Mathematics and music together in harmony
by Sandy Lindsay

October 9, 2010


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A one-of-a-kind musical instrument ...

Sterling demonstrates the unique sounds

For some, mathematics can be intimidating, for others music is a mystery but, as many musicians and mathematicians understand,  the two are actually in harmony.

On Friday, September 30th, in Southampton, mathematician Mike Sterling revealed a unique musical instrument created through mathematics to a sold-out audience at the Bruce County Museum and Cultural Centre.

Sterling, a self-admitted non-musician, undertook his project to construct a never-before-seen musical instrument that took some 3,000 hours of intensive musical research over three years.

With a Master's degree in Mathematics and  specialty in Engineering, Sterling served as senior Mathematician and Engineer at a number of research organizations, including General Motors Research Laboratories and the Computer Aided Design Research Laboratories at Cambridge University in England.  Sterling is also an acknowledged world expert in Monte Carlo modeling techniques and the mathematical representation of double curved shapes used today in automobiles, ships and aircraft.

His most recent work, the Bernoulli Involute, is an instrument that is not a harp nor a lyre ... it is unlike anything that has ever existed and, yet, it covers the entire gambit of scales, transpositions and keys.

"The concept of the instrument," says Sterling, "was based on a book, 'e-The Story of a Number'  by friend and world-renown professor of mathematics, Eli Maor.  There was a chapter that brought together, hypothetically, mathematician Bernoulli and Bach and it began my thought process to bring the two fields together in one mathematically designed and based instrument."

Mike Sterling introduces the musical demonstration 'Bach, Carson, Bernoulli and ... Me'

Mike Sterling with friend and accomplished musician, Harry Carson of Detroit explaining and demonstrating various musical theories

Pianist Harry Carson

Sterling called on friend, accomplished musician and Professor of Philosophy, Harry Carson from Detroit, who brought together Bach and Thelonius Monk in an arrangement that also included Sterling on his new instrument.

Over the three years of instrument creation, Sterling relied on the manufacturing expertise of Kuhl Machine Shop in Keady, Ontario.  "Kuhl, made this possible," said Sterling.  "I would create computer programs and Dave Kuhl and his staff created the pieces I would need. They are among the smartest people I have ever worked with."

Dave Kuhl
President of Kuhl Machining

See www.kms.ca

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The audience was fascinated with Sterling's instrument and also the way in which he delivered the concept behind it.


Audience members had many questions ...

... as Sterling explained the intricacies

Sterling has not yet decided what he will do with his  instrument but he has been invited to present it and the mathematical theory behind its invention at the Perimeter Institute at the University of Waterloo.

Sterling has also been a volunteer extraordinaire in his community and, in recognition of his volunteer work, was awarded the Canadian National Museum Award for Volunteerism, Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee Medal and, most recently, the Governor General's Medal for volunteer contributions.

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