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David Beard

Copyist, Innovator, Reconstructionist

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First, there is the inescapable observation:

 

Violin making remains dominated by an ideal of the Old Italian violin

  • The ruling ideal for something like two centuries, regardless of merit
  • But somewhere between 1740 and 1840 the how and why of the old making faded away
  • These instruments live on, modified and played today at the top of  the performer’s world
  • The old instruments get the attention and respect, and lead the pricing

 

 

In relation to this old ideal, we might partition later violin making into three very broad categories:

 

  1. Copyist--   Make by trying to copy example instruments from the old ideal
  2. Innovator--   Create or try to improve independent of the old ideal   
  3. Reconstructionist--  Make trying to reconstruct methods from the old ideal

 

 

Making by trying to copy specific instruments, or by using models ‘inspired’ by particular makers has been the broadly accept norm for a long while now.   Presumably, copying captures virtues from the model.   Of course, there are always limits.

 

Innovation can lead to interesting results.  Uniquely artful creations fall in this category, as well as scientific or engineered improvements.   Some innovators have even proscribed complete redesigns of the violin family.  But as yet, there is no sign or even hint of the old ideal yielding pride of place.  

 

The attempt to build by reconstructing old methods might be seen as an extension or part of copy work.   The effort is limited by incomplete knowledge.   But it’s easy to make a start by avoiding anything that clearly isn’t historical.  Since the old makers clearly weren’t copyists of each other, or even of themselves, at some point the copyist and reconstruction roads diverge.

 

 

 

What sort of maker are you?

 

I’m definitely trying to do the reconstruction thing.

 

I suppose most of the established pros are working as copyists.  But perhaps you have an innovator or reconstructionist lurking inside?

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I think the principal reason we haven't moved far away from the concept laid out in the 17th/18th century is that the music hasn't changed either.

Your 3 categories could also be applied to classical music ...

 

1. Copyist - classical repertoire whose essence is retained, but where the performance style has evolved

2. Innovator - wholetone, microtonal, electronic, musique concrete etc.

3. Reconstructionist - historically informed performance

 

We can see that the weight of public opinion remains overwhelmingly with number 1, which is exactly where we are with violin-making.

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Could not have said it better Martin.

 

It is interesting to observe music/arts appear as a new somewhat innovative style and than just halt in creation once it becomes established, it seems as if it was a smaller group of people trying new things at first that when the group expands you get the "this is how it is done" types, and they halt innovation and sometimes even crucify innovators, the innovators expand their expenses and become afraid of risk because of large bills, so begin copying themselves.

 

Have seen it quite a few times in my life, funk, grunge, hip-hop, metal, industrial, darkwave, different electronic music styles, etc...the list is long..

 

IMHO the reconstructionist and innovator are more into having fun (dreamers)  than the copyist who is more practical and afraid of committing a mistake. In the stuff I make (not a violin maker) reconstructionist (history, methods) and innovator, I like the adrenaline, copying is too safe for me.  :)

 

Interesting enough when I cook food I copy - perhaps the most important thing of all that I make (food) I am afraid to risk (the Italian food ghost will come and haunt me till eternity). :rolleyes:

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The electric violin is quite a leap forward, as it is not in itself a musical instrument but a controller that can produce a vast range of sounds and effects. Haven't seen a concerto for one yet, nor do I need to hear Beethoven's string quartets played 'enhanced'.

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As a maker, I don't see myself fitting any of the categories all that well.  Some of copyist, some of innovator, maybe... but really there needs to be another category of

Engineer--  Trying to determine the acoustic response and player interactions that are important and desirable, and then determine how properties of the wood and structure influence them.

 

One way to try to figure out that stuff is to copy examples of instruments that are known to work; another way is to do innovative experiments.  After the dust settles, I'd probably do mostly copy-like work, as that is the stuff that sells... but if someone wanted something bizarre and different, that would be fun too. 

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Well, 

I've got to say that I have the greatest respect for "modern" music. 

More so, liking and respect, that is, than for anything composed long ago.

Though, many compositions I know from repetitive hearing throughout my lifetime of "classical" music from the past, is astounding - that the composers created such marvels of sound, using the instruments available to them then, and that part of the acceptable creative process was "composition" which included the act of writing the music down, it all remains astounding and impressive.

 

Music that leaves behind preconceived ideologies with regards to what has been accepted, or is or has been acceptable, as 'music' up to this point in time- is what I seek and admire today. 

Well, the fact is that music is simply sound. And I am very impressed with modern twists, as I am with modern visual arts also. What has gone before is impressive for it's often very great precision and craft - but what the great minds are creating today - I love to listen to as well as look at. Yes, Innovation - creativity - modernity - the current edge of things, everything really.

 

So, I guess you could say that though I respect and have a great eye for any and all art or arts of the past, both musically and graphically - I am firmly in the realm of the innovative and the nodern.  

 

Very often modern and/or contemporary artists are looked at questionably in many ways; Is that really art, is that really music?

Interestingly enough most of the music that I  listened to in my growing up years, various industrial and metal and modern classical -  people like Philip Glass, John Adams, Savant, the Beatles, etc. well including probably hundreds of various musics that have been created in recent times...

Glass is now very acceptable, with many of his repetitive classical-esque background music for films, and I even hear him as background music on TV programs - or groups like Radiohead or other modern musical compositions and composers... 

 

  I am going to join with CarloBartolini here, as I see he has expanded his musical list to include pretty much "everything" modern...

Music - what a great art form. To be heard - to attempt to expand the thing past its boundaries - what is soon to become the past and bygone music.

Ahh, what a life, huh?

But when it comes to making violins?

Classical construction methods are paramount - in my consideration.

Then again I insist on using American woods for the constructiion of them... so there you go.

I'm alive today and living in North America.

What twists we can weave into our lives and beliefs and practices - isn't it of great interest how divergent we can all be?

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Personally, I'm a Resurrectionist  ;)  It's the cheapest way to get partially finished kits of antique wood.  [shoulders her shovel and heads out in search of inventory in the violin graveyards of the Internet, while singing a jolly Scots ditty about "Burke and Hare"].

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I'm all of them to one degree or another, and that varies with the weather. I want to find out what the Cremonese did, but I also want to do my own thing. I am NOT interested in fixing someone else's mistakes. I have enough of my own.

 

:D

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I agree with Martin. Roughly, Beethoven moved music from the living room parlor to the concert hall, and those old italian fiddles were broken and reinvented to handle the demands of late 18thC to 19thC music. Atonal and romantic stuff that followed is handled by technique, styling and advances in string technology.

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Personally, I'm a Resurrectionist  ;)  It's the cheapest way to get partially finished kits of antique wood.  [shoulders her shovel and heads out in search of inventory in the violin graveyards of the Internet, while singing a jolly Scots ditty about "Burke and Hare"].

Body+Snatching+-+1830s.png

 

Believe it or not this picture is entitled "The Resurrectionists at Work".

 

And I'll never get this out of my head for hours =

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 but really there needs to be another category of

Engineer--  Trying to determine the acoustic response and player interactions that are important and desirable, and then determine how properties of the wood and structure influence them.

 

I fully agree with Don, I always think how similar what you guys do and what I did is (audio engineering)....Maybe Martin agrees...maybe not....(one of the two?) :rolleyes:

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I guess I was considering this part of the 'Innovator', because the push is not particularly directed toward the old ideal.

 

Mostly it IS directed toward the old ideal, since that seems to be the standard (or at least a reasonable starting point from which to make improvements).

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Well...

 

as many of the members here like to point out  - they use only hand tools and distrust or dislike many power tools, and the like...

Things like this, make me think, realistically about where many members stand today in the "modern" world.. The various epitaphs; "copyist" "innovator" or "reconstructionist" taken as a totality of considerations - is an interesting thing to ask, because much regarding how anyone will look at themselves and their methodology, will also depend, to a very large degree, on the particular conversation at hand, and what everyone else is saying - or how they ate tending to lean in their conversation.

 

Bringing other terms into the conversation or topic, is possible, and is what is happening, but, the original question with its choices alone is more interesting than changing the considerations or choices.

It's like; if I ask if you're black or white, and you will maintain that you're always nothing but a solid grey...

In a way... the original question just gets sidestepped.

 

So, copyist, innovator, or reconstructionist? Which is it?

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Mostly it IS directed toward the old ideal, since that seems to be the standard (or at least a reasonable starting point from which to make improvements).

 

That would, be an interesting challenge, improving the standard.

I agree the old ideal is the 'standard'. If one exists, (and it does seem to) that's it.

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I'm a "whatifinator" or a "whynotist" sometimes a "ifIstruictionist"....

 

First I would say Don is on target, as usual...if the violin, shortly after its invention, was "looked" at from more of a structural engineering point of view, like someone would die if it wasn't "right" like buildings, I have a feeling our understanding would be further along. 

 

I have been building ONE instrument for going on all most a year now, now this has taken so long for a few reasons, one some bogus personal issues, but really the meat and potatoes of it is that I have had to design and engineer this "thing" by myself from the ground up. Now its not so revolutionary that something simmiliar has never been done like it before, but I assure you, nothing exactaly like it has been built before, and therefore there have been no guidelines, no safety net of numbers to refer to, no parameter guides that have been established, only individual instrument stress loads acting independently, no cumulative data that really tells you what happens when you when you do "this" or "that"...So it has been the ground up engineering that has been the time consumption, so many unknowns, like breaking a rack in pool, change one thing, and it ricochets into the thing next to it and starts off a chain of "quantum" effects that must be chased down to the "end"...basically creating a "ah, I figured out that part, onto the next, oh wait, that effects that, now I need to come up with a solution for that" and then on and on...

 

Now Martin brings up a huge and most important factor, the most important, the reason I started doing this.

 

When I first got into violin, it kinda hit me like guitar did when I was a kid. I wanted to "rock" and I wanted to do it my way, and be "individual"...and a big part of that was the guitar that I would get, I wanted something that was "me"....and thankfully there were many visual choices to choose from, I ended up getting a BC Rich, cause it look "bad" ...So anyway, I was a violin aware guitar player for years, but never really understood any of the true nature of the "cult" of violin, so when it came time that I wanted to explore it more and actually get one....the first major disappointment kicked in..."wow, barring different colors, these things all look the same"...and I wanted to know why...and the more I asked about it, the more and more I didn't like any of the answers I was getting...

 

I think the long and the short of it is that "violin" allowed itself to become "uncool" and somewhat isolated as an "intellectual pursuit that rich people are involved in, and that you regular people really wouldn't understand it"....and when that happened it cut itself off from about 99% of the general population...From that general population exists 99% of your composers, song writers, musicians and artists...ones who would ride the wave of popular music that had a much better pay off for much less work....

 

"lets see, study for years, practice hours a day, maybe get a job in an orchestra that pays 35k a year, 100k if your really lucky, play copy tunes your whole life, and stay isolated from the general musical pulse of the masses....OR strum 3 chords on a guitar, put some catchy lyrics behind it, make millions, be world renown with no effort comparatively for being "original"...

 

That obviously simplified, but I think the point is that music, composition and songwriting are what drive popularity as well as innovation in instrument making...

 

1000 guitars are sold for every 10 violins, this happens for a reason, your not going to turn those figures around until your make stringed music "cool again"

 

Great players/composers could rip these guys apart, but that's not the point, the point is that what these guys are doing is SO important to what you do as a builder that I don't think many can understand why...

 

You want sales, you want violin to be as popular as guitar?...make it cool, so kids will WANT to pick it up, then they write new music

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEIVzWCRSg8

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100,000 Big Macs are sold for every thoughtfully made meal by a good chef.  So we should build more McDonalds and buy stock in the special sauce and cardboard box making company of Passiac New Jersey.....   

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Hi Jezzupe-

 

I get how your logic would apply to a prototype instrument designer for a big manufacture.   But it presumes you'll make you money through many many lower priced sales, and low cost high volume production.   How many hand makers can this apply to??   If we are making by hand, then intrinsically our market is not a mass market, but a high end specialty market.    You've just spent most of a year on a single instrument.  Is it not more valuable to you to find one buyer who greatly values your unique creation?  Or perhaps you have a way to make and sell thousands of copies of this prototype?

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100,000 Big Macs are sold for every thoughtfully made meal by a good chef.  So we should build more McDonalds and buy stock in the special sauce and cardboard box making company of Passiac New Jersey.....   

 

Yes, and therein lies the process or the result of the free marketplace we live in.

I have need for both offerings occasionally.

Since I eat at home regularly and not out often.

When I feel like a great meal - some sushi for example, it doesn't bother me and my brother to spend $100 at our favorite restaurant.  But if I'm on the road, say a hospital trip to Albuquerque, a Big Mac is adequate for my needs, and not only that - but the food and its quickness and all the other things about it that make it "objectionable" to some, bother me not in the least.

 

For me, everything in its place.

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Hi Jezzupe-

 

I get how your logic would apply to a prototype instrument designer for a big manufacture.   But it presumes you'll make you money through many many lower priced sales, and low cost high volume production.   How many hand makers can this apply to??   If we are making by hand, then intrinsically our market is not a mass market, but a high end specialty market.    You've just spent most of a year on a single instrument.  Is it not more valuable to you to find one buyer who greatly values your unique creation?  Or perhaps you have a way to make and sell thousands of copies of this prototype?

I'm sorry , the way that was written had mish moshed a bunch of thoughts...

 

related to engineering, I think I'm trying to stress the structural aspect of it all related to construction and materials and that this instrument has had some tonal success,{even though I just blew the varnish and have to start over :lol:  :angry: } based on the engineering, and that because it was never done before, the engineering aspect is what made it take so long, but is also why it worked, mostly just based on the fact that it sounds good with all the stuff that is going on with it and that most importantly IT DID NOT FOLD IN HALF OR COLAPSE :lol: , which it maybe could have if I did not have some sense of "engineering" even if not formal...

 

related to money sales and all that, generally speaking I really don't sell my instruments, their not really for sale, I have made instruments for people and will try to continue to do so, but  generally don't charge the few people I've made them for, regardless if they can "afford" it or not. I look at what I'm doing a lot like someone who is a really good musician and they have all these people around them telling them, "you can make it!" and maybe I could, but I don't really think so because I know myself and one of the things I know is that for me the second money enters the picture it kills the whole thing for me in a million different ways that I can't put into words. by no means am I a wealthy person that can just sit back and do this as a benevolent hobby, but on the other hand, I'm more like a poor person who does this as a benevolent hobby :lol: I mean don't get me wrong, I have my delusional moments where I get all excited and think "oh boy! you can do it" but the reality is that when I start breaking down the hourly scale of it all, I'd have to get X amount of dollars in the 5 figures for this to make any kind of business sense, and frankly when you have to "let stuff go" for fractions of that "just to at least get that first sale" it just kinda makes me feel like I'd rather just do it for free then it makes me feel like I'm doing it cause I want to, not because I want to make 25cents an hour :lol: . And lets not even talk about the cost of going legit and entering..."the system"  which is an entirely different thing....

 

related to the hiphop vid and all that, I don't care about mass produced or not, I don't care if the music has"musical value and or merit" from a compositional standpoint, I just care that it would be "violin based" and that young people think its "cool" ....and that I believe that popularity of something goes hand in hand....if the music were more "everyone wants it" so would be the instruments, and statistically all sales would increase across the price spectrum...

 

I'm not suggesting anyone take a year to build an instrument, that would be insane...fortunately for me that's not much of a problem, heck I'm one of those nutbags who actually hates money, and when I say hate, I mean hate it, not because I don't have a lot and I'm "jealous" no, because I understand it and I know what it is on all levels...I don't do evil, sorry

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I played guitar for many years. I think the difference is that it doesn't take long to be able to have fun with a guitar yet playing the violin takes forever before it becomes less than a very frustrating experiencing.

BTW who wants to buy my honey violin? I have to thank Jezzupe for his posts on sugar ground. :D

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I'm sorry , the way that was written had mish moshed a bunch of thoughts...

 

related to engineering, I think I'm trying to stress the structural aspect of it all related to construction and materials and that this instrument has had some tonal success,{even though I just blew the varnish and have to start over :lol:  :angry: } based on the engineering, and that because it was never done before, the engineering aspect is what made it take so long, but is also why it worked, mostly just based on the fact that it sounds good with all the stuff that is going on with it and that most importantly IT DID NOT FOLD IN HALF OR COLAPSE :lol: , which it maybe could have if I did not have some sense of "engineering" even if not formal...

 

related to money sales and all that, generally speaking I really don't sell my instruments, their not really for sale, I have made instruments for people and will try to continue to do so, but  generally don't charge the few people I've made them for, regardless if they can "afford" it or not. I look at what I'm doing a lot like someone who is a really good musician and they have all these people around them telling them, "you can make it!" and maybe I could, but I don't really think so because I know myself and one of the things I know is that for me the second money enters the picture it kills the whole thing for me in a million different ways that I can't put into words. by no means am I a wealthy person that can just sit back and do this as a benevolent hobby, but on the other hand, I'm more like a poor person who does this as a benevolent hobby :lol: I mean don't get me wrong, I have my delusional moments where I get all excited and think "oh boy! you can do it" but the reality is that when I start breaking down the hourly scale of it all, I'd have to get X amount of dollars in the 5 figures for this to make any kind of business sense, and frankly when you have to "let stuff go" for fractions of that "just to at least get that first sale" it just kinda makes me feel like I'd rather just do it for free then it makes me feel like I'm doing it cause I want to, not because I want to make 25cents an hour :lol: . And lets not even talk about the cost of going legit and entering..."the system"  which is an entirely different thing....

 

related to the hiphop vid and all that, I don't care about mass produced or not, I don't care if the music has"musical value and or merit" from a compositional standpoint, I just care that it would be "violin based" and that young people think its "cool" ....and that I believe that popularity of something goes hand in hand....if the music were more "everyone wants it" so would be the instruments, and statistically all sales would increase across the price spectrum...

 

I'm not suggesting anyone take a year to build an instrument, that would be insane...fortunately for me that's not much of a problem, heck I'm one of those nutbags who actually hates money, and when I say hate, I mean hate it, not because I don't have a lot and I'm "jealous" no, because I understand it and I know what it is on all levels...I don't do evil, sorry

Well maybe you're just allergic to money.  If you start with tiny doses and gradually build up the exposure you might eventually develop a tolerance for it.

 

I was looking at your nifty website.  How do you generate the cornerless outline shapes of your violins?

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