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The Special Feature 4/2019 Editorial: Pioneer spirit, a feel for wood – and a lot of love

by Anu Ahola

Instruments and discussions about them always reflect their times and how things change, just like music, composing and the work of a performing musician. This Special Feature brings together interesting aspects and issues of how instruments are made and used today, at the threshold of the 2020s.

Two articles delve into the world of instrument making and development. One tells the story of a small Finnish family firm, Kumu Drums, which produces world-class handmade custom drums. The other illustrates the domain of microtonal music and instruments, giving an excellent example of how new instruments emerge to meet composers’ needs and how new instruments (or tuned-up versions of old ones) can influence forms of music and inspire composers and performers alike.

Ecological issues in instrument making have not really been discussed to date, at least not very prominently. But can musicians today afford to ignore environmental considerations and sustainable development when acquiring an instrument? In an article by Auli Särkiö-Pitkänen, viol player and bog researcher Maija Lampela gives her expert view on the topic. We also showcase material innovations: Partones has developed alternatives for ivory and ebony and are working on others; Flaxwood, created in North Karelia, is a wood fibre composite for electric guitars.

A column by Ilkka Heinonen addresses rather more philosophical questions in instrument development. How do we define the core parameters of any given instrument? Can it happen that when ‘improving’ an instrument we lose something of its essential character?

The playlist in our theme package provides practical examples of how instruments can quite naturally migrate from one genre to another, adopt unexpected roles in unexpected contexts and create new sound worlds.


The stories from the world of instruments in our theme package cover a wide range, but three key factors emerge as common to all of them: a bold pioneer spirit, a profound feel for an instrument and its materials, and a passionate love for music. And none of the stories leave any doubt as to which is the greatest of the three.

Translation: Jaakko Mäntyjärvi
Featured photo by Avanti!: Quartertone piano keyboard