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This is KNURL

KNURL IS an innovation - designed and built from scratch by a young female graduate of Sonology (the study of sound in many disciplines) by the name of Rafaele Maria Andrade, in a Conservatory in the Netherlands. She is fascinated by sound and instrument making, enough to lead herself down a very difficult and challenging path: making her own musical instrument.

To understand what the instrument is, it is easiest to think of KNURL as a computerized 'cello' with 16 strings. It is solar-powered, reprogrammable (able to manipulate music structure through coding), and utilizes four separate performance modes (Synthesis, Detection, Programming & Analogue mode) which alter the sound instantly as one plays.

At its core, KNUR is a social instrument, allowing one person to perform in a traditional manner using the bow and strings of the instrument, while another person can alter the sound product by writing various lines of code and sending them into the instrument in real time. It represents a shift in our time towards instruments that can be enhanced through built-in electronic components, and was designed to be a shared experiment in performance and engaging a global online audience.

What Does This Solve?

As many already know, one of the most frustrating components of electric-acoustic hybrid instruments is attempting to control settings on your computer and perform on your instrument at the same time. We have all been to concerts where a performer is constantly moving between devices. It is frustrating, slow, and it breaks both the attention of the player, and the attention of the audience watching them.

Rafaele sought to solve this by fusing the electronic control components (capacity buttons) right onto the body of KNURL along with the additional programming - buttons and screen on the bow. The path of the control is as follows: As the player sits and bows KNURL - the sound travels down both acoustically (to the resonating body), and electronically to the base of the instrument, where it is able to process the mixture of modes that the player selected. Simultaneously, the screen on the bow reveals what “modes” it is sending out to the Bela Platform, where the sound is processed. Then, the processed sound travels back to 4 speakers imbedded in the body of the instrument, from where it is heard by the audience.

While KNURL feels “real to the touch” as would a cello. Its ease of control opens up sonic opportunities unavailable to most mixed electronics and acoustic instruments and allows the player to focus all of their attention on performance rather than electronic maintenance.

Modes: (Synthesis, Detection, Programming & Analogue)

Rafaele’s new instrument includes a matrix of mode selections granting the player access to multiple “colours”, as they play, and are able to change them as they go.

“In order to integrate a great amount of variations in a small set of buttons, I designed a type of matrix (a combination between 2 options) for each mode with possible processing to create my compositions at the same moment that I'm playing. That processing uses flexible and recycled parameters, such as pitch, dynamics, even the light of the solar panels. Those are parameters that change every moment, allowing me to combine naturally a machine to a present music dialogue.

"Each of those modes represent an approach of musical composition that has its own advantages and disadvantages. When I combine them , I have the possibility to create sonic layers without interference because its rules don't apply to each other. But using only mode allows me to focus in a single homogenic idea, which can and may be also important in a composition" - Rafaele Maria Andrade

Rafaele performing “Err” at iii

“At the beginning of the piece, I'm introducing some hybrid connections between what is a sound of a cello with some synthesis - ‘synth mode’. Some new patterns reveal themselves sonically, where I record a sample. I fade out (distribute unproportionally) to a silence, and we hear the appearance of soft harmonics and pizzicatos. I activate an increased delay via de detection mode, which reveals the difference between acoustic and electronic sound. Coming back quickly to the synth mode to trigger a frequency shift synth. I return to some patterns introducing the code mode softly at the end.”

The Physicality of KNUR

With 16 strings all around its fingerboard extending from the top of the fingerboard through the resonating chamber (which doubles as a bridge near the bottom of the instrument) into the tailpiece (the very bottom part) that holds the electronic components.The strings are then coloured through the electronic programming buttons on both the instrument itself, and the bow - that uses to change in the modes of playing. The instrument is powered by solar panels at the base, as well as housing 4 speakers.

Tuning System

The tuning system is composed by a combination of 4 sets of cello strings, they follow the conventional pattern of cello tuning, which is intervals of 5th (C G D A ). In this way, Rafaele has all the notes to compose with a more chronomatic resonance with all the possible pitches. The sound is something between a cello and an antique instrument but with more body. This can of course be adjusted to taste for any performer.

The Buttons

8 CAPACITY BUTTONS- Logically ordered in this way:

2 switch buttons: for management of behaviour

1. Mode button: way of performance:

  • Synthesis (realtime synthesis)

  • Programming (Samples and its variations in loop)

  • Detection (defines the colour by real time trackers)

  • Analogue (a “raw” composition of filters, oscillators and its hierarchies)

2. Red button: Stop all function (to silence the instrument at any point)

Two Analogue (potmeter) buttons: (measured according to pressure application)

They control:

1. Amplitude

2. Colour: (only on detection mode, in other modes, its sets the time for fadeout)

  • Friction: distortion in a modular sound behaviour to discover its boded of noise music

  • Resonance: delays, formlets, reverb and convert enhance reflection and space

  • Centroid: for when the frequency with the highest power at the spectrum is evoked

4 digital buttons: (Matrix inside):

1: Type of mode

  • Synth

  • Analogue

  • Code

  • Detection

2. Type of Trigger

  • Counter

  • Soft

  • Interval

  • no-button

(More information can be found in Rafaele’s youtube channel about the programming of the button modes here:

Why Would Someone Make an Instrument?

After receiving education in composition and conducting in Brazil, Rafaele felt a disconnect between her musical goals and her present circumstances. As a result, she changed her approach, and her ideas of what it meant to be a composer in her community. In her master’s degree, she spent two years designing and making the first prototype of KNURL. When sitting down with her for a conversation, one of the first things she said to me was:

“I was more interested in helping the society - not just with sound - that is very abstract. I would also like to make concerts and have people play together. This is actually my ultimate goal - to really make artistic residence space. As I started to really think about my instrument, because everything I was thinking so far was connected with that, I noticed that this started to really effect my practice. So I thought: How can I make my practice be more … more myself, more interesting… and then I realized .. well.. Why am I still using a classical tool? Because cello was a tool that was build 200 years ago, 500 years ago, and of-course I don’t want to “improve” anything - because I don’t have the knowledge to make something like this. For me it is that it was in progress for 500 years already, but what I was aiming at, was to transform this into a new way of thinking...”

“So I started to think: How can I compose and think of my practice as a creative composition? Somewhere I can understand time. Real time, not writing scores, not writing or making plans, but really playing. And since then, everything that I add or investigate, it's a mix between creativity, responsibility to the community, environment, global issues, and the instrument itself.”

Rafaele’s hopes to foster a new community around her instrumental prototypes and engage with them as a young innovator. She is constantly reaching out to others to help build the components of the instrument - both the ideas behind the physical structure, and the electronic platforms like Bela - that she uses since her second prototype. In many ways, asking questions of how to build something is as important to the community (the source of the answers), as it is to her.

Involving others in a creative process is essential to Rafaele, as it constantly challenges both herself and her community, to strive towards persistent innovation. This formula results in continual transformation within her social context and grants the audience a significant role in the creation of the music. Rafaele also frequently invites composers, players, and coders to provide feedback on both the instruments strengths and weaknesses. She welcomes criticism and allows artists to develop their own ideas both conceptually and musically. This back and forth interaction between musicians creates another micro-communal space - where ideas are being passed around on a conscious and subconscious level allowing both performers question once again, what “sound” and “music” even means.

Rafaele - is an innovator, a creator, and a young artist looking to inspire thought provoking action and an independent perspective on sound creators today.

Give her a massage as you work on your ideas and please, remember to ask many questions:

- UPCOMING ARTICLE: 10 types of prototype - from earliest to latest development - further articles on KNUR to follow -

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