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Scientists Pucker Up To World Of Top Brass

By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent, PA News

A pair of artificial lips is being used by researchers investigating the way brass instruments sound, it was disclosed today. The water-filled latex lips simulate those of a musician playing the trumpet, trombone or French horn. It is hoped they will help in the design of instruments that are easier to play. Unlike woodwind instruments, which have a reed in the mouthpiece, brass instruments rely on the player's vibrating lips to produce a note.

But the relationship between the frequencies of lip vibration, the acoustic waves created in the instrument and the resulting notes is complex. Changes in lip vibration do not produce proportional changes in the note. Analysing this interaction requires the lips to be held in position for up to 10 minutes - which is asking too much of any musician.

French physicists Joel Gilbert at the University of Le Mans and Jean-Francois Petiot at the University of Nantes solved the problem by devising the artificial lips, made from two thin latex tubes. As air is blown through them, it flows through a perforated plastic plate that simulates the effect of teeth, New Scientist magazine reported today. The tension in the lips can be adjusted to mimic different playing styles.

With the help of Gilbert, a new version of the French lips has been constructed at Edinburgh University's musical acoustic laboratory. Trombonist and physicist Murray Campbell, one of the laboratory team, said: "You'd be surprised how little is known about the relationship between what a brass player does with their lips, what the instrument tries to do, and the note that actually comes out."