"The Virtuoso Violin… goes far beyond
most electronic synthesizers"
The Wall Street Journal (March 9, 1998)
The QRS Virtuoso Violin is a real acoustic instrument. It
produces sound by moving a bow across a string, just as a traditional violin
does. Only in this case, bow and string are controlled by a computer chip rather
than a human hand.
Unlike the traditional violin, which has four strings, the
Virtuoso Violin uses a single three-Inch steel "string-blade" to
create sound. The bow, driven by motors and microchips in a box on which the
violin is mounted, glides back and forth over this vibrating blade. The
resulting sound rivals that of the traditional violin.
"I just flipped for this thing," said Michael
Golub, the first to purchase a Virtuoso Violin. "I just had to have
it." Golub wanted the Virtuoso Violin to play duets with his
computer-controlled piano. And it does, with the help of a computer language
called MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). When connected by a single
MIDI cable and supported by QRS Pianomation software, the two instruments play
together seamlessly and beautifully. With the thousands of computer-controlled
pianos produced, there is no shortage of accompanists for the Virtuoso Violin.
The two play beautifully together, and are literally inseparable.
Featured by Cisco Systems at the January 1999 Consumer
Electronics Show, the Virtuoso Violin was a hit. "We used the Violin in our
keynote presentation," said Jim Grubb, technical advisor to the president
of Cisco. "It was magical; the instrument looked and played just like a
The Virtuoso Violin was invented by composer Fred Paroutaud
and scientist Dr. Thomas Paine, the founders of Los Angeles-based Paroutaud
Music Laboratories. Paroutaud has written and orchestrated for such productions
as Murder, She Wrote, Amazing Stories, Phantom of the Opera and The Gambler II.
Tom Paine was administrator of NASA during the Apollo flights to the moon, vice
president of General Electric and president of Northrop Corporation.
"We began working on the Virtuoso Violin in 1989,
looking at how a violin string vibrates, and how a performer controls that
vibration," Paroutaud recalls. "A violin plays different notes when
the performer changes the length of a string by depressing his or her fingers on
it, causing the string to vibrate at different rates. We didn't want to
duplicate this action with solenoid fingers-they would be too cumbersome in an
instrument as small as a violin. Instead, we developed an entirely new
technology. As a result, the Violin is capable of an array of nuances, including
glissandos and vibratos, that solenoids are not well-suited for."
Rather than trying to change string length, Paroutaud and
Paine decided to electromagnetically drive a single string (or
"string-blade") at different frequencies. As the frequencies changed,
so did the resulting pitch played by the violin. This eliminated the need to
change the string's length, resulting in a vastly simplified mechanism.
"People are just amazed the first time they see a
violin 'playing itself,' making beautiful acoustic music without a person moving
the bow across the string," said Dick Dolan, president of QRS Music.
"Watching its bow glide across its 'strings' as if guided by an invisible
hand is likely to be one of the more memorable images you'll ever see."