Jump to content
Maestronet Forums

How Good is Our Theory?


Michael_Molnar

Recommended Posts

I am a bona fide scientist and read the various theoretical proposals carefully and with great interest. I am also on TOBI-L.

My question is: How much has our various pursuits improved making a superior violin? For example, how has "plate tuning" helped to produce a violin competing with a Stradivari or Del Gesu? Show me one area that truly produces an improved instrument? Are we scientists/engineers just blowing smoke?

I realize that the Luddites will jump on this thread and try to turn this into a field day parade. So, I want my fellow engineers/scientists and experimenters to reply.

Stay tuned.

Mike

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 148
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

As a semi-Luddite who has a scientific background, I have been trying to match up what the writers of up to a hundred years ago had to say about things like soundposts and bridges, with the modern journal articles on the same. The difference being, one is practical advice without explanation, the other explanation without practical application.

To me, this gap is quite frustrating. Anyone else feel this way?

Addie, not trained in acoustics.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had a long reply, but it looked way too tiresome and I deleted it in favor of a brief opinion statement:

Plate tuning: nope*

Chladni patterns: nope

Micro-tuning: nope

modal analysis: not yet**

wood properties: some help

* plate tuning can help (vaguely) get in the ballpark of stiffness that you want. However, some great violins are stiff, others are flexible... the same can be said for horrible violins. So there's no magic path to greatness there.

** vibration of a vioin body is extremenly complex, and it's very difficult to control the mode shapes and amplitudes. I have tried, and the results are questionable. Schleske might be better at it. Knowing the mode shapes can be fascinating, but it's not immediately obvious what to do to make something better. At least it shows that the "plates as a speaker cone" concept should be thrown out the window.

At the moment, the "trial and error" theory still looks very efficient.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The question I would like to ask is, how does one quantify human intuition? And with regard to the greatest of the great (a title generally attributed to Stradivari and del Gesu), how can one expect to duplicate genius? I think it is folly, truly I do. My own opinion (which a few other, much more qualified people seem to hold) is that our best hope is to really understand the age in which these masterpieces were created (to really get into the head of the maker, if you will). We've had over 200 years of trying it the other way, by some very bright people I might add, nevertheless we still seem to fall short. Perhaps a portion of this may be put down to simple aging, however such an approach does not address the lesser instruments from long ago (even attrition doesn't satisfy this claim as so many remain, of varied quality). It is tempting to think one can analyze this beast (the violin) to the point of complete understanding, but the road is a meandering one (marked by a "DEAD END" sign, for those who care to take notice before taking the turn).

Sorry, I once thought (hoped...maybe the better word) sufficient analysis would win the day, but no longer. It is a modern disease, to think science can answer or address all claims made of it, however some aspects of life reside squarely outside of the scientific realm. And while one wouldn't think the violin one of these, we've yet to be proven otherwise.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I realize that the Luddites will jump on this thread and try to turn this into a field day parade. So, I want my fellow engineers/scientists and experimenters to reply.

Stay tuned.

Mike

Whew! Since you deemed it wise to tack "experimenters" on there at the end...

I would say, "Not very" in answer to the question "How good is our theory"?

"Not very".

But just to keep things on an even keel, the answer is also "Not very", to either side of whatever line you'd care to draw. Intuition alone hasn't provided anything like consistant superior results either... as far as I can see.

As always, I believe that the answer has much more to do with time, intelligence, repitiion practice, talent and dedication. - In other words, I do not believed the formula for success has changed one bit, over all these years.

Even for violin makers.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"...My question is: How much has our various pursuits improved making a superior violin? For example, how has "plate tuning" helped to produce a violin competing with a Stradivari or Del Gesu? Show me one area that truly produces an improved instrument? Are we scientists/engineers just blowing smoke?"

Thank you for this, Michael.

I've been wondering very much the same, but without any bona fides to legitimately frame the question as you have.

Very interested to read through this thread.

Best regards,

Ernie

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In fairness, it's a hard problem, but resources and access to instruments has been rather limited, and will likely remain limited. And those with the best access may well have kept some results secret. When even listening tests are rare and often shrouded in secrecy because of the possibility of economic repercussions, this is not really an open field for investigation.

There will always be an artistic component as well as a trial-and-error component, but given sufficient resources, I believe some important questions surely could be answered. Whether enough work will ever be done, I have no idea.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am a bona fide scientist and read the various theoretical proposals carefully and with great interest. I am also on TOBI-L.

My question is: How much has our various pursuits improved making a superior violin? For example, how has "plate tuning" helped to produce a violin competing with a Stradivari or Del Gesu? Show me one area that truly produces an improved instrument? Are we scientists/engineers just blowing smoke?

I realize that the Luddites will jump on this thread and try to turn this into a field day parade. So, I want my fellow engineers/scientists and experimenters to reply.

Stay tuned.

Mike

Mike,

As a non-scientist and a non-casual observer, I ask this question of makers all the time. The answer has for years been something like "well, all this stuff is interesting and I always read about it...but it hasn't changed my making." ....until recently ... I am hearing good things about the program that illustrates the CT scans.

Joe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In what way has looking at CT scans changed someone's making? I haven't seen anything new and different in the scans I've seen. If anything it has shown that the woods used by the old makers had a wide range of properties much like the ones used today. Nothing new about arching or graduation has been revealed. It's just the thrilling new thing du jour. IMHO

I live in a university town, a large number of my customers are academics of various kinds. One thing I've discovered in that scientists are amazingly inept when they step outside of their field of training. Very few know how to structure a valid experiment.

OK

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The question I would like to ask is, how does one quantify human intuition? And with regard to the greatest of the great (a title generally attributed to Stradivari and del Gesu), how can one expect to duplicate genius? I think it is folly, truly I do.

While I do believe Strad was a brilliant and skilled maker, and Guarneri a wildly creative one, it seems implausable to me to attribute the remarkable tone today of some of their instruments to the "genius" of their makers. We don't even know if they sounded any good when they were made (there is some evidence that the Vieuxtemps wasn't so hot a while back).

I don't claim that technology and theory can duplicate the best of the best Cremonese violins, but I do hold out hope that some day, through analysis or experiment, we can at least determine WHY we can't duplicate them. Trying to achieve the Strad or Guarneri sound through immersion in the spirit of their time is, I believe, filled with at least as many dead-ends as any other route (or more so). To be clear: we are looking for a path to make a modern instrument that duplicates the sound of the best 300 year old violins.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In what way has looking at CT scans changed someone's making? I haven't seen anything new and different in the scans I've seen. If anything it has shown that the woods used by the old makers had a wide range of properties much like the ones used today. Nothing new about arching or graduation has been revealed. It's just the thrilling new thing du jour. IMHO

I do know that the density measurements from the CT scans add to the knowledge base, and that George Stoppani used the density information to select wood for his copy of the Titian. Knowing the graduations and arching alone leaves a lot of guessing. Even with density known, there's still a lot of information missing, though.

edit: the other novel thing about the CT scans is the ability to go directly from a scan to CNC routing out a plate. It's a new twist, but doesn't look like a magic bullet.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

trying to get modern science to make a better stradivari is like trying to get jackson pollack or salvador dali to help you paint a better mona lisa or last supper

i think building may diverge in two distinct paths, traditionalists who endeavour to use the methods and materials of the old masters, to produce violins that sound like the old masters did when brand new, ct dolan made an excellent arguement for this camp above

and the other path to make something "bigger" and better than before, a thoroughly modern violin using science etc to make something good but totally different than the old masters, possibily using treatments and materials that werent even available 250 yrs ago

both schools have their pros and cons, and in one or two hundred years the people of the future will be able to decide which school is more interesting, valuable, and useable as a musical instrument.

i still think modern science has revealed less new stuff, than there are old methods, "secrets" etc still lost or hidden

Link to comment
Share on other sites

..

For example, how has "plate tuning" helped to produce a violin competing with a Stradivari or Del Gesu?

..

Should we call a thing like plate tuning "science"?

For a non-scientist like me, it has definitly been a good thing to read some chemistry, physics and biology. If not for anything else, it has helped me to not construct silly pet theories!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Okey, dokey, here's a simple question. Tell me, please, where this has been answered.

Take a great Strad or Guarneri. One that is unquestionably great by most attributions. Any one at all. What are the wood properties (or at least the properties of the assembled plates? Density, stiffness in however many dimensions, damping, the usual parameters that determine acoustic properties.

In other words, is there or is there not anything special about the wood that cannot be matched by some reasonably available hunk of modern tonewood? Can anyone give a definitive answer? It's a powerful question, because it determines whether to look to the wood for answers, or somewhere else. I have absolutely no doubt that given adequate talent, resources and access, this question could be answered, if only someone would lend a great instrument for the relevant, er, tests.

Now you all should have no trouble following up with a second and a third equally relevant question. If we had those answers I think there would be real progress.

So the problem is hard and resources are inadequate. But so what? That's how science often works. This doesn't exactly answer Don's question, but I think it's worth pointing out.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From a scientific aproach (which shouldn't necessarily be the only one), I think the biggest problem on the violin field is the lack of a scientific base on cuantify-ing / meassuring. There's not yet a universal (or scientific) way to cuantify results.

And that problem gets down to the roots.

On the other hand, to someone who has never build a violin, some reasonings and questions that could be found with no logic, would take sense after facing a violin making

Link to comment
Share on other sites

trying to get modern science to make a better stradivari is like trying to get jackson pollack or salvador dali to help you paint a better mona lisa or last supper

A very deep thought here, worth considering.

That being said, science isn't a mysterious monster, unless you don't understand it.

Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.

Does traditional violin apprenticeship qualify as scientific method? I think so. I also think the modern analytical techniques are additional tools the maker may use, if they are understood. They are not a panacea... there are too many variables involved. Maybe someday the global climate modelers will get bored and build a violin model that incorporates the same level of complexity?

At least tap tuning won't cut your fingers off if you don't understand how to use it. tongue.gif

Addie, not a Machine Breaker or Frame Stocking Knitter.

BTW, for all you Luddites, Machine Breaking was a capital crime. blink.gif

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Speaking as a luddite ......

Science focuses on the physical properties of a given violin (or of a statistical sample).

A great maker focuses on the playing qualities of a given violin.

The two are not the same, in fact a pursuit of physical properties seems to be counter-productive when aiming for playing qualities.

Great playing quality is made up of lots of factors, none of which are of individually indispensable, all of which can be mashed up and balanced against each other in wildly different ways. Without a reference point ie. the sound and playablilty of an ideal violin firmly lodged in one's head, there's no way through that jungle. It's a jungle because no two "great" violins have anything like the same physical properties, and the potential for massive variation even in the same model is huge.

I think that science is trying in most cases to replace or bypass the intensive training, endless practice, and phenomenal ABILITY TO HEAR which are prerequisites for a great maker (in the past makers would have had a head start in the form of a working apprenticeship).

When it comes the "the makers whose names end in i", as Lyndon has said, this is like comparing the work of a 17th century great master with Jackson Pollock. Both are artworks and cultural documents, but they document totally different cultures with pretty much opposing ideals. My own personal belief is that we have everything available to us that the old masters had - age is clearly not the issue since many old violins are terrible. However we are hampered by various factors, for instance the mistaken notion that we can get machines to do our listening for us, or the fact that it's possible to sell indifferent new violins for quite a lot of money, given the right branding & marketing.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My question is: How much has our various pursuits improved making a superior violin?

Great thread Michael.

May I add - not trying to hijack anything :)- but as an audio engineer, who spent many hours trying to improve the sounds of the instruments captured by microphones, only adding to your great question, what are the features to be improved on a violin?

(I believe it is hard to improve by copying)

I have some in my mind, but my knowledge on the subject is minimal compared makers, so I'll draw a parallel, an acoustic guitar.

An acoustic guitar usually lacks bottom end on the lower strings.

Usually resonates beautifully in certain notes and is dead on others.

Usually sounds very thin and dull on the higher notes.

Sustain is something to be improved.

Some notes louder than others.

Open strings sound fuller than fingered ones.

Chords closer to the headstock sound much fuller than higher frets.

Not comfortable to play the higher frets, specially chords.

I can go on for days, but I'm only trying to illustrate a point.:)

What are the flaws on violins that one would aim to better?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Probably will never know without controlled trials. In my former life I directed a large research budget at NIH and worked with top medical researchers to design clinical trials with the intent of eliminating bias. Applied to assessing violins, I think trials are needed where:

The person playing the instrument (as much as possible) should not know who made the instrument or how it was made (could be hard to do), have no vested interest, and be willing to put his best effort into playing every violin. Have multiple soloists play each instrument. Always the risk that someone who knows they are playing a Strad will play it better because of bias.

People collecting objective data should not know anything about the instrument.

People making subjective judgments should not know anything about the instrument.

Multiple experts should interpret the data without knowing about the instrument.

Robust statistical analysis should be used.

All commercial bias must be eliminated.

The results should be published in peer reviewed journals.

These are features of a "double blind" trial. It is how new therapies are developed, and old wives tales are put to rest.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.



×
×
  • Create New...