The Kanud: A Hybrid Digital Instrument

By Soha Elsirgany

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Merging two classic string instruments of Arabic music, The Kanud not only brings together traditional elements from both the ‘oud’ and the ‘kanun’, but it also uses the most advanced digital technologies to create a new instrument altogether.

The Kanud is the brainchild of Nesma Khodeir, an Egyptian researcher and multidisciplinary designer behind Arabesque Design Studio. After graduating with a BA in Graphic Design from Alexandria’s Faculty of Fine Arts, she went on to complete an MSA from Qatar’s Virginia Commonwealth University, where she still teaches graphic design.

Her work goes beyond two-dimensional graphic design though. Rather, it centers on the relationship between music, design and engineering, with a special focus on the future of this region’s music.

Introduction of the Kanud

Khodeir was showcasing her Kanud for the first time to the public last October at the Dubai Design Week Global Grad Show, the biggest regional design event, alongside 135 projects from universities across 30 countries. She unveiled the instrument in Egypt for the first time during a talk she gave at the Faculty of Music Education held last December, where she also presented her research and thesis topic on the “Future of Arabic Music”.

“I personally do not like that our [Arabic] music is now a copy of Western music,” Khodeir mentions on what prompted her to create a new instrument.

During her research for the Kanud, she spoke with professors and students at the Faculty for Music Education to learn more about music and instruments in order to create something that was as accurate as possible and true to Arabic music’s depth and complexity.

“The Kanud is a digital instrument, so that gives the possibility of having options. Why make one instrument when I can make two combined?” she says.

It can be played as either the oud or the kanun, but Khodeir considers it a new instrument of its own right.

Design and Mechanism

The Kanud flaunts a beautiful and familiar design that mimics a string-less oud, slightly smaller than the traditional one.

“I studied the ergonomics of both instruments, and came up with this form. You can hold it like the oud, or place it on your leg like the kanun, as it takes into consideration the curvature of the leg. There is a mechanism to switch between both by removing the detachable upper handle,” she mentions.
Khodeir designed the prototype herself — through 3D modeling and hand finishing — over the course of two months. “The oud is the only device that’s manufacturing requires the bending of wood. The back of it is ribbed, and there is an airway for ventilation. I brought all of these elements into the Kanud to preserve the traditional way of oud making,” she explains.

Also like the oud, a musician would be able to control the intensity of their touch on the virtual strings — replaced by touch sensitive buttons — to get the different range of sounds that the strings would provide.

At the center of the instrument is a motion sensor that replaces the circle that would be hollow in a guitar or oud. It registers the movement of the hand with high sensitivity from nearly 15 centimeters away, translating it into music.

Electric guitars have been around for ages, but an electric oud only emerged around four years ago, according to Khodeir. “The oud is the grandfather of the guitar, but the electric ouds that were made still need development and more integration,” she says.

Digital Aspect

Khodeir’s instrument of the future is equipped with the technology for generative music; music that is ever different and ever changing.

Other digital instruments assign a sound to a certain “button” and as such only offer a set of sounds for the musician to mix. When applied to Arabic instruments, this makes the result sound similar to Western music and a lot of the complexity in Arabic scales is lost, something Khodeir was adamant to change.

Generative music in the Kanud allows it to produce different outcomes, resulting in a more authentic sound faithful to the Arabic instruments. “The Kanud is an introduction to generative in Arabic music, so it will add new elements to it.”

The digital instrument will be connected to a specially designed computer application that is programmed with the Arabic music scales (Maqam El-Hegaz), which Khodeir developed with musicians and programmers. Users will be able to select one music scale out of the eight possibilities in the app, as well as record their performance with music visualizations.

The app will be free for everyone online, while the Kanud itself will be for sale.

Users

Khodeir also cared to make the instrument widely accessible, used by amateurs and professionals alike. “I thought about how to devise a new instrument that is easy to use, and that you do not have to be a trained musician to be able to use it,” Khodeir mentions.

She also thinks the technology-savvy Kanud will serve as a bridge between the different generations, encouraging younger musicians to love and appreciate traditional music.

In her own words, the Kanud “pays homage to tradition while creating a distinctive path to the future.”

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