It’s what The Guardian called the “Pulitzer of the new instrument world.” There are paid commissions and star judges. And this year is different, because (of course) the whole event goes online. Welcome to the 2021 Guthman Musical Instrument Competition.

Hosted by Georgia Tech, the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition is unique in the world of music. It’s a worldwide competition to discover new ideas in musical instruments, measured in “musicality, design, engineering, and impact.” There’s a total of $10,000 in prize commissions, and there’s effectively no higher honor now in defining the future of music performance.

This year’s judges tell you a lot about the spectrum of ideas around the event (left to right):

2021 judging lineup, Spooky to Met.
  • Dave Smith, synth pioneer, founder of Sequential, and “father of MIDI”
  • DJ Spooky aka Paul D. Miller, a visionary and music thinker and media artist (and composer/DJ, yes) who’s kind of tough to fit into this bullet point (check his site, as he’s prolific as ever)
  • Kaki King, the Golden Globe-nominated composer/musician known as one of the most skilled guitarists on the planet now; she also takes guitar into multimedia theater
  • Jayson Dobney, curator in charge of the legendary Department of Musical Instruments at The Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC

Here’s the twist: normally, the finalists and judges would descend on Georgia Tech’s campus. But because of the pandemic, all of you effectively get to attend. CDM is joining as the online media and community partner of the event.

It’s not the first major shift for this award. For the first 11 years, this was a piano competition (seriously). In 2009, it became an instrument competition – and quickly took off as the premiere event for inventors.

So, if you have an instrument idea or know someone who should apply, please spread the word – this could hopefully be the most diverse and wide-ranging set of applications in the competition’s history. But even if you’re just curious about the future of music, you’ll have some new chances to join in the discussion. There will be interactive voting and browsing, plus online events and performances all the way through the final round.

Call for submissions is open now through 1 October 2020:

In November, the people can vote for their winner from finalists, and in March 2021 we’ll find out the expert-selected winner. (I’m not a judge, so you don’t have to worry about me.)

There will be other events, too – like a special Moog Hackathon – and more TBA.

Guthman history

Here are some of the past finalists, though I expect this year could be a different year as the event expands into new partners, audiences, and format. (And maybe your entry will be part of that.) There have been well-known finalists like the OP-1Roli Seaboard, and Guitarbot – but also lesser-known underground additions, too.

2020 was stormed by ElectroSpit’s ESX-1, which some of you may have also seen as a product:

2018 saw this unique percussion invention, Tablix, as its best performance – a modified tabla by Gurpreet Chana:

— plus this wild augmented, electroacoustic gramaphone by Jassie Rios:

— and also imagined a virtual percussion surface and means of manipulating sound waves, the Hyper Drumhead by Victor Zappi and Sidney Fels, in an Italy-Canada collaboration:

Do apply by October 1st and learn more, and stay glued here.

Want more novel instrument creation? Check out this talk from the most recent Ableton Loop (not directly Guthman related, but one of the panelists has her post-doc at Georgia Tech):