Like so many musicians, two local performers immediately felt the burden of separation from their audience and collaborators made necessary since the onset of the pandemic.
“Not being able to perform is a huge deal,” said Antonio Dowling, co-founder of Reedesign. “That connection is such an important aspect of their careers and their livelihood.”
Dowling, who has over eight years of technical experience, and professional oboist Logan Esterling founded Reedesign in July amid the upheaval of the music world. Dowling and Esterling, who are business partners and romantic partners, have been hand-making the reeds and running the company from their home in Redmond.
A double-reed is a pair of joined reeds that vibrate together to produce sound in wind instruments. Dowling said double-reed instruments, which include the oboe, English horn and bassoon, can be found in most classical music within the symphony.
“Our company is making reeds, which are integral to the playing of those instruments, with the help of machine learning,” he said.
On the technical side, Dowling said, Reedesign collects data from the reeds they make and amass each piece of cane into one big database, which feeds the machine learning model. Machine learning then predicts the outcome of reeds with certain qualities, such as tone or pitch, based on data points throughout the process.
“This marriage of technology and music is innovative and new, and we don't see that being done anywhere else for reeds,” he said. “We're excited to see if there’s potential for growth.”
Back in pre-pandemic times, universities and institutions used to have “Reed Rooms” for musicians to focus on reed making and share advice along the way. In order to connect with musicians throughout COVID-19, Esterling started hosting an Instagram Live series called Meeting and Reeding as an offshoot of Reedesign.
In the weekly show, he interviews notable oboist and English horn players about their approaches to making reeds, Dowling said. Previous guests have included Mary Lynch (Principal Oboist, Seattle Symphony), Claire Brazeau (Principal Oboist, L.A. Chamber Orchestra), Toyin Spellman-Diaz (Oboist, Imani Winds), and Russ deLuna (English Horn, San Francisco Symphony).
“Logan is an outstanding oboe player and reed maker,” Lynch said. “I am consistently impressed with the reeds he makes for my students. They are easy to play on and have a naturally beautiful tone.”
Dowling said there are various pros and cons for starting this business right now. On one hand, he noted, not a lot of people are performing right now. Contrastively, this is an opportunity to hone in on their process and make sure customers are happy with the product, he added.
“If COVID hadn’t happened, there may not have been as much of a need for some aspects of the business,” he said. “We’re taking this time to realize what our customers actually want.”