Published: March 3, 2020

During the Moog Hackathon, Ruhan Wang demonstrates the e-trombone to the delight of other hackathon participants.ATLAS Creative Technology and Design master's student Ruhan Yang and two teammates won first place for their project, e-Trombone, at Georgia Tech's (GT) annual Moog Hackathon, beating 11 teams, taking home $3,000, and securing a place in GT's prestigious Guthman Musical Instrument Competition. 

Held Feb. 28 - March 1 at GT's School of Music in Atlanta, Moog's 48-hour competition is an invention marathon to design and build novel musical instruments using Moog platforms and other software and hardware prototyping tools.

The trio built e-Trombone with PVC pipes sprayed with glossy paint to simulate a metallic look and inserted wind sensors, allowing players to create brass-like sounds through different blowing techniques. The instrument is played like a conventional trombone and the addition of a Moog Werkstatt (a compact analog synthesizer) allows users to play sounds that would be impossible with traditional trombone parts.

"I still cannot believe it," said Yang, an active member of Ellen Do's ACME Lab in the ATLAS Institute, adding that the e-Trombone did not work until the final demo portion of the hackathon. "We overcame many disadvantages, including using limited tools, and worked till the last minute to make this happen."

Yang's winning team, which included Georgia Tech students Xiangyi Li and Jiewen Wang, was automatically entered in the Guthman Musical Instrument Competition, an event dedicated to identifying the "newest and greatest ideas in music," with 10 invited musical inventors from around the world sharing their creations and ideas about the future of music. During the 2020 competition, each finalist will be paired with a skilled musician from the Atlanta area. The musicians will learn the instruments and perform a demonstration concert.

Yang said she decided to make an electric brass instrument, then narrowed it down to a trombone after fellow CTD student John Williams loaned her his trombone and gave her some lessons. During the hackathon, Yang did the hardware design and machining, Wang designed the circuitry and handled the coding, and Li helped to build the circuits. 

"Our goal was just to complete this cool project," Yang said.