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It was a challenge Harry Stafylakis couldn't say no to. 

In 2016, the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra approached the current Composer in Residence for the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra about writing a concerto to be performed with 3D printed instruments. 

"This sounded like an interesting challenge to begin with," Stafylakis said. "It's been a challenging process for sure. A concerto is also particular difficult to do, so a concerto for a 3D printed string octet and orchestra seemed like a unique challenge that I couldn't really pass up." 

Stafylakis' concerto, Singularity, will debut Nov. 4 at the Canadian Space and Aviation Museum in Ottawa. He says he wanted to create something that fits within that theme and incorporated his fondness of science-fiction literature. 

The octet, made up of the 3D printed instruments will perform in front of a 100 piece orchestra with traditional instruments. 

"Conceptually I am thinking of it as an instrumental science-fiction oratorio," Stafylakis said. "The idea of the synthetic meeting the organic of man and machine. I am inspired by the creation of these instruments themselves and they're being pitted against the orchestra."

"I decided to go with a concept that focused on emerging artificial intelligence and our possible relationship to it." 

The 3D printed instruments were created at Winnipeg's Industrial Technologies Centre. 

Myron Semegen is the manager of the Advanced Technologies Group at the centre and says working on the instruments was unique.

"We're always interested in trying to find out how this technology can be applied, particularily in manufacturing," Semegen said. "But this was a nice interesting angle for us to work with others outside of that specific field." 

He says they hadn't done anything like this before, so they did a lot of experimenting. 

"We had to explore some of the different materials and different processes we might use and try different things out," Semegen said. "There's a lot of exploration that is part of this. We were able to print in different materials and understand the different weight of materials and the different sounds they would make and try to assess that as we go." 

The instruments they went with are made of polycarbonate material, and the neck is made with a type of plastic. 

Stafylakis says recently he's been able to listen to the instruments for the first time and says they sound pretty close to the real thing. 

"They sound surprisingly convincing," he said. "Had I had my eyes closed I wouldn't have guessed this wasn't a wooden instrument." 

"That being said, we'd run the same pieces back-to-back on one instrument and then the other and there are differences you notice if you compare them that way," he continued. "They're a little quieter, a little darker, but they're all very subtle things that someone without a classically trained ear might not notice." 

Stafylakis couldn't say for sure, but hopes he can incorporate these instruments into performances by the WSO in the near future. 

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