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Ancient instruments play again through HPC

Ancient musical instruments can be heard for the first time in hundreds of years, due to a 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 GÉANT2 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.

‘The combination of the high speed GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT networks and grid computing infrastructures provide the immense computing power vital for this exciting project,’ said 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 Mediterranean at high speed (up to 2.5Gbps) through the GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT research networks.

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.


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