Sync Hacks: Waking Up Some Very Old Instruments

Sync Hacks is a column dedicated to exploring new applications for BitTorrent Sync, as built by users like you. BitTorrent Sync is a free, unlimited, secure file-syncing app. (And now, it’s even more mobile.) If you’ve got an epic Sync idea, use-case or how-to, shoot us an email at sync[at]

In this week’s Sync Hacks: Pere Casulleras from a music school in Catalonia, Spain, shows how BitTorrent Sync supports a project to virtualize instruments hundreds-of-years old, to re-harness that unique sound and create modern-day music.

From Pere: 

I’m Pere Casulleras, a sound engineer, organist and teacher at the High School of Music in Catalonia in the departments of Sonology and Early Music. Located near the campus is the Museu de la Música de Barcelona, a music museum that holds an important collection of historical keyboard instruments.

Some of these old instruments are restored and characteristically unique in the world. They can’t be carried out of the museum, or extensively played because the are very old and extremely fragile, thus drastically limiting the possibility for musicians to experiment with the sound and characteristics that existed in earlier centuries and styles.

The Virtual Side of Instruments

For that reason, we decided to start a project with interested students to virtualize some of these instruments, beginning with a claviorganum built from Lorenz Hauslaib in Nuremberg (1590) and a harpsichord from German maker Christian Zell (1737). A Claviorganum is a pipe organ which also contains a Harpsichord; both can be played separately and together. There are only three of these instruments in existence, and the one from Barcelona has been preserved the best – and is the only one that can be played.

BitTorrent Sync Hacks

A virtualized instrument is a piece of software fed with samples from every sound that can be played with a keyboard similar to the original one. On a real organ, as one presses a key, the corresponding pipe sounds. On a virtualized instrument, as one presses the same key, a recording from the original pipe sounds and creates virtually the same effect. This is true for all keys and all registers – i.e., there is at least one recording for every pipe, and an organ can hold many pipes (up to more than 20,000) which means many individual recordings.

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Enter BitTorrent Sync

The process of preparing the samples (the individual recordings) is very laborious and involves huge quantities of data – hundreds or thousands of gigabytes. In the adjustments that are required in this process, a lot of people are involved, including engineers, musicians and restorators from the original instruments (who can provide guidance over the results and necessary corrections). This is where BitTorrent Sync has been very helpful in creating efficiencies. Since there are no limitations on the size of shared materials, it allows the testers to try every sound nearly in real-time, as it’s adjusted.

For the original recordings, two days of multitrack recording were required to distribute amongst all involved students, musicians and engineers. All the work done later is on different shared folders (some with read-only attributes for security), and can be followed in real-time by all team members. The option to have versioning in Sync has been very useful, given all the inevitable mistakes that come with handling so many files, by so many people, throughout the different processes on each of these files. The steps involved include noise reduction, filtering, editing, defining loops, normalizing, tuning and cleaning. We had nearly a thousand files to distribute and work simultaneously across a team of 20 people, and it’s difficult to imagine this process without an efficient synchronization tool like Sync. On top of that, there are much bigger instruments to come.

BitTorrent Sync Screenshot

The Support Network

One last component is also very important. The results of our virtualization should be as close as possible to the original instrument in sound and feeling. Here is where the synchronization with the restorators, conservators and specialists is very important – all people who know the originals very well and can guide us to recreate the best possible experience from playing the original. They can advise on details such as individual problems that arise from history, age and the restoration process – finding a balance between usability and validity. With BitTorrent Sync, it is possible that the tuner and player are working together at the same time, on the same sounds and eliminates the need for people to meet in person. Each individual can work on the process with their own tools.

The results of project “Hauslaib Claviorgan from 1590” can be heard here. The sample sets will be distributed as free downloads in due time.