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Science and violin making, a happy marriage?


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quote:


There are many reasons. Some people are just fascinated by the challenge of understanding the violin as a sound producing device. There is little in the acoustics world which is as complex and challenging.

Some would like to figure out a way to improve the sound of violins, or make them sound like the coveted Cremonese. Some would like more control over the outcome, making a violin sound a certain way consistantly on the first try. Some may be looking for publicity. And some may be looking for a way to make something that is unique in form or materials, but still sounds like a good violin

Ok, but to me these are mostly the reasons why violin makers take an interest in science and not the other way around, wich sometimes, I'm afraid is for reasons more coloured by "myth and folklore"

quote:


That's difficult to answer, but many make use of Hutchin's research in one way or another, many now use a "mineral" ground, and some use things like bridge, fingerboard and tailpiece tuning.

Are there benefits? I've seen demonstrations of fingerboard and tailpiece tuning where there is a noticeable change, what most listeners called an improvement. It was more apparent to the player than the listeners but still could be heard. Not a great enough change that one could say, "It sounds like a different instrument" though.

But as most adjusters know, enough trivial changes combined can produce rather dramatic results.

Michael D has suggested using FFT scans to better understand the effects of afterlenth tuning, and that certainly could be called "science based".

As for benfits; Don't you think Hutchins' research, and the research of others as well, has lead to quite a few bizarre results too? I think the "mineral ground" has brought some useful evidence on the table yes. But more often than not, the benefit from science seems to me, like in the development of strings, to be in factors a little bit external to the violin itself? After all this effort is it all we've got?

quote:


I'll continue to stay in touch with the research because I believe it will become useful in the near future, and when it does, at least I'll be somewhat up to speed and have some idea what the scientists are talking about. In the meantime, I find it fascinating.

I agree, but don't you think they, being scientists after all, need some critiscism now and then? Thanks for an interesting answer.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Melving

I kinda  think that the violin is not just a physical object, it is also a cultural artifact. As such, the types of science needed to understand the phenomenon that is the violin are not just the physical sciences. The social sciences also have a role, history, economics,social anthropology, philosophy, etc.

I couldn't agree with you any more, Melvin. We have Chicago sound, New York sound, and Japanese sound to name only a few (Ok, Ann Arbor sound, too). As Michael Darnton points out, the very fact that a sort of "naked" sound produced by a pernambuco tailpiece may please Japanese ears more so than American ears is definitely sociocultural.

quote:


Originally posted by:
David Burgess

There's a pretty good body of evidence showing that Cremonese instruments in general sound
different
from modern instruments. The evidence that's lacking is double-blind trials demonstrating that the Cremonese are
superior
. So far, results of these trials suggest that they are not, generally speaking.

This brings us an interesting question; to what extent what we believe Cremonese instruments are superior to modern instruments is "socially constructed"? Could science (both natural and social) derail "Cremonese Mystique"?

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ymkim writes

'This brings us an interesting question; to what extent what we

believe Cremonese instruments are superior to modern instruments is

"socially constructed"? Could science (both natural and

social) derail "Cremonese Mystique"?'

...............................................................

Most aesthetic judgments are culturally shaped. That need not be

such a shock when one considers that culture is a natural

phenomenon ( it could not occur otherwise.)

The generally perceived superiority of Old Cremonese instruments is

an aesthetic with it's roots laying in cultural history......That's

not to say that these instruments do not look or sound slightly

different , but even the way we perceive them as a cohesive group

could do with some deconstruction....That might help those who

attempt analysis using a narrow physical science approache to

understand the presuppositions that often mislead their gaze.

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Though I've been "accused" of being a scientific violin maker (and a luddite, as well, which seems to me like a big contradiction) I don't get too much help from the science side right now. Ymkim's question is a relevant one to me: the research that I'm famliar with hasn't been well focused enough to reveal the things he's asking about, but I don't think that doing so is the impossible task that some others believe. The live play-off that's often cited when people want to say there's no difference in great violins is a psychological tool, that only deals with a tiny part of the question, and that's the case with a lot of the research: most research has been poorly designed if the objective is to recognize a Cremonese instrument.

The problem is that a lot of the more obvious scientific research has been directed in specific areas that don't seem, to me, to have much to do with that particular question, but rather deal with particular assumptions (note that word: assumptions) about what will enable makers to make a "good" violin in the most techno-seeming, yet easiest, way possible.

For instance, I believe that efforts to determine the tuning of various parts or the whole will not lead anywhere, in the main, because I suspect this will turn out to be a crude tool for examining a very subtle phenomenon. I'm much more interested in radiation patterns; that's something that home experimenters usually don't mess with, and it hasn't gotten a lot of popular press, though. And it won't, until someone finds a way for untalented amateurs with $200 of old radio equipment to do it in their basement so that they can claim to be using science to make "master-made ultra-craftsman Italian style fine violins" or some other fancy self-inflating term. Another interesting phenomenon is transients, and I suspect that for the player, the behavior of this is almost the most important component of a great violin. I'm sure this idea is going to elicit a quantity of "Huh?" from readers, which makes my point.

In fact, in a way, I think amateur violin making, and it's fascination with quick, easy, simply-quantifiable results using home made equipment is the bane of real violin science, by subtly defining the direction of much of the research and attracting attention from the more useful stuff. I do know that there are people doing interesting things, though, and I hope they eventually will get more attention and press, even if they don't claim to be replicating Stradivari in various ways.

In short, right from the beginning, violin science has been pre-occupied with tapping things and mapping either the notes or the nodes. As long as that preoccupation prevails, violin science is dead in the water, in my opinion. Note that I'm not saying that this is all that's going on--only that this particular preoccupation has a negative effect on the direction of energy at the issue.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
magnus nedregard

Ok, but to me these are mostly the reasons why
violin makers take an interest in science
and not the other way around, wich sometimes, I'm afraid is for reasons more coloured by "myth and folklore"

True. Sometimes it's difficult to distinguish between a scientist and a violin maker or musician.

For example, Norman Pickering is both a scientist and a musician. The same would be true of Fan Tao.

quote:


Originally posted by:
magnus nedregard

As for benfits; Don't you think Hutchins' research, and the research of others as well, has lead to quite a few bizarre results too? I think the "mineral ground" has brought some useful evidence on the table yes. But more often than not, the benefit from science seems to me, like in the development of strings, to be in factors a little bit external to the violin itself? After all this effort is it all we've got?


I don't know exactly how much we've got. My list wasn't intended to be all inclusive, and I wouldn't doubt that some are using results to benefit their instrument making in ways they don't wish to share. I run into this sometimes when trying to recruit speakers for Oberlin, so I'm confident that at least some people believe they are putting scientific results to good use.

I'm aware of two makers with pretty good reputations among musicians who use computer aided analysis routinely. One won't go into detail. I haven't contacted the other, but know of the use from musicians who have witnessed it and witnessed the results.

And there are at least a couple of more with good reputations who are heavily involved in the research, even if they don't make any "Eureka" public announcements.

So I suspect much more is known and put to use than is disseminated. If there's a desire to have recognition for discovery, one can give out just enough to get the spotlight, while keeping the really good stuff secret for competitive advantage.

Another perspective:

How many times did Edison fail before producing a light bulb which worked?

What if he'd concluded after numerous failures that it wasn't worth pursuing, and nothing could possibly come of it?

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The violin is an art object but also a tool for making music.

Like any other tool it has specs that need to meet the musician demand.Here I think science can have a big role.There's nothing mystical about a violin responding quicker then another one.

Do you know of any scientist that came up with a method to quantify that?or any other aspect of response.The results will be widely accepted if would match the players feedback.

We had instead 50 years of Chandi patterns research which were a dead end in my opinion.Which brings me to the next point.

What is the real motivation of scientists working in the field?

Most scientists have cozy academic tenures which allows them to pick any aspect of violin acoustics and tinker with.Its good to learn about everything, but what's the real life implementation of most of the research.

The violin industry is obviously not structured like other industries where the R&D teams have to deliver hands on results.Maybe that could change with the coming of mass produced composite instruments.

Lastly,there are really only a handful of scientists working on violin related issues,compared with other fields,and their ideas seem to spin more or less around the same theme.As far as I'm concern those ideas are out of touch with the players demand.

Gabriel

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quote:


Originally posted by:
Michael Darnton
Another

interesting phenomenon is transients, and I suspect that for the

player, the behavior of this is almost the most important component

of a great violin. I'm sure this idea is going to elicit a quantity

of "Huh?" from readers, which makes my point. .

Michael, I think you have touched upon a supremely important and

mostly overlooked issue here!

It's a strange coincidence that you mention it now, as I was just

discussing a related issue yesterday with a luthier. We had been

explaining two separate issues to each other, and I suddenly

realized that they were related in a way I hadn't thought of

before-  

He was talking about how violins vary in their "speed" of response.

-not just how fast the strings respond, but how fast the whole

instrument speaks. I immediately realized that if all frequencies

do not speak at the SAME speed, their perceived

relative-amplitude will change.  That may be good or bad, but

it certainly will effect how the violin respond to the player.

 It will also affect how the violin "sounds" to the player.

 While the latter will not intrinsically make the fiddle sound

better to the listener, it will cause the player to perform better,

which in turn will indeed make the fiddle SEEM better-sounding to

the listener.  -But listeners, and perhaps most scientists, do

not look at "playability" nor "response" nor "transients."

An obvious (to me) real-world example:  I continue to be

knocked-out by the mid-range response and depth of my Jurgen Klier.

 (yeah, OK, now I know it's a factory fiddle, but it still

sounds the same!  Looks worse, though -g)  However, when

I record it and listen back, it is obnoxiously "honky" or "rosiny"

 (descriptive words so often fail.) Why this could be due to

the lack of body, I think it is actually something else:  I

think that it has VERY fast transients, esp in the midrange.

 Those transients, while making it a real hoot to play,

make the notes stick-out too much in the mix.  It is quite

possible that a fiddle with exactly the same tonal response (hence

identical FFT graphs at all amplitudes) could sound completely

different if the upper-mid frequencies took a little longer to

develop.  What types of fiddle tuning might acheived this are

beyond even my ability to guess / posit / postulate.

As an experiment, I recorded my Klier on a session, using

particularly aggressive bowing.  I then ran that track through

a "transient modifying" plugin.  This plugin slows down ALL

transients  (it is useful for softening / fattening drums

& cymbals)  While it cannot slow-down the mids only, it

was still a useful thing.  I absolutely heard the violin "sit"

better behind the vocal.  The old adage "BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU

WISH FOR..."  applies quite strongly. Do I want a fiddle that

plays well, or records well?  They may be, in some ways,

diametrically opposed.  (I'm so confused...)

Wrap yer head around THAT one for a while!

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quote:


Originally posted by:
magnus nedregard

quote:


"I think it's a mistake to think of violin making as anything like a scientific field, though I notice that scientists seem driven to pound the perceived nail of violin making with that hammer."

Michael Darnton

Do you stand by that?

Pretty much, unless something changes, which is always a possibility.

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Magnus stated and asked:

------

Ok, the questions I would like to introduce might have been clearer; they were;

1: What are the reasons for the interest scientists take in violin making?

(here comes the answer we all know)

------

I don't know the answer we all know. I do *know that most scientists I know of and many I don't know but heard of, enter the arts (instrument making, music, painting etc...) almost like a magnetic pull. It's as if the left brain says ENOUGH!...give 'ol right a little working time!

I am strongly scientifically bent and I'm trying to get unbent...it is painful to walk around this world crooked. It's nice to see beauty and art for what it is rather than how it is.

For this reason my heros and mentors are the traditionalists who love their skill, understand why they approach making the way they do (usually based on logic).

I have nothing against people who experiment as long as they understand science (and most don't).

I wouldn't care if everyone started using carbon fiber violins. If you understand history (I love history) you would know that after some years of CF there would be a nostalgic resurgence for traditional instruments, even if on a small elite level. Maybe.

What is the answer we all know for #1?

* non scientific poll

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One of my favorites is:

In quantum physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a mathematical limit on the accuracy with which it is possible to measure everything there is to know about a physical system. In its simplest form, it applies to the position and momentum of a single particle, and implies that if we continue increasing the accuracy with which one of these is measured, there will come a point at which the other must be measured with less accuracy.

I think a lot of science is based on uncertainty, but we have come to believe that science is golden.

I agree with the idea that it is part art, what does the the chemical properties of paint have to do with the moanin lisa?

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Ha ha Cassi, where you been?

Transients are noises produced before a string reaches a stable sustained oscillation, and also when that oscillation decays, such as when changing bow direction or changing notes. Even to some extent with vibrato.

In addition, the body of the instrument takes some time to settle into a stable oscillation regimen, so has it's own transients which probably can never be entirely independant of the string

The same thing happens with the air column in a wind instrument.

The transient sound is quite different from the sustained sound, and something which is a large part of the "signature" of any instrument.

In tests, people have had trouble even identifying what type of instrument they were hearing when the transients were removed.

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Ok, could someone please explain to the lesser educated here what Transients are? I am a little lost. And slowly please, without too many complicated words.

Dean: The scientists I've met all take for granted that the Cremonese fiddles are about 1000 % better than all the other instruments. This is something so many take for something absolutely true, although it is largely based on "myth and folklore" as earlier mentioned. That's more or less "the answer" wich in my opinion can't be the best starting point for s. research?

Some of them even make fiddles that sound absolutely horrible and look even worse. Oops, got a bit carried away there, sorry. I've had some bad experience with local specimens.

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Science is to violin as meterology is to atmosphere. Too many variables to factor in to understand the violin system completly. Meterologist have gotten much better at predicting weather but will never be perfect. Science arguably is advancing in our understanding of materials(many) and form of the fiddle(more limited). It makes me happy that science may never get the violin down 100%. Orchestras might sound a tad one dimentional if every voice was the same. I think the real beauty of the fiddle is to accept variability to some degree so that each one will remain a unique voice.

Mike

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Science can never define the best instrument because that judgement is made on a purely arbitrary basis. There may be a concensus among groups of violin "people" that the early Cremonese are the absolute standard but that doesn't give science a standard to measure by. Science in its most practical form is a discipline of measurement and comparison against a known standard and the results of variability. One must have some sort of a fixed standard to begin a scientific study. You can analyse a sound wave and try to reproduce it but that doesn't do the violin justice. Actually, that wouldn't even do a banjo justice. Guitars, banjos, mandolins, pianos, all have their own standards of excellence, their own "Stradivari" but it is all arbitrary. Music is an art form. You either like the sound of an instrument or you don't, to varying degrees. One 90 year old maker I know of says you don't know if its a good violin until its played.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
magnus nedregard
Ok, could

someone please explain to the lesser educated here what Transients

are? I am a little lost. And slowly please, without too many

complicated words. .

O

K

Slow-

ly.

I agree with what David posted, but I will ADD a different

definition, which I think is at least as important to this

discussion -  

The terms "transient" and "transients" are used in several

different ways, both in acoustic theory and in electronics. What

concerns me here is "transient frequencies." The

technical definition of "transient" is "going across."  So, we

are talking about the speed at which various frequencies get

through the instrument (from where to where is a completely

separate, makes-your-head-explode issue) to the outside air

molecules.

Overall speed, from bow movement to the ears, will affect only the

player's perception -of both responsiveness (real) and sound

(perceived, though not necessarily real)  An obvious

real-world example is when switching from light to heavy gauge

strings.

Of perhaps more importance is the relationship of the

RELATIVE-speed of various frequencies through the instrument, both

between different notes, and (more importantly) between any note's

fundamental and it's harmonics. As I wrote

earlier, if you change the temporal (time) relationship between two

frequencies, you change their apparent amplitude relationships.

 The frequency that hits your ear sooner will seem louder,

even though it isn't. (that's one part of the "masking"

effect, but we'd better not go THERE)

SO:

If a violin is modified such that the first octave harmonic of the

low G is slowed down (as it passes through the instrument) then

that note will sound duller / darker whatever, EVEN IF THE OVERALL

FREQUENCY SPECTRUM REMAINS THE SAME.  This would be the

limitation of using (only) FFT analysis.

Hopefully you can see where this leads and its several permutations

regarding violin theory & head-explosion. You take it from

there, I have to get back to work for a while.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
mcarufe
Science is to violin

as meterology is to atmosphere. Too many variables to factor in to

understand the violin system completly. Meterologist have gotten

much better at predicting weather but will never be perfect.

Science arguably is advancing in our understanding of

materials(many) and form of the fiddle(more limited). It makes me

happy that science may never get the violin down 100%. Orchestras

might sound a tad one dimentional if every voice was the same. I

think the real beauty of the fiddle is to accept variability to

some degree so that each one will remain a unique voice.

Mike

Your words reminded me on the theory of chaos and butterfly effect.

So many variables and every each of them can change the final

outcome outcome. Change one in configuration, take small shave,

change a piece of wood and everything will collapse or change

at least.

Marijan 

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I wonder if part of the problem with the scientific community, or even any community in general is thinking that an idea needs to be validated while it is still nothing more than an idea.

Some of you know about my work with bridges. I have piles upon piles (I'm talking hundreds, if not thousands) of bridges that I've cut of every conceivable design and just about every type of wood available. If I reach way down into the bottom of the pile and pull one out and have a look at it, I usually just sit there, staring at it, trying to decide if I should cry or laugh my head off. Although I am involved with the scientific community, I am not a scientist. I do however, have access to various resources, that are perhaps also resources used by the scientists, that aid in my research - if it can even be considered valid research by the scientific community.

I know first-hand how an idea can develop if the idea is persude. I realize that many think that the violin bridge is fine the way it is, just as many other things are fine the way they are. However, there are people like myself that are driven to take something and try and see which directions it can be taken. Everytime I think I've developed a really good bridge, the development process takes me down another road, dragging my pile of bridges along and I end up with another design. If anyone who has been following my research is left befuddled by all the twists and turns, I'll guarantee that it's a lot easier for you to watch, than for me feeling responsible for doing the befuddling.

I'm not sure what to think about some of the scientists, who's research has been greatly scrutinized here in the forum. I wonder if some of the criticism has been the result of their inability to present the results of their research.

Fortunately I seem to lack the misfortune of people considering me to be some sort of wacko, or at least I'm blessed with the good fortune of people keeping such thoughts to themselves, as well as encouragement from many people - many of whom I've never even met. In conclusion... I must admit that I truly enjoy my work with the violin bridge and I very much appreciate the support I've received from the people who visit this forum.

Tim

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If you want to follow what happens with science in violin making, go take a gander at the afterlength thread. There's not too much of an idea developing there about what changing afterlength does to the sound of a violin, but the sharp theoretical discussions on the science side of why that thing that they don't know about or recognize happens are highly activated. THAT's what's wrong with science in violin making. :-)

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