Innovation in Musical Instruments

From the classical guitar to abstract, digital era sounds, Gil Carnal and Barry Threw present their respective innovations to musical instruments: refinements to physical design and digital extensions to performance.

Event Details


swissnex San Francisco
730 Montgomery St., San Francisco, 94111 United States


October 31, 2009 from 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm America/Los Angeles (UTC-08:00)

Video from the event

Traditional musical instruments and traditional performance on these instruments resonate too strongly to be disregarded in the modern musical era. But how can musicians bridge the gap between centuries-old instruments and today’s electronic compositions? Our guests demonstrate the spectrum of adaptation, from refinements to the classical guitar to new techniques for performing computer-generated music.

Gil Carnal, a Swiss guitar builder based in California, who after thirty years of working on classical guitars, has come up with a new design incorporating materials and technology. The new design enhances volume, sustain and responsiveness. For his presentation at at swissnex San Francisco, Gil decided that theory needed practical demonstration, and thus extended an invitation to perform to Mesut Özgen, a classical guitarist of the highest caliber and a long-time user of Carnal’s forward-looking designs.

An important presence at the forefront of musical technology and digital culture, Barry Threw tackles the question of how to relate the traditions of musical performance and seemingly abstract, computer-based musical creations. He’ll present two products that go a long way towards overcoming the disconnect: the K-Bow and the StringPort, both designed for performative use with classical violins.

As Barry puts it, “Over the years, the development of new technology has been a primary driving influence in the creation of new artistic forms and movements. During the Baroque period, an influx of new instruments created an outpouring of new musical styles that continue to influence music to this day. However, the contemporary classical performing arts world continues to exist primarily by performing centuries old works using even older instruments, even in our era of abundant computer technology. At the same time, electronic composers exploring new forms are often relegated to presenting pre-recorded ‘tape’ music. With no way to re-perform electronic works with multiple musicians, the new music of today lacks the interpretive performance culture that has made music such a rich medium for interaction. How do we close this gap between the virtuoso performer and the near infinite possibilities of the computer? Is ‘remix’ our era’s best answer to a contemporary musical genre?”



7:00 p.m. doors open, mixer

7:30 p.m. presentation by Barry Threw

8:15 p.m. presentation by Gil Carnal

9:00 p.m. classical guitar performance by Mesut

10:30 p.m. doors close




Gil Carnal was born in Switzerland and literally grew up in his father’s woodshop. Thus began his lifelong relationship with sawdust and tools. He started playing guitar when he was 12. Since then, the instrument has defined his life. After receiving a degree in music, Gil became a professional guitarist and teacher. His interests in guitars and woodworking naturally extended to building classical guitars, his focus for the past thirty years.

Gil’s experience with traditional guitar-building and the inherent limitations of the conventional design led him to experiment with new technology and ideas. The resulting design is the subject of the evening’s presentation.


Mesut Özgen has performed and taught master classes throughout the United States, Spain, and Turkey and has been on the guitar faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz, since 1998. Özgen, in addition to being a prize-winner in the International Portland Guitar Competition, has performed as featured soloist in many festivals, including the International Paco Peña Guitar Festival in Cordoba, Spain, Santa Cruz Baroque Festival, Yale Guitar Extravaganza, Healdsburg Guitar Festival, April in Santa Cruz, Cabrillo College Distinguished Artists Series, Istanbul CRR concert series, and UCSC Arts & Lectures Series.

Özgen’s solo CD, Troubadour, on Golden Horn Records, features classical guitar works inspired by Turkish, Spanish, Argentinean, and American folk traditions. It was reviewed by Acoustic Guitar magazine as “stunningly versatile and expressive throughout” and by Guitar Review magazine as “a shining example of this guitarist’s great talent.” His award-winning multimedia concert DVD, New Dimensions in Classical Guitar,on Turquoise Guitar Editions, includes premiere performances of new works with video, interactive computer images, and particularized lighting design accompaniments. A reviewer for the British Classical Guitar magazine wrote that it was, “the finest music DVD ever to have come my way, a remarkable achievement.”



Barry Threw sits on the board for the BEAM Foundation, a Berkeley non-profit that seeks to spark a new Western classical music movement based on the technologies and aesthetics of the 21st century. He is also the software director for Keith McMillen Instruments, a company making innovative technology that bridges string instruments and computers. The K-Bow and the StringPort are drawn from BEAM founder Keith McMillen’s 30 plus years of experience as an innovator and musician. Threw discusses these tools and how they enhance performance.


Photo: Myleen Hollero