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A project at the intersection of architecture, engineering, music, art and science, The Immersive Guitar encapsulates the true spirit of collaboration, creativity, and innovation.

The Immersive Guitar is at once a whimsy, an oversized guitar-shaped building, an intimate concert space, a feat of engineering, a display of sustainability and most importantly, a brand new, immersive musical instrument with unique tonal and acoustic properties. What began as internationally renown guitarist Karin Schaupp’s fantastical dream of wanting to step inside her guitar, soon evolved into a design and building journey by a design team comprising architect Bruce Wolfe, engineer Dr Hassan Karampour, luthier Jim Redgate and artistic co-director percussionist and composer Professor Vanessa Tomlinson. The outcome is an innovative and artistically inspiring instrument capable of making new sounds and enabling musicians and audiences alike to explore what music a new instrument can make.

“THE IMMERSIVE GUITAR is an instrument, a meeting place and a space for contemplation and conversation.”

Curiocity Brisbane

BUILDING THE IMMERSIVE GUITAR
(text and images drawn from Conrad Gargett)

The brief was fantastical, the experience is inspiring. The Immersive Guitar at Brisbane’s Curiocity festival is the world’s largest acoustic guitar where you feel the vibrations and listen from inside the belly of the instrument.

The Immersive Guitar is an innovative and experimental work celebrating a tangible connection between instrument and architecture. Positioned just metres from Queensland Conservatorium and Queensland Performing Arts Centre, it provides an alternate, unique and intimate performance venue aimed to inspire and resonate with listeners.

The design is informed by an inventive approach to music composition. As an instrument, it is designed to be played. Musicians and visitors alike create sounds by reaching up and plucking the strings which are strung across the sound hole and acoustically amplified by several soundboxes. As a performance space, the 25-person audience is rewarded with a novel, intimate setting that affords a deeper understanding of the instrument.

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Made from sandwiched panels of plantation grown Queensland Hoop Pine and supported on a structural steel frame, The Immersive Guitar has an approximate size of 5.2m long x 4.3m wide and 2m high. The portable space can be transported on a 3-tonne truck and erected indoors or outdoors.

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“…there is a philosophical commitment in this project to highlight technology and innovation in venue design without resource to electronic intervention: to use form and fabrication of an oversized acoustic guitar as a fitting environment to engage a listener in the ‘liveness’ of sound, the resonance of space, the presence of material actuality and the dynamic interaction of plater with instrument, on a human scale.”

Wolfe, Schaupp & Tomlinson, 2021, p. 3

COMPOSING FOR THE IMMERSIVE GUITAR

Musically speaking, TIG is not a super-sized guitar, but instead an entirely new instrument with new sonic and performative characteristics.

“TIG’s Groove” was the first piece - playing open string grooves that highlighted the amazing bass sound, accompanied by percussive explorations of the body of the instrument. To explore pitch variation, slide bottle techniques were incorporated and our playing approach developed in “Love in a Bottle”. The use of rattan sticks on the strings, coupled with fingered frets gave a rhythmic disco feel with micro movements of the stick opening up worlds of overtones. Bows also became a way to vibrate the entire inner space of TIG – soundwaves that could be felt when touching the body of TIG. Check out “Love in a Bottle”.

PLAYING THE IMMERSIVE GUITAR

The Immersive Guitar is played and listened to from the inside. In a sense, the guitar has been turned inside out with the strings inside the body of the guitar above the performer’s head, reached by standing on a platform. The six individual strings are tuned one octave below a guitar, with the top E replaced by a low D, one tone beneath the normal lowest note. Despite the absence of a fretboard, the instrument can produce a 3-octave-plus pitch range using harmonics, plucked open notes, pizzicato plucked notes with pinch stopping and/or a bottle slide. TIG’s strings can be plucked, bowed, hit or flicked with the hands, sticks or a credit card  as a plectrum and the body of the instrument and its soundboxes offer a large repertoire of percussive sounds. Strumming TIG is tempting, but not effective, however playing multiple strings at once, with multiple players and various techniques opens up new sound worlds. 

AUDIENCES AND THE IMMERSIVE GUITAR

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TIG offers a truly immersive experience to its audiences, as people are literally surrounded by sound bouncing between the curved walls in all directions. 

When performers pluck the first low notes to begin a demonstration, jaws inevitably drop. The physical acoustic properties of the instrument are breathtaking and much louder and more resonant than people expect. Experiencing an instrument from the inside, understanding and seeing how it functions, feeling the power and beauty of the sound boxes is revelatory to audience members. Audience members are able to feel the sound vibrations along the inner walls by leaning on the walls or placing their hands on the inner walls. Exposed to the musical possibilities of TIG, listeners’ expectations transform from a large guitar to a brand new instrument giving rise to new musical breadth driven by experimentation. 

Musical interaction between the audience and the performers is encouraged as even lay-people can produce a beautiful resonant plucked or bowed sound and/or explore the rich percussive opportunities of the instrument. Of course, many choose to simply sit back and enjoy the loud warm tone of the new music created especially for and by TIG.

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THE IMMERSIVE GUITAR AT CURIOCITY

The Immersive Guitar premiered at Curiocity Brisbane, one of Australia’s leading installation festivals which transforms Brisbane’s inner city into a wonderland of exploration. Curiocity 2021 was run in conjunction with World Science Festival and TIG was one of the featured installations, situated in an iconic position along the Brisbane River in the arts precinct and seen by some 12,000 visitors of all ages, including countless school groups. 

The Immersive Guitar debuted at Curiocity Brisbane 2021, and the season closed with this live streamed performance by Karin Schaupp and Vanessa Tomlinson.

Curiocity Brisbane’s Curious Conversations - an interview with Vanessa Tomlinson, Hassan Karampour and Karin Schaupp

“Curiocity Brisbane was the perfect opportunity for the launch of The Immersive Guitar, The event and the work explore the intersections of STEAM ( Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) and reinforce that such works are possible through cross industry collaboration.”

Theresa Famularo ( Executive Producer, Curiocity Brisbane 2021) 

L-R: Jim Redgate, Hassan Karampour, Vanessa Tomlinson, Karin Schaupp, Bruce Wolfe, Jocelyn Wolfe

THE IMMERSIVE GUITAR CREATIVE TEAM

Karin Schaupp and Professor Vanessa Tomlinson (QCRC)
Artistic Directors and Performers

 

Recognised internationally as a classical concert guitarist, festival guest, musical collaborator and project creator, Karin Schaupp is head of classical guitar at Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University. Schaupp is the recipient of two ARIA awards and has performed widely in Australia, Europe, USA and Asia. She has created a number of successful inter-disciplinary projects including Lotte’s Gift, Don Juan and Love Stories.  

Professor Vanessa Tomlinson is internationally recognised as a percussionist, composer, improviser and director of Creative Arts Research Institute at Griffith University. She is the recipient of 6 APRA/AMC music awards, and 2 Green Room Awards. She has created many large-scale immersive sound works including Vibrations in a Landscape (with Erik Griswold) and The Oxbow (at The Piano Mill).

 

Both Karin and Vanessa have extensive experience managing large scale projects. This is their first installation collaboration, and it draws on compatible expertise in the team. 

Jim Redgate
Luthier/Instrument design consultant

Jim Redgate is a world renown luthier to elite concert guitarists including Pepe Romero, Ana Vidovic, Ralph Towner, Slava Grigoryan and Karin Schaupp. His designs are at once cutting edge, sonically superior and crafted to the highest artistic standards.

Bruce Wolfe
Architect


Award-winning architect Bruce Wolfe (World Architecture Award The Piano Mill) is renowned for his inspirational work on some of the most prominent, innovative projects in Queensland, including the internationally awarded Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital. Guided by his astute design sensibility, appetite for idea exploration and commitment to collaboration, Bruce facilitates shared vision through design. He places people and sustainability at the centre of all his work, and is inspired by his ability to make a difference to the way people live, now, and in the future.  

Dr Hassan Karampour (SEBE)
Structural Engineer

Dr Karampour is a senior lecturer in school of Engineering and Built Environment and a chartered structural engineer. His research expertise is in the area of applied computational mechanics and finite element analysis and he provides commercial consulting to the local and national engineering companies in form of computer modelling, design certifications, product developments and physical tests.  

The Creative Team also acknowledges research support from Dr Jocelyn Wolfe, Research Fellow, Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre. 

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Sketch, Bruce Wolfe

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3D print of The Immersive Guitar