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Cremonese verus the rest


Argon55
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Another factor is neglected when the question of who qualifies for such listening tests is raised; this is the actual acoustical component of the listener's ear.

My own research into the response curve of the human ear indicates that hearing response on the local level (i.e., increments of a few Hz, as opposed to the gulf separating tones used by audiologists in standard hearing tests) is unique and differs from person to person even if they show identical audiograms. In addition, this "fine response curve" (with its many more hills and valleys than depicted in typical hearing response diagrams), changes in response to environmental stimuli. In other words, a person who has played a single violin with a given frequency response, will have imprinted upon their cochlea, notches that are somewhat in accord with the response of the violin they play. This is my theory, based on my own research. I stress this only to make clear that I have no external confirmation of its validity.

The fact is, professional violinists and luthiers with much experience "listening", will hear the violin differently (than those deemed unable to discern quality in sound) because their audiological system has actually altered through the years.

I cannot fully articulate how this impacts the results of such a blind test, but I think it might make some headway into explaining why some can "apparently" recognize quality sound while others cannot. It is a mostly unexplored aspect as far as I can tell.

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I'm a fan of modern instruments and I am fan of old cremonese instruments. To be honest, I think there is a difference, favourable for the cremonese, but this is also is reflected in their prices. I think new instruments offer very good value for money. And perhaps the psychological part in this is bigger than I realize. I think it might be very true as D.B. suggests, that players play better when they think they play a Strad, and thus it sounds better to the audience as well.

But even if it is so, how can we ever compensate for that effect in a new instrument? It IS inspiring to play a Strad, it is a fact, and might be as important as the sound per se. The only solution is to make the musician believe you're selling him a Strad, and make sure he never ever takes of that blindfold.

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I thought it would be interesting to summarise the requirements that have been mentioned so far. The "ideal test" may never take place, but it would still be worth trying to define what everyone might agree on as an acceptable arrangement.

1. Assemble some Strads and Guarneris, or whichever old instruments are believed to be exceptional. David Burgess would select a half dozen modern makers.

2. Two players would be required - one who normally plays on a modern instrument, and one who normally plays on an old.

3. Players to be blindfolded, and the instrument will not be visible to the judges.

4. At three points in the test the player must vote Old or New.

- When they first pick up the instrument

- While they warm up

- After performance

5. The test is to be carried out in a mutually acceptable concert hall.

6. Judges are to be "qualified", ie people who are proven to be accurate and consistent in being able to tell violins from each other.

7. Each trial to be conducted one on one, with short passages, played back and forth as many times as necessary to satisfy the judges (that is, until they were sure they were hearing what they think they were hearing).

8. The same tests could be repeated on two (or three) occasions with two different players (and same/different judges??).

9. Somehow get around the known phenomenon that the second instrument in a trial always sounds better (perhaps by repeated trials using a random selection of the same instruments?).

Anything else?

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The problem with this sort of test is that there are "winners and losers". Unless the owner of a great Cremonese instrument is perfectly content with whatever the outcome may be, there is little chance that they would be interested in participating.

On the one hand you have the makers who have nothing to loose in participating in such test, since there is no disgrace in failing against a Stradivari. On the other hand, there are the Strad/Guarneri owners whose valued instruments WOULD "fall in disgrace" if it turns out that a modern violin kicks their butt.

I have heard on a few occasions (one soloist and a consert master) saying that a specific modern instrument was better than their old Cremonese. The first time I heard that comment, I strongly disagreed based on my high regard for that great Cremonese master.

I generally agree with Michael D's description of the tone of classic Cremonese violins. But I also think it's important who's the player. As we all know, a great soloist can make almost any instrument sound good, and could probably fool 99.99% of the listeners that he's playing on a Stradivari, although it could be something of lesser value. So how much depends on the instrument, and how much on the player? I also agree with Lisajames' remark that it is possible to distinguish between a Strad and a Del Gesù.

I agree that it takes specific practice to learn to judge violin sound. Such a player as Elmar Oliveira comes to mind. He has a lot of experience with both old and new instruments, and he has also opinions as who would be competent judges in this test. The fact that somebody plays a great Cremonese doesn't neccessarily qualify them as judges. Another problem is to find the time and place for the test. The people who'd be competent as judges and/or players are generally quite busy, as are their instruments.

The test should ideally be designed so that there are no winners or losers. In my world, when you've reached a certain level, then everybody's equal. There is no point arguing about wether Stradivari or Guarneri is better. It's true for the best modern makers as well, in my opinion.

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"Many soloists with both perform regularly on a modern instrument. They must be the ones with defective hearing though."

I had a customer once who is a little well-known. He has a teaching and performing career, and plays on a modern instrument, which he loves. When I would visit him, he'd tell me of all the great shops he'd visited, how he'd practically lived in one for a while, and of all the wonderful instruments he'd played--and what a great judge of tone he was, and how lucky he was to have been able to choose the fine modern instrument he had. All of his colleagues, however, hated his sound, and told me I should try to sell him a real violin. One day I took a Strad to his studio, just for him to try. Even David would have heard the difference, but he didn't. He would happily confide to you how much he preferred to play on his modern instrument, David, and you'd nod your head in agreement, and add him to your list. He's far from an isolated case; the deaf one never knows who he is--it's a very basic rule of self-assessment that you can't trust the person who's analyzing himself. The people who have to play with him do know the difference, though.

Really, I could tell stories like the above one literally all day long. There are that many of them.

But then the folks on this board already know my rather extensive portfolio as "a bit of an anti-BS proselytizer.". . .

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Torbjörn Zethelius

The problem with this sort of test is that there are "winners and losers". Unless the owner of a great Cremonese instrument is perfectly content with whatever the outcome may be, there is little chance that they would be interested in participating.

The test should ideally be designed so that there are no winners or losers. In my world, when you've reached a certain level, then everybody's equal. There is no point arguing about wether Stradivari or Guarneri is better. It's true for the best modern makers as well, in my opinion.

Robert Cauer (a dealer in Los Angeles) has organized this type of test at several Cello Congresses. His format minimized several of these problems.

The people with the old instruments were there anyway.

The audience of musicians was there anyway.

He promised the owners of the old instruments that the instruments wouldn't be identified, same with the makers of the new instruments. It wasn't to be a contest between specific makers. Rankings in the results were only given as "new" or "old".

Listeners didn't attempt to identify if the instrument was new or old, they only gave a tone score. Score sheets were tabulated, and results given such as (1)-old; (2)-new; (3)-new; (4)-old...........

New York might be the easiest place to get old instruments, players and listeners together.

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I was at a similar event in Chicago. I will freely confess that at the time I had played cello for years, and was working in a great shop surrounded by great instruments, and could barely tell one cello from another, and that my judgement at the time was based on some very defective ideas. But I got to vote, anyway. :-)

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Michael Darnton

I was at a similar event in Chicago. I will freely confess that at the time I had played cello for years, and was working in a great shop surrounded by great instruments, and could barely tell one cello from another, and that my judgement at the time was based on some very defective ideas. But I got to vote, anyway. :-)

Michael, these people at the cello congress were clearly capable of hearing differences. Otherwise they would have scored everything the same. No one did. I saw the score sheets.

In the example you cite above, it's sad if the player could tell no difference between his modern and a Strad, or any two instruments for that matter. I don't think I've ever run across someone who was as oblivious to differences as you've described, even non-musicians. Are you saying this is the case with all who prefer a modern?

I'm sorry if at one time, all cellos sounded the same to you.

Are you going to continue with pejorative remarks about people's listening ability who disagree with you, or will you help come up with a comparison test that even you can embrace? One option sounds more like BS to me than the other.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Michael Darnton

Tthe cynic in me notes that someone who has admitted he can't hear the difference has volunteered to run the test, pick the instruments, the venue, and the participants. It's like hiring an atheist to start a church.


I presume you're talking about Rober Cauer and the Cello Congress trials because this in no way describes what's been proposed here. Yes, it must be the cynic in you. Otherwise you might remark, "How perfect to have someone running the show who can't impose his opinion on the results."

Robert kids around a lot, but in fact, I've heard him notice and describe very subtle differences in sound. I'm sure he's not as good as you though.

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All other aspects aside, no one has addressed MD's question of how you will limit the voters in such a trial to folks who have previously demonstrated the ability to tell one instrument from another.

Without some confidence that is demonstrably justified in the voters, I say the test is bogus.

My suggestion about giving the players a vote in no way obviates the need to have an audience that can hear a difference if there is one.

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I attempted to address it by suggesting that she choose the listeners. Or Michael could choose the listeners. Or both. Or they could choose the fiddles and listeners. What could be more fair, or more likely to bias the results in their favor?

I think one thing has become abundantly clear here.

Some of those with the most vociferous beliefs about the superiority of old instruments are "less than eager" to have their assertions tested or given public scrutiny.

Those who believe that modern instruments can "hold their own" are quite willing.

I think that alone says a lot.

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I don't see how letting Lisa or Michael "choose" the audience solves the problem of finding an audience that ITSELF has been auditiioned for qualifications.

I don't think your interpretation of eagerness is correct. Those who may seem more eager are those who believe such a test can be done with any random audience and that resulting statistics are meaningful. Those who may seem less eager are giving greater weight to the idea that MOST listeners are far from qualified to make such judgments.

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Hey David,

quote:


Originally posted by:
David Burgess

I think your quotes show respect for the old Cremonese work and a willingness to learn from it.


Agreed.

quote:


I'm not sure I saw anything acknowleging Cremonese work was superior to the makers own work, and one qoute strongly suggests that the maker's instrument is equal.

My point is/was (as mentioned earlier in the thread), that if one copy's, or tries to emulate, an existing object/concept/sound, the best one can really hope for is a darn good copy or something that compares favorably to the original. I see little in anyones website about the sound of the great old concert instruments being improved upon... but maybe it's out there somewhere.

Since the makers quotes show a reliance on the ideals, workmanship and sound of 17th and 18th century instruments (or at least what's considered a great concert instrument), that's what they're trying to emulate, right? The best they could hope for, if that's the case, is that their instrument approaches the qualities of the original in whatever way the instrument is then being judged. Acknowledging superiority is a default, the way I figure it. Am I being too harsh?

quote:


Again, I've never made any kind of blanket statement that modern instruments are superior. That would be foolish. As you have said, "Which specific instruments agaiinst which specific instruments?"

And everybody has different taste.

I only claim that in group listening tests, personal tests, and evaluations by highly skilled players, modern instruments can and have stacked up very nicely against some of the finest antique Cremonese.


I didn't mean to suggest you'd made a blanket statement about modern instruments being superior. I'm not making a blanket statement that all old instruments are superior, either. They aren't.

Everyones taste is different... and demands made of instruments by string players today is different than half a century, or a century, ago. My personal taste tends to fall in favor of some of the great old fiddles, but there are a good number of contemporary instruments that I think are wonderful... and certainly enjoy hearing played.

During my small and un-scientific (single blind, not an overly sophisicated audience) tests many years ago, it was not unusual to have a modern fiddle (in one case, yours, by the way) share the top honors in the hall... so I guess I agree that modern instruments can hold their own (in at least that test environment) based on my own experience. I think we agree about the compared-to-what thing, however. The Soil was not one of the classic fiddles I tested and Perlman wasn't the player.

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If this is going to be as close as possible to the ultimate trial between old and new, I'd suggest gathering a small ensemble to put these violins against. Many of us have heard beautiful sounding modern instruments, and while beauty is in the ear of the beholder, their ability to cut through "noise" should give more definite answers. It seems that players and makers are equally obsessed with projection. The Juilliard orchestra, where instruments will probably vary from average to very good, is a possibility.

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here's an idea that I have and could be incorporated in a test:

It is well known that a good player can compensate for the short comings of an instrument a great deal,and make it sound good.He/she will use passages that they have extensively practiced,pieces that they are familiar with,or simply improvise on common patterns.

The ability to compensate reduces dramatically when learning a new piece though.There's a complexity of reasons for that.

It is also known that a better instrument speeds up the learning curve due to better response.

I think you already see where I'm going with this.

You can have a section of the test where the player is given a new piece of music or passage(could be written specially for the event)and and he has to learn it on a set time frame(not too long).When time is up he would have to perform it on all the instruments.The instrument on which he sounds the best gets more points.He could have all the instruments in a separate room,learn the piece on one or more alternatively, etc.The logistics on how to do it can be discuss, but the idea is to reduce the ability of the player to compensate and reveal more of the response qualities of instruments.

Gabriel

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This is getting funny...

But what I really interested is how the old cremonese compared to

modern instruments (especially violins) by playing a concerto with

whole orchestra, same piece, same length (not necessarily whole

piece), by the same player. The player got the chance to practice

and work with both instrument before the comparison held.

Though, for me, I don't really care. Whether the modern violins are

superior to the old cremonese, or the old cremonese are unbeatable,

I couldn't afford either.

By the way, if the audiences hate the sound you produce with Strad

or Guarneri, why bother?

But I really cannot imagine if anyone hate the sound produced by

who are 'capable' (skills and $$$) to perform with a Strad or

Guarneri...(except personal style and interpretation).

I've heard some 'looked-to-be-very-expensive' violins played in a

quartet in proper concert hall. I don't like the 2 violins, either,

not that their skills sucks, but I just don't like the sound. I

guessed that was some modern violins, perhaps contemporary where

the maker still alive. Something is really missing in modern

instrument, regardless of power/projection whatsoever. Don't

forget, even your violin is a powerhouse doesn't mean it sounds

sweet...

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quote:


Originally posted by:
falstaff

We could also take out the performance aspect entirely and make one part of the test a five year old play "Go Tell Aunt Roddy."

The scenario you're suggesting could be more revealing than you think.

We can also complete the soirée with someone reciting beautifully haiku poems skilfully crafted upon the results.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
falstaff

I don't see how letting Lisa or Michael "choose" the audience solves the problem of finding an audience that ITSELF has been auditiioned for qualifications.

I'm sure someone can come up with something better, but the idea of having Lisa or Michael choose the audience would presume that they would choose people who meet their own criteria of critical listening, based on their experience with these people. It may not satisfy everyone, but it should at least satisfy them.

quote:


Originally posted by:
falstaff

Those who may seem more eager are those who believe such a test can be done with any random audience and that resulting statistics are meaningful. Those who may seem less eager are giving greater weight to the idea that MOST listeners are far from qualified to make such judgments.

I'm not sure where you came up with that.

I'm just as eager to have good listeners, but since it seems to be more of a sticking point with the "old" group, I'm willing to let them decide how to accomplish this. They can personally audition each participant and hand-pick if they wish. I'm just trying to eliminate any and all "excuses".

When it comes to resulting statistics being meaninful, I'm sure some will default to their old beliefs, some won't, and some will find fault with any possible methodology.

Sweet mother of Stradivari! They've been offered the chance to pick the players, include player feedback, pick the listeners, and pick the cream of the crop of instruments from a ~100 year period.

I'd probably be forced to choose from whatever modern makers currently have on hand.

And the odds still aren't favorable enough?????

I think that about says it all!

What's next? Old instruments can't be played effectively when blindfolded?

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quote:


Originally posted by:
David Burgess

quote:


Originally posted by:
falstaff

Those who may seem more eager are those who believe such a test can be done with any random audience and that resulting statistics are meaningful. Those who may seem less eager are giving greater weight to the idea that MOST listeners are far from qualified to make such judgments.

I'm not sure where you came up with that.


It's called an opinion.

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