest. This paper comes from Andrew C. Morrison, currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at DePaul University, Department of Physics in Chicago. From 2000–2005 NIU (Northern Illinois University) was ‘home’ to Morrison where he was a Teaching Assistant.

The following is the Program Abstract extract from Morrison’s paper:

The Caribbean steelpan is one of the most recently developed tuned percussion instruments and has been the subject of much scientific study in recent years. The tuning of a steelpan is a complex process involving sinking the bowl of the pan, marking the note areas, heating the pan to relieve stress, and hammering notes into tune. Throughout the tuning process the material properties of the steel change measurably. After the pan is tuned, it will need periodic retuning on roughly an annual basis, depending on how often the instrument is played.  A process of enriching the steel with nitrogen has been developed which increases the surface hardness of the steel significantly more than traditional methods of tuning. This nitriding process lengthens the time needed between retuning the instrument.
Original abstract can be found here.

On the afternoon of the following day May 26, Morrison partners with two other authors for another Invited Paper in the “Musical Acoustics and Engineering Acoustics: Optical Methods for Studying Musical Instruments” session - Thomas R. Moore, Professor of Physics, Rollins College and CIRES (Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences) student Daniel Zietlow - for the presentation High speed electronic speckle pattern interferometry as a method for studying the strike on a steelpan.  Electronic speckle pattern interferometry or ESPI can be used via a laser beam upon the surface, to calculate among other things, the stress and strain (fatigue testing) measurement upon particular materials.

Program abstract:
Electronic speckle pattern interferometry (ESPI) is a useful method for characterizing the operating deflection shapes and modes of vibration of musical instruments. Using ESPI in conjunction with a high speed camera, capable of capturing images at rates of several thousand frames per second, allows for time-resolved examinations of transient motion. High speed ESPI movies of note strikes of a low tenor (also called a soprano) steelpan were acquired while simultaneously recording the sound of the strike. The comparison of the time resolved interferometry data with the analysis of the sound recordings allows for insights into the evolution of coupling between note areas.
This abstract can be found here.

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