The world's largest plastics machinery trade show is not where you'd expect to find an alphorn.
The traditional instrument of Switzerland is typically carved from wood. You picture them in the mountains, or in those earworm ads for Ricola cough drops.
So why did an Italian manufacturer of plastics processing equipment bring an alphorn to K 2016?
The alphorn in question is made from a decidedly modern material — carbon fiber-reinforced epoxy. A studio in Switzerland developed a way to manufacture the horns using high pressure resin transfer molding. Cannon SpA brought the instrument, along with Italy-based musician Martin Mayes, as a demonstration of the possibilities of plastics.
The trouble with plastic instruments, often promoted as a low-cost introduction to music, is that the sound dies in the material, Mayes says. A plastic trumpet will never sound the same as a brass one.
But he says the carbon composite horn plays as well as the ones that started life as a tree. The material resonates in a way that plastic usually doesn't. He thinks it has something to do with the way the carbon fibers are woven, and I'm not in a position to argue.