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How objective is projection?


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10 hours ago, Nick Allen said:

When I play my electric guitar and jam with buds, sometimes, no matter how loud I turn my amp up, which is a 100w Marshall tube amp, I can't seem to cut through and be heard. Other times, I can leave the master volume on 1 or 2 and cut through just fine.  It's not a factor of decibels, per se, but a matter of frequency mixing. The right frequencies and overtones needs to be produced in order to be heard in a mix. 

Take my anecdotal evidence with a GOS. 

There is some merit to the points you mention regarding the audio spectrum the various instruments occupy, but an even greater factor is the musicians knowing their place volume-wise in the mix. In my experiences, most amateur musicians, especially those in the rock genre of music believe that they all have to be playing flat out at maximum volume to achieve a groove; this kills any possible sensitivity to the music because every member is focusing on "me" rather than creating a group sound by listening to what the other instruments are doing. It would be a great eye opener for many people if they were present at a pop /rock recording session, to realize that most of these recordings are actually made at very conservative volume levels in the studio.

In the examples of a soloist working with a full orchestra behind them or even simply a piano accompaniment, good accompaniment has to always be mindful of their volume to avoid over riding the solo instrument. Good conductors know this and control the dynamics to suit.

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I've had quite a lot of opportunities to observe people trying to determine how well a given violin projects, and the main thing I notice is that people don't agree.

The ears, after all, are not well calibrated noise meters - everything they take in has to be processed by a brain which has expectations and preferences. Hearing is selective, and it is very easy to trick yourself. It's an experience common to a few dealers I know that a violinist conducting a "projection test" in a hall (where a friend plays) will prefer the projecting qualities of the violin they have already decided they like. If the violins on the table get accidentally swapped around, they will still prefer the projecting qualities of the violin they already like, even if they have got the wrong violin and they are in fact listening to a different violin which they didn't like before.

People simply don't conduct projection tests in a way that might give meaningful results, and for this reason I would say that we should still be wary of any nebulous and elusive qualities attributed to the most valuable violins. 

I once played a minor del Gesu that was for sale, and remarked that I didn't think it was all that great. "Ah yes but in a big hall it really comes into its own" said the seller. "Were you listening to it against an orchestra?" I asked. "No no, this was unaccompanied ...". 

The biggest problems with evaluating projection are that firstly the player cannot evaluate his or her own playing of a violin from a distance, and secondly it's very hard to organize trials that are actually relevant, involving a tame orchestra in a large space and an audience to fill out that space and genuinely simulate concert conditions. I've thought a lot about how to overcome both problems and have a methodology in mind, but ultimately I still don't think it would prove anything useful.

I do think it's important to notice that very very few players need a violin which projects better than the average. For many jobbing musicians, finding themselves in a national opera pit playing the instrument or bow which got them through the concerto stage of conservatoire or their first professional audition is a nightmare, since they can never play quietly enough.

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20 hours ago, gowan said:

 

I don't think anyone mentioned the bow, but I think some instruments can be heard in context with one bow and less with another.

 

Agreed. The combination of balance point and bow weight make a big difference in how much effort (movement and pressure) the player needs to use to control volume at a given location of his/her bow. 

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18 hours ago, Nick Allen said:

When I play my electric guitar and jam with buds, sometimes, no matter how loud I turn my amp up, which is a 100w Marshall tube amp, I can't seem to cut through and be heard. Other times, I can leave the master volume on 1 or 2 and cut through just fine.  It's not a factor of decibels, per se, but a matter of frequency mixing. The right frequencies and overtones needs to be produced in order to be heard in a mix. 

Take my anecdotal evidence with a GOS. 

Nick, you need one of these:

 

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Mine is a strat. I have 3 spanish classical guitars. I like playing chords as much as improvising melody. I think a lot of rock stars wanted a violin sound. With the right amount of distortion most of them do a good violin impersonation. I think that's something Les Paul never expected when he desinged his famous electric guitar?

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It would be difficult to define projection.  Usually people refer to such things as "be heard in the back of the hall", " cutting through when played with an orchestra", etc.  However, how big a hall are we talking about?  And how loud is the orchestra?  Another factor is the quality of  sound that is projected.  A more sophisticated and musically related question would be how well the sound carries when played softly and how nuanced the sound is.  If the soloist is playing in unison with the first violins, can the listener distinguish the solo sound?  If the orchestra is going full blast can anything of the soloist be heard?  Does it matter?  Maybe projection is one of those things we can't define but we know it when we hear it.

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1 hour ago, sospiri said:

 I think a lot of rock stars wanted a violin sound. With the right amount of distortion most of them do a good violin impersonation. I think that's something Les Paul never expected when he desinged his famous electric guitar?

Wouldn't it rather be a saxophone? Jimi Hendrix, the Paganini of rock guitar, did a lot of saxophoneish wailing.

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I think it would be pretty safe to define projection as a quality that allows a solo voice to be heard against an ensemble in a concert hall, whatever the overall dynamic.

I don't suppose the niceness of the sound is very relevant to this, though the ideal for a soloist would fo course be to have projection and beauty of tone!

A good point of comparison might be the operatic voice - really not easy to have both.

In studio situations, we find that the frequencies which are most relevant to this quality of stand-out audibility are between 1 and 1.8kHz, but it's also astounding what a tiny and relatively inaudible amount of harmonic distortion can do to draw the ear to a particular voice. In this context, a bow which has a good deal of granularity and perhaps rather coarse hair ought to work better than a silky smooth one with the finest Mongolian stallion hair.

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5 minutes ago, Herman West said:

Wouldn't it rather be a saxophone? Jimi Hendrix, the Paganini of rock guitar, did a lot of saxophoneish wailing.

Jimi could do sax sounds, violin sounds, flute sounds.

I think Clapton was the first to do that overdriven violin sound on the Bluesbreakers album 1966? What he called his 'woman tone' where he put the tone pots on 1 and the volume on 10. He also put the mic 40 feet away and told the engineer that's how it was going to be done.

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2 hours ago, Rue said:

How much does personal taste enter into all of this?  When you mentioned 'tone' I was just thinking of how I prefer listening to the voices of Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen to 'better' singers with a lovely tone.

[Turns down a recording of Diana Damrau] For deciding what to listen to, I'd say that it enters into it a lot.  For whether or not projection exists independently of other factors, I'd suspect not so much. :)

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3 hours ago, martin swan said:

I think it would be pretty safe to define projection as a quality that allows a solo voice to be heard against an ensemble in a concert hall, whatever the overall dynamic.

I don't suppose the niceness of the sound is very relevant to this, though the ideal for a soloist would fo course be to have projection and beauty of tone!

A good point of comparison might be the operatic voice - really not easy to have both.

In studio situations, we find that the frequencies which are most relevant to this quality of stand-out audibility are between 1 and 1.8kHz, but it's also astounding what a tiny and relatively inaudible amount of harmonic distortion can do to draw the ear to a particular voice.

1K to 3Khz is where the ear is most sensitive, usually centered around 2K or so. It stands to reason anything rich in this band of frequencies will cut through past all the fundamentals and weaker overtones of the other instruments.

I believe this is what plays a big part in a solo violin being heard above all the other backing instruments. It's also interesting to note that this band of frequencies isolated by itself isn't something very pleasant to listen to.

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Just thinking out loud again because I'm certainly not an expert in this field.  If you're talking about the projection of an instrument, then you are referring to that instruments projection, i.e., how far the sound travels.  Because blending or distinguishing your sound from an orchestra or ensemble is a moving target.  Higher frequencies decay faster than lower frequencies (from ornithological studies).  Therefore to quantify, projection you could record and graph open string bowing of each string at a close distance (e.g. 3rd row) and a far distance (back of the hall) and measure the rate of overtone decay over distance.  From here a qualitative ranking system could be developed.  An instrument that has a lower overtone decay rate would have greater projection, or carrying power, over an instrument of the same type that has a more rapid overtone decay rate.   Of course the decay rate would only apply to that venue, but it would be something for your records to compare to future instrument and something empirical to show potential clients.  Just my thoughts whether they're helpful or not, or even make sense.

-Jim

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3 hours ago, Bill Yacey said:

1K to 3Khz is where the ear is most sensitive, usually centered around 2K or so. .... It's also interesting to note that this band of frequencies isolated by itself isn't something very pleasant to listen to.

However, with higher E string positions, that's all there is (plus higher overtones).  Sure would be unpleasant to listen to continuously, but for occasional emphasis it seems to be acceptable.

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Don, we get so used to looking at spectral plots when discussing violins, that it's easy to forget that there are other factors at work.  Wouldn't wave envelopes and formants strongly influence far-field clarity?  And what about non-musical aspects of human acoustic perception already researched under human factors, such as why warning messages are recorded using "Marilyn" instead of a male voice?  Maybe we're looking too close to home for answers. :)

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Weellllll, there's nothing unpleasant about the upper parts of the E string.  But when you apply a filter to boost that range in a broad spectrum signal yes it sounds like a big honk.  At that point what's happening is psychoacoustic.  It doesn't sound natural and so it disturbs you in order to get your attention. 

I think the OP mentioned a Greiner viola.  I wonder if one was worse than the other regarding "projection", and if so what was heard with one that wasn't with the other.

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Thank you all for the input! Bill, my viola was played with a Greiner, the Greiner was the second viola in the sextet, the player made no comment about projection,  her other instrument is a very fine 1790 Cremonese by Cerutti.

Sometimes it happens that a given player loves everything but mentions the question of projection, which is a thing I can't assess myself as a player, hence my interest in the subject. On the other hand many of my players are principals and some are soloists and they don't complain about projection, so I get a bit confused with that.

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1 hour ago, Bill Merkel said:

Weellllll, there's nothing unpleasant about the upper parts of the E string.  But when you apply a filter to boost that range in a broad spectrum signal yes it sounds like a big honk.  At that point what's happening is psychoacoustic.  It doesn't sound natural and so it disturbs you in order to get your attention. 

I think the OP mentioned a Greiner viola.  I wonder if one was worse than the other regarding "projection", and if so what was heard with one that wasn't with the other.

Because a bowed instrument can sustain these upper fundamental notes indefinitely, they contain much more energy in a given unit of time, compared to a piano for example, where the high fundamental notes die out quickly. Likewise with a piccolo, it can cut through just about anything. I believe a good soloist violin also has a natural bump in the overall response in the 1 to 3 Khz range that helps it stand out. That's why such an instrument usually wouldn't be good for "blending" into a section.

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