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Casey Jefferson

A new perspective on sound projection

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Hi all,

Been years since I posted last time. How y'all doing? I came across a violin with a very interesting way of projecting sound.

Under the ear, it has somewhat warm and rich mid and low mid frequency with punch, but maybe lacking a bit of sparkles. When playing in a bigger room with some reverb, it didn't quite have that screaming sound when listening in close range, but a few steps back, there seems to sound like a pair of speakers hooked up and reinforced the sound, and like the sound came from the air above. I let someone else played and I can confirm the phenomenon too. And it projected above grand piano accompaniment with ease.

My question is, how often one will come across a violin like that? For sure I know this is probably the first time I've heard anything like that, and I've played many violins by living established makers, including one by a maker who's active member here, too. (Admittedly I didn't not test all of them with the same way as playability has always been my priority)

PS: I purposely omitted the info about the violin to avoid biased judgement.

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In my experience this is something that really great instruments often do. It happens because a substantial amount of the sound is coming off the ribs and back, and all of these vibrations don't come together until some distance away from the instrument. Under your ear you are only hearing what comes off the top--only a small portion of the total---so the player can't realize what's going on. Players who claim they know when they are playing a violin that carries will miss these.

I have heard this with two del Gesus, and one Strad cello, for instance. The cello sounded as if it were stuffed with towels, until about 25 feet distant, where it was incredibly loud and vibrant. One of the del Gesus failed to sell because the concertmaster who was trying it said he couldn't hear himself playing but all of the people around him were telling him to pipe down.

Another feature of this type of sound is that if you stand at a distance and close your eyes, it is more difficult to locate the position of the instrument than with others--there is a cloud of sound on the stage rather than a point. Do a comparison with another violin, and I think you will hear this easily, once you are aware of it.

I also once heard this with a John Lott cello, so it's possible to get it without paying a few million bucks. I don't know if I have ever heard it with a modern violin. People who are familiar with the effect usually consider it to be something desirable, in my experience, because the instrument sounds so large and penetrating/overpowering from a distance.

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Nice topic ...

I have a violin at the moment, a small del Gesu-ish violin from the early 19th century. Everyone who tries it describes it as mellow, dark, or even soft and muffled. Yet when they are trying it and I'm in another room in the building I can pick it out immediately because it's just so loud and clear compared to everything else. It completely maddens me that players aren't able to hear it - I keep popping into the showroom expecting people to be falling over themselves in astonishment, but always they say "hm, it's a bit dull" :lol:

I like Michael's explanation that the player is screened from much of the sound. It would suggest that the phenomenon would be less noticeable in more acoustically reflective spaces.

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That's a really interesting  theory  Michael.  

I have one client  who  has  a  violin  like that. I offered to try to adjust it, to give her more under the ear. She  was  having  none of it, and said  'you just have to trust it'. Lesson  learned. 

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5 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

In my experience this is something that really great instruments often do. It happens because a substantial amount of the sound is coming off the ribs and back, and all of these vibrations don't come together until some distance away from the instrument. Under your ear you are only hearing what comes off the top--only a small portion of the total---so the player can't realize what's going on. Players who claim they know when they are playing a violin that carries will miss these.

I have heard this with two del Gesus, and one Strad cello, for instance. The cello sounded as if it were stuffed with towels, until about 25 feet distant, where it was incredibly loud and vibrant. One of the del Gesus failed to sell because the concertmaster who was trying it said he couldn't hear himself playing but all of the people around him were telling him to pipe down.

Another feature of this type of sound is that if you stand at a distance and close your eyes, it is more difficult to locate the position of the instrument than with others--there is a cloud of sound on the stage rather than a point. Do a comparison with another violin, and I think you will hear this easily, once you are aware of it.

I also once heard this with a John Lott cello, so it's possible to get it without paying a few million bucks. I don't know if I have ever heard it with a modern violin. People who are familiar with the effect usually consider it to be something desirable, in my experience, because the instrument sounds so large and penetrating/overpowering from a distance.

Michael, good to see you again! To be honest, when I said in my initial post that it's my first time hearing the phenomenon, it's more like first time that an instrument that I can actually lay my hands on and play, that sounded that way. But I've actually heard it on 2 artists - Ray Chen on his Strad before he used his modern full time, and Kavakos on his Falmouth Strad years ago, in the same concert hall.

The violin in question, let's just say it's a no name violin, and I've been playing on it for a year only to discover this recently. At first I notice it generate quite a strong reverb when playing in a nice echoey room, much stronger than other violins. Then one day I asked my student to play for me and that's how I realized it. I've gotten comments like "it sounded like your violin was amplified" from people who heard it. is it the same as what the great Strads and Del Gesus are doing? I wouldn't bet on it though. I'll need to investigate more by playing it in a concert hall and see how it'll do. Interesting.

 

55 minutes ago, martin swan said:

Nice topic ...

I have a violin at the moment, a small del Gesu-ish violin from the early 19th century. Everyone who tries it describes it as mellow, dark, or even soft and muffled. Yet when they are trying it and I'm in another room in the building I can pick it out immediately because it's just so loud and clear compared to everything else. It completely maddens me that players aren't able to hear it - I keep popping into the showroom expecting people to be falling over themselves in astonishment, but always they say "hm, it's a bit dull" :lol:

I like Michael's explanation that the player is screened from much of the sound. It would suggest that the phenomenon would be less noticeable in more acoustically reflective spaces.

Martin,

It's obvious enough that it sounded so different. In fact, more acoustically reflective spaces showed more of that differences.

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To add more to the topic, I've played plenty of violins that sound rather mediocre under ear but sounded powerful at a distance, but don't recall any of them doing that hooked up a pair of speakers thingy.

And a bonus, the violin didn't at all sound quiet under ear.

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Of course the effect could quite easily be tested to determine whether sound pressure level actually falls off with distance in a different manner in these violins as compared with others. Also whether the effect varies according to the room acoustic.

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It could be an acoustical illusion.

The spatial relationship between the player's ears and a listener's ears is different. The volume in the player's (usually) left ear is going to be louder than the volume in the player's right ear. A listener is going to be hearing with both ears generally at the same volume.

Couple this with the hearing loss that comes with playing loud musical instruments over time and with age, and one can see how this could be an illusion.

It is impossible for sound to become louder as it moves farther from the source.

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7 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

In my experience this is something that really great instruments often do. It happens because a substantial amount of the sound is coming off the ribs and back, and all of these vibrations don't come together until some distance away from the instrument. Under your ear you are only hearing what comes off the top--only a small portion of the total---so the player can't realize what's going on. Players who claim they know when they are playing a violin that carries will miss these.

I have heard this with two del Gesus, and one Strad cello, for instance. The cello sounded as if it were stuffed with towels, until about 25 feet distant, where it was incredibly loud and vibrant. One of the del Gesus failed to sell because the concertmaster who was trying it said he couldn't hear himself playing but all of the people around him were telling him to pipe down.

Another feature of this type of sound is that if you stand at a distance and close your eyes, it is more difficult to locate the position of the instrument than with others--there is a cloud of sound on the stage rather than a point. Do a comparison with another violin, and I think you will hear this easily, once you are aware of it.

Michael,

i have a question here. To your experience, do all instruments with a great carrying power have this diffuse sound under the ear (or close by)? And do you think this is a necessary condition for a great projection?    

 

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59 minutes ago, GeorgeH said:

It could be an acoustical illusion.

Of which there are many - for example the speakers connected to my TV are offset to the right, but I never notice that and automatically ascribe the source to what's on the screen except with sounds emanating from the far right which take me by surprise. That's surely a deep-seated psychoacoustic phenomenon but what Casey and Michael describe might conceivably be a real acoustic effect due to phase cancellation and reinforcement.  Having said that I've no idea how it might operate. 

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George, I don't think anyone believes that such a violin is actually louder at a distance--It's that it is louder than it should be, considering the distance. That is quite plausible if a lot of the energy is going off in other directions and has to be reflected back forward before its heard.

Andreas, to answer that we need to get into what carrying power is. Is it only decibels, or is it competitive advantage? I have heard plenty of new bright violins that disappear when others are being played. They sound louder than others at a distance, then disappear with a piano or quartet. I regard this as a type of tone quality that you WISH you could hear less of, because it's often obvious mostly by being offensive, but can't win in a real fight---like a drunk in a bar. I often find this happening on violins with soft (kevlar, etc,) tail hangers as in another thread, which is why I mentioned that I never use them. This behavior is clearer if you are trying violins against a piano or guitar or something like that in succession, and also in a full hall with lots of skin and cloth to absorb high frequencies, which is why I always coach players not to trust their testing of lone violins in empty halls. 

David brings up a question I have always wondered but never had the chance to test: how would one of these good violins do in an empty field with no hard floor or walls around it.

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22 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

which is why I always coach players not to trust their testing of lone violins in empty halls. 

Amen - it seems the most misguided of approaches. Unless you're going to spend your life performing Bach Sonatas & Partitas, you can only gauge projection in relation to competing noise.

OTOH a nice chamber music space is probably a very good place to find out what you feel about the nearfield sound and response of an instrument.

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45 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

Casey, does this happen only at certain distances from the violin, or anywhere when you are not close? Does it happen in any room?

I didn't do enough test to confirm this, but this is even apparent in a small bed room but hard walls - the violin doesn't sound loud standing right in front, but going to the corner one can hear that the violin is producing huge sound. Naturally one will think that it seems like the room is doing the work. It's at my student's house, and my student's violin sounded not just tiny, as if the sound just stays around the violin, while mine sounded "in your face", kind of.

So far there seems none of the room that didn't show this but they are not large halls, not even medium size. That'll be my next project.

 

42 minutes ago, Michael Darnton said:

David brings up a question I have always wondered but never had the chance to test: how would one of these good violins do in an empty field with no hard floor or walls around it.

Interestingly the sound was unusually large at a distance that it gave an impression that doesn't seem even logical. I'll test more at different rooms and halls with different acoustics and see how it'll do. So far the responses indicating that this is something very positive.

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9 hours ago, Michael Darnton said:

Under your ear you are only hearing what comes off the top--only a small portion of the total---so the player can't realize what's going on.

I don't disagree with this, but there are more details that I think can be very important in understanding the difference between the sound under-ear and the sound at distance.

Beaming - depending on the air wavelength and spacial separation and phase of active areas of the instrument, sound at certain frequencies can be reinforced in certain directions and cancelled in others.  For example, if the upper bout and lower bout move in opposite phase, then these vibrations will cancel out in a direction perpendicular to the top, but will reinforce in the plane of the top (i.e. towards the player's ears) in the general frequency range of ~1000 Hz, where the bouts are about a half wavelength apart.  I have measured this effect on some instruments, where there seemed to be skull-penetrating notes on the E string, but only at the player's position.

Ear distance - the player's ears (primarily the left ear) are much closer to the lower bout than the upper bout.  Frequency generation from the top is not uniform.  High-frequency radiation is much stronger from the upper bout, which is farther away from the player, thus the relative power of higher frequencies might not be as apparent to the player.

These are in addition to the more obvious idea that sound generated by the back and ribs will radiate away from the player, but through room reflections will add more obviously  to the far-field power.  And I certainly agree with that.

 

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When I hear stories like this my thoughts go to the conditions of the environment more so than the instrument. I would say I have had similar experiences with the addition of the instrument acting more normal when played in varying locations/rooms.

I feel room acoustics, temperature, humidity, airflow and background noises can contribute greatly to our perceptions of a listening event.

To me,the real "king" instruments are those that have the ability to sound great outside in open air settings where there is no room + the violin, it's just the violin with lots of swirling air patterns and background noise.

Rooms and their acoustics,be it random or intentionally built in can have a great effect on the perceived tone. 

Go to the Mormon tabernacle choir room in SLC, EVERYTHING in that room sounds bigger,better and louder, from speaking voices, to pins being dropped to instruments, it is perhaps an extreme example, but it does demonstrate how the environment effects the quality of the tone experience. 

That being said, there are special violins out there.    

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16 minutes ago, jezzupe said:

>

Go to the Mormon tabernacle choir room in SLC, EVERYTHING in that room sounds bigger,better and louder, from speaking voices, to pins being dropped to instruments, it is perhaps an extreme example, but it does demonstrate how the environment effects the quality of the tone experience. 

>

It's amazing that there are only about a dozen singers in the choir.

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Amongst the various fiddles tested in the Fitz-Curtain-Fan Tao tests, they have not yet discovered any magic . Sound volume measured up close highly correlated with volume at a distance, whether from measurements, or listener impression.

Hey, if  I had a three-milion-dollar sufboard in Hawaii or Southern California, I'd be a hero in some circles.  Wouldn't matter whether of not I could even manage to stand up on the danged thing. :lol:

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16 minutes ago, David Burgess said:

...

Hey, if  I had a three-milion-dollar sufboard in Hawaii, I'd be a hero in some circles.  Wouldn't matter whether of not I could even manage to stand up on the danged thing. :lol:

Does anyone actually use a 3 million dollar surfboard (or anything else THAT overpriced for the job at hand)?

I mean, would the use of a 3 million dollar surfboard draw more spectators to an event if Gideon the Blonde Surfer Dude was riding the waves with it, versus just using his Jason Stevenson?

Or is automatically considered a valuable objet d'art and just appreciated from it's safe existence up on a wall?

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54 minutes ago, Rue said:

Does anyone actually use a 3 million dollar surfboard (or anything else THAT overpriced for the job at hand)?

To the best of my knowledge, there are no 3 million dollar sufboards. But there are many other things overpriced  for the job at hand, and that's part of the allure for some people.

Depends on what one wants to do. A  ten-thousand-dollar Rolex watch won't keep time any better than a Timex or a cellphone, but some people still go crazy over 'em.

Humans are funny things, aren't they? ;)

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Well yes, I was just more thinking along of 'how much becomes too much' and the item becomes too precious to actually use...

I'm guilty of that, even on a my budget.  That's why I have a travel violin and a travel guitar...so I don't have to take my 'more expensive' stuff with me and get upset if it gets a ding...even though I expect my stuff to get dinged if it gets used.

I imagine, if I even wanted/had a Strad, I wouldn't use it for that reason...

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4 hours ago, David Burgess said:

A  ten-thousand-dollar Rolex watch won't keep time any better than a Timex or a cellphone, but some people still go crazy over 'em.

They are not purchased for telling time, obviously.

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4 hours ago, David Burgess said:

Amongst the various fiddles tested in the Fitz-Curtain-Fan Tao tests, they have not yet discovered any magic . Sound volume measured up close highly correlated with volume at a distance, whether from measurements, or listener impression.

So do I see there some contradiction?

At least, some time ago I asked a violin maker who is well educated in acoustics if there is an explanation for the so called projection and his straight answer was 'This is the only thing for which physicists have no answer.'

We know at least that only very few instruments which sound a sort of diffuse under the ear have in a hall a different perception by listeners sitting far away. 

In Japan there was once a test made which I think is interesting in this context. Some high ranking players performed in a test environment their own instruments  (only Strads and DGs) against two modern Italian instruments (one Scarampella and one Fagnola) The setting was made in a way that something like 200 microphones were set in a spherical arrangement around the performers instrument to test the loudness in any direction. The result was that the old Italians would sound (more or less) with the same loudness in any direction for all notes (frequencies) played. The modern Italian instruments had for most frequencies stronger sound emission in certain directions, which were eventually above the level of the old Italian instruments, but this meant as well that all the other directions were measurably weaker. 

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