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Secret Knowledge and violins


Craig Tucker
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I discovered Strad's secret sometime ago. I never mentioned anything about it, but perhaps it's time I reveal this information to the world. Anybody who has read Hill's book on Antoni Stradivari had the secret blatantly staring out from the page in boldface print. In my edition, Dover Publications, 1963, is on the left page facing page 1, Strad's family tree. Look how many wives he went through. Think, loud, nagging wives.

Where would any sane man seek refuge from such continual torment? The workshop, of course. Given these circumstances, Strad spent as much time as possible working out fine details to preserve his sanity.

This confirms the old saying " Behind every successful man, there's a vociferous wife."

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I think violin making as a trade is no different to any other trade when it comes to secrets. When I say trade I mean proper trades like: boat building.. steel or wooden, steel engineering /tool making/turning, good furniture making, cooperage etc etc. There will always be "secrets" but not in the "Holy Grail" sense. I would prefer to use the term "tricks of the trade" that one picks up over years of experience. Some tradesmen are very generous with their knowledge whilst others are not.

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Hi CT,

What I find most amusing about all this "secret" stuff is that there seems to be this underlying belief that if people can somehow crack the "secret" then there will suddenly be a flood of universal recognition and appreciation. It's like spending your life desperately trying to work out exactly what paints and brush strokes Van Gogh used, thinking that if only you can manage to do this then your paintings will be worth millions too.

Maybe people should forget about the so-called secrets and just accept the fact that only Van Gogh painted Van Goghs and only Strad made Strads.

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Since there's no acoustic standard for lutherie and we're left with subjective descriptions of 'sound', in two words or less how would you describe

the sound of an Andrea Amati fiddle compared to the benchmark Stradivari sound?

I think you answer a question with a question here. But I could give the sources I have available here:

Accardo's The Violins of Cremona where he play the Charles IX violin by Andrea Amati, the Hammerle by Nicolo Amati, a 1734 del Gesu, the Cremonese Strad from 1715 and the Quarestani violin by J Guarneri filius Andrea from 1689.

Ricchis The Glory of Cremona where he play an Andrea Amati from 1560-70, a Nicolo Amati from 1656, six Strads from 1677-1733 a Bergonzi and five del Gesus. This recording contain the same piece played on all of the instruments in addition to music pieces suited to each instrument.

On the Homage CD with Ehnes playing Fultons violins, there is a piece played on an Andrea Amati viola from 1676 that can be compared to a da Salo and a Guadagnini viola.

I have made analyses to all these, but it is some years ago now. And it's quite a while since I listened to them. I believe at least the Glroy of Cremona recordings can be heard on youtube.

The older violins do tend to have a bit more of Dünnwald characteristics in their played sound. If the extracted parameter values from the spectra are summed and added to the overall soun dpressure level, these violins tend to end up high on that scale, if not highest. Two samples are not many. But I guess the Andrea Amatis are slightly less focussed than the Strads and a bit darker sounding. In these recordings the Andrea Amati is the loudest or among the loudest violins. I do not know if this is related to the recording situation and music, especially on the the Violins of Cremona where different pieces are played on each violin. They are also piano accompanied.

I like the sound of these Amatis.

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Hi CT,

What I find most amusing about all this "secret" stuff is that there seems to be this underlying belief that if people can somehow crack the "secret" then there will suddenly be a flood of universal recognition and appreciation. It's like spending your life desperately trying to work out exactly what paints and brush strokes Van Gogh used, thinking that if only you can manage to do this then your paintings will be worth millions too.

Maybe people should forget about the so-called secrets and just accept the fact that only Van Gogh painted Van Goghs and only Strad made Strads.

Exactly.

It seems simple enough, but if everyone used reason and logic in their thinking - who'd we have to kick around?

This is pretty much exactly what I think also, and is a good example of how many people seem to misplace the central essential point of what's important in creating something extrodinary, in particular, where art or complex traditional craft is concerned.

And no, I wouldn't care to delve int the question of "What is art"?. (maybe next year)

Thinking that, in painting, materials and/or technique will provide a valid answer to the question of why some painters achieve *immortality*, or, how they manage to engender a great demand for their work, is sort of like missing the forest completely because every individual tree in it must be identified first, then the soil type determined, then the climate assased, altitude and fauna cataloged, ad infinitum - in order to understand or appreciate the fact that the forest is simply sitting there, in front of them.

Which, in my opinion sort of misses the point.

I have come to believe that the difference in thinking (where emphasis is placed, automatically, as if by reflex) might be a physical phenomenon - like a right/left brain thing. Perhaps both types of thinking are a necessary ingredient for the long term survival of mankind, and never the twain shall meet...

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Since there's no acoustic standard for lutherie and we're left with subjective descriptions of 'sound', in two words or less how would you describe

the sound of an Andrea Amati fiddle compared to the benchmark Stradivari sound?

Thanks,

Jim

In fact there is a most rigorous acoustic standard.

Just because I have a curious nature, what "standard" other than a subjective one (listening/playing for example) would you consider "valid".

A particular number or graph or chart ?

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And no, I wouldn't care to delve int the question of "What is art"?. (matbe next year)

Almost anything can be art even without justification, which means that crap can be considered art. Too bad every descriptor is somewhat subjective! Can't anything in life be black or white, other than black and white? We humans, we want everything to be bicameral... good bad... nice mean... pretty ugly... Strad Guarneri...? ;)

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Just because I have a curious nature, what "standard" other than a subjective one (listening/playing for example) would you consider "valid".

It really boils down to 'what' one thinks the Cremonese were attempting to achieve with their violin design(s): (1) provide a little noisemaker to accompany the singers & poets of the day; OR (2) provide Players with a fine instrument to more precisely spell any musical composition they desire using played string frequencies as their alphabet.

From my perspective, Andrea Amati [or whomever] was trying to achieve (2) above. How is the abc alphabet supposed to work?

An 'objective' acoustic standard for instrument design simply details how geometry precisely organizes played string frequencies in 3D space & time. Everything else is left to the Players' skill. Obviously Amati, Stradivari and Del Gesu weren't working from the same acoustic design code.

So Craig, I'm not suggesting listening tests be replaced by anything. I am suggesting an objective acoustic standard could be used to simply measure how well different violins get frequencies from Point A to Point B so whatever Players are spellin' will be clearly heard.

Jim

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It really boils down to 'what' one thinks the Cremonese were attempting to achieve with their violin design(s): (1) provide a little noisemaker to accompany the singers & poets of the day; OR (2) provide Players with a fine instrument to more precisely spell any musical composition they desire using played string frequencies as their alphabet.

From my perspective, Andrea Amati [or whomever] was trying to achieve (2) above. How is the abc alphabet supposed to work?

This isn't a loaded question by any chance, is it?

An 'objective' acoustic standard for instrument design simply details how geometry precisely organizes played string frequencies in 3D space & time. Everything else is left to the Players' skill. Obviously Amati, Stradivari and Del Gesu weren't working from the same acoustic design code.

So Craig, I'm not suggesting listening tests be replaced by anything. I am suggesting an objective acoustic standard could be used to simply measure how well different violins get frequencies from Point A to Point B so whatever Players are spellin' will be clearly heard.

Jim

OK, I'll go this step further down this road.

From my perspective - this isn't a bad goal, but when the emphasis moves away from the basic, simplest, most direct, most reliable, test possible (direct playing and listening) and concentrates on the necessity to "prove", using science, the validity of a virtually universal consensual aesthetic agreement - the need for such tests seem to inevitably result in even more subjective interpretation(s) (i.e. unlimited personal views about how the results should be unraveled and further refined technical arguments) than the direct experience itself, and thus, is superfluous.

Still, such things engage even the best minds, never mind those minds that seem not to grasp the basics and simply become sidetracked, so, I wouldn't think to take a stand against such enquiry - but for me - it isn't on the agenda as I can still play, and listen, and judge for myself what is required to rise above the pack. A graphic representation doesn't seem help me much, and probably never will. But that's just me, by voicing an opinion on the matter, I'm not necessarily making a universal statement against such practices.

Again, my opinions shouldn't be considered as anything other than my opinions, which, by the nature of opinions, will be idiosyncratic and are not to be taken as a suggestion that I "own" any sort of standard by which others should think or act, right?

Still, in order to post, I must inevitably post from the point of view from which I see the world.

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It really boils down to 'what' one thinks the Cremonese were attempting to achieve with their violin design(s): (1) provide a little noisemaker to accompany the singers & poets of the day; OR (2) provide Players with a fine instrument to more precisely spell any musical composition they desire using played string frequencies as their alphabet.

From my perspective, Andrea Amati [or whomever] was trying to achieve (2) above.

How would that help you (or me) make a better violin?

---------

Incidentally, I find that many discussions apply 20/21st century thinking to conditions in the 1600/1700s. For instanced, no daily showers, no Fabreze, human excrement flowing in the streets, dancing kits etc. I would be surprised if the ideal of music-making in those times was not much more 'robust' than our modern sanitised perspective permits us to concede.

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The more you make, the better you get, and the more people you ask and the more you circulate, the more “inside” information you acquire.

Experience really IS the best teacher.

I'd combine the two-

Experience with communication, experience making, experience seeing old and new excellent work are all necessary. I have seen experience in a vacuum and it doesn't work well (in my opinion).

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As David commented, I think there are few real secrets, and the Maestronet board has collected most of what I do, too. The more difficult problem is communicating. People really only accept what they're ready to hear at any given point. If someone has pre-decided what they believe, important things that don't fit that model breeze right past them and are essentially lost to them, unless they're particularly alert learners.

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An 'objective' acoustic standard for instrument design simply details how geometry precisely organizes played string frequencies in 3D space & time. Everything else is left to the Players' skill. Obviously Amati, Stradivari and Del Gesu weren't working from the same acoustic design code.

Since we've never gotten and details, how 'bout if you demonstrate that it's possible or even desirable? Then maybe people will start to be interested.

It seems like you've been hinting at these concepts in almost every post for several years now, and not much is happening. Is there a plan B, or are you just going to nag forever?

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As David commented, I think there are few real secrets, and the Maestronet board has collected most of what I do, too. The more difficult problem is communicating. People really only accept what they're ready to hear at any given point. If someone has pre-decided what they believe, important things that don't fit that model breeze right past them and are essentially lost to them, unless they're particularly alert learners.

So true. There are pearls that are presented here through the years yet people who were members through that time seem to miss them more often than not. I keep a note book with every tip/hint/technique that I have seen or heard of through the years.

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It really boils down to 'what' one thinks the Cremonese were attempting to achieve with their violin design(s): (1) provide a little noisemaker to accompany the singers & poets of the day; OR (2) provide Players with a fine instrument to more precisely spell any musical composition they desire using played string frequencies as their alphabet.

From my perspective, Andrea Amati [or whomever] was trying to achieve (2) above.

How would that help you (or me) make a better violin?

Simple [in regard to my (2) above]. IF there is an acoustic design code AND you understand its underlying design geometry and how that relates to played string frequencies, then instead of using laborious empirical techniques you'd know precisely what to change to 'customize' an instrument to any Player's desire. You might design many new violin 'Models', or you might design one really great violin 'Model' that needs only set-up changes to customize to different Player preferences.

You may even appreciate where the Cremonese Old Masters missed the boat, i.e., why there are relatively so few great-sounding violins.

Jim

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." ~ Steve Jobs

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The Andrea Amati violin may be listened to on The First Three Tracks Here. [Which Violin was played on each Track?]

I think the Amati sounds 'wonderful' despite the very slight nasal sound. :)

Jim

Nice links. Nasality is a somewhat tricky issue as, according to scientific tests, differnt persons may have different perception of what nasality is. Or to state it different: There are different approaches as to analyzing nasality objectively. According to Fritz et al's work there seem to be at least two types of interpretition of nasality related to nasal sounds in speech. I do not recall the exact theory and content here.

I can sort of understand your observation. Personally I do not perceive this as being nasal.

Edited by Anders Buen
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"...the Cremonese Old Masters missed the boat..."

Jim, this pretty much sums up what you have to contribute, doesn't it?

When I was a child (maybe eleven?) I was in a (childish) argument with another child. Both were essentially doing the "my dad can whip your dad" routine, but we were not really directing it against each other...just crowing like the brainless little cockerels we were...the other fellow was blabbering away about how his dad could whip Cassius Clay (how's that for dating oneself?)... I blabbered in return, not having any idea who the person was, only that he was a boxer, and that my dad had been one too (in my child's-eye view, Golden Gloves and prize-fighting were only separated by the line of money).

I went home and asked my dad, "What would you do if you were in a fight with Cassius Clay?" His response? "I'd RUN! I'd have no chance at all!" (What a shock!)

You know what made the difference between the brainless crowing of the two grade-school know-it-alls and his response? He was actually an experienced boxer, and knew what mastery looked like. (Not to mention the fact that he was only an amateur lightweight, and the man in qustion was undisputed heavyweight champion of the world...)

It was a good lesson for me. I learned that humility and sobriety were partners...and that together they could keep a person out of trouble.

One of the reasons I don't post, making sweeping statements about the "Old Masters", is that I have played precisely two of their instruments, and held and looked at four...ever. I have only made sixteen instruments, though I hope to make more.

I am not qualified to speak regarding their mastery. I hope to learn from the study of their shadow across the centuries.

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