If the future unfolds as Fred Paroutaud anticipates, we will no longer experience chamber music in our homes only through loudspeakers. Paroutaud, an inventor/musician/composer based in San Francisco, believes that we will be able to listen and watch as a computer-controlled string quartet performs. One component of this future has already arrived. The Virtuoso Violin, which can play with any computer-driven piano, is available for $12,500; the Virtuoso Cello and Viola are in development.
Paroutaud, 48, became frustrated with the quality of violin sound produced by electronic synthesizers and began developing prototypes of the Virtuoso in 1989. At the time, he was working during the day with Thomas Paine, who had been the administrator of NASA during the Apollo moon flights, and experimenting with the violin at night, using engineering tips from Paine. Together they developed a cutting-edge technology that makes a 3-inch steel rod vibrate electromagnetically—just as the strings of a real violin vibrate when a performer draws the bow across them. The Virtuoso’s bow interacts with the rod as if guided by an invisible hand, delivering a rich, acoustic sound, as well as near-perfect intonation and vibrato.