updated 3/17/2009 1:43:14 PM ET 2009-03-17T17:43:14

Powerful grid computing has revived a stringed musical instrument that was last played in ancient Greece,  Italian researchers announced at a recent conference in Catania, Sicily.

Called an epigonion after the 6th century B.C. musician Epigonus of Ambracia, the instrument was somewhat similar to a modern harp.

No complete example of an epigonion has survived, yet it is known the instrument had 40 strings of varying lengths and a soundboard, like a guitar. Its strings were plucked with fingers.

Using data from various sources, including images in artwork, fragments from excavations and written descriptions, researchers of the Ancient Instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application, or ASTRA, project succeeded in developing a 3-D mechanical computer model of the instrument.

Materials, geometry and string profiles were then translated in a software program running on hundreds of high-speed computers in Europe and the lower Mediterranean area.

"This advanced physical modeling synthesis requires a massive amount of computing power. To produce 30 seconds of music, we needed four hours of processing using two European academic networks -- the GILDA and EUMEDGRID grid computing infrastructures," Domenico Vicinanza, technical co-ordinator of the ASTRA project and network engineer at DANTE (Delivery of Advanced Network Technology to Europe), told Discovery News.

The result was an accurate virtual model of the instrument which produced "a crisp and bright yet round and rich" sound from the past.

"As with instruments without a proper harmonic resonance box, the epigonion has a quite different timbre in the low and high range. We can say that its sound fits perfectly in Middle Age and Baroque music ensembles, melting wonderfully with strings and woodwinds," Vicinanza said.

Vicinanza and colleagues began their work on the vanished music of the past four years ago, when they resurrected the monochord, an instrument played by Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician and scientist.

Meaning "one string," the monochord had a single string fixed at both ends and stretched over a sound box. It featured a movable bridge to change pitch.

"After a whole year of software improvements, we moved on to more complex instruments such as the epigonion," Vicinanza said.

In the near future, the researchers hope to perform a concert on instruments that have not been heard for more than 2,000 years. Indeed, a unique concert using the digitally reconstructed sounds of the epigonion, alongside real instruments such as violins and flutes, has been already performed.

The project sounds exciting to Francesco De Mattia, professor at the Conservatory of Music of Parma, director of the Conservatory of Music of Salerno and Artistic Co-ordinator of the ASTRA project.

"It was already a major achievement to reconstruct the sounds thanks to advanced networks and grid computing, but being able to make them part of a real concert is just fantastic," he said in a statement.

© 2012 Discovery Channel


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