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Scientific investigations of Stradivarius violins--an updated review article


Bruce Tai
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23 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:

>

Researchers are generally proficient in theorizing and communicating ideas, but not in the real trade of making stuff that sells. Academic experiments aim to simply things in controlled settings, instead of overcoming practical issues in complex real-life situations. Useful academic research generates useful concepts, but not functional commercial products.

>

Carleen Hutchins made and sold a few hundred instruments.

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On 4/24/2021 at 2:28 PM, Bruce Tai said:

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To make the violin sound like a male singer was Amati's genius (our 2018 PNAS paper had analyzed a 1570 Amati violin). I may be the first to propose this theory. We don't give Andrea Amati nearly enough credit. He made the wooden box sing like a human, amazing. 

The comparisons of musical instruments and the human voice have been going on for thousands of years. See the attached article "Voicelikeness of musical instruments: A literature review of acoustical, psychological and expressiveness perspectives"

Voicelikeness.pdf

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2 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:

I thought the cellos is no less perfect than the violin. Some say the cello is closer to human voice than violins. I have not been able to record great cellos to see whether they produce voice-like formants. Anyone has the chromatic scale recordings of great cellos that I can analyze? 

Human singing voices that have defects are sometimes considered to be great, i guess the same applies to the violin family.

Unfortunately I can't stand cellos. To my ears they are just plain wrong acoustically. 

I really like this piece, but the instrument just can't handle it.

Low notes growls and break and the high notes squeaks..

 

 

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1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

The comparisons of musical instruments and the human voice have been going on for thousands of years. See the attached article "Voicelikeness of musical instruments: A literature review of acoustical, psychological and expressiveness perspectives"

Voicelikeness.pdf 728.58 kB · 3 downloads

Thank you. Very interesting article.

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7 hours ago, Bruce Tai said:

I thought the cellos is no less perfect than the violin. Some say the cello is closer to human voice than violins. 

4 hours ago, Peter K-G said:

Unfortunately I can't stand cellos.

I get all cringy when someone uses "perfect" in an absolute sense to describe anything related to sound quality.  As PeterK-G demonstrates, it's all personal taste, and likely the cultural context where it is evaluated.

The guqin and ehru sound obnixious if you're ears are tuned to the sound of a violin.  Yet I'm sure in Chinese culture they sound fantastic... and I can listen to them and appreciate the different sound.  I am also partial to skinhead open-back banjos, zithers, guitars (even electric ones), bagpipes, cellos, violas, mandolins, and even accordions, among others.

Frankly, I don't see a whit of utility in looking for singer formants in anything, even singers.  That doesn't mean I'm against analyzing the sound of instruments; I'm all for that.  Give me a spectral plot and a good recording of the instrument, and leave out all the contortions of trying to sound all sciency proving that Strads are so great because they sound like a human voice.  You might as well try to prove that Pavarotti sounded perfect because his formants were more whatever.

 

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We share the interest of music with my son.

Music style is another question, but at least it gives a lot of debates :) For him the guitar is IT!

Not so long ago he wanted me to listen to the most beautiful piece (because he knows what I like) - A cover of Schindler's list theme performed on an Erhu

I listened and as he didn't know what it really was, I showed him the original. I think he had his first understanding on what level a violin is compared to other instruments. (still the guitar is IT, but I'll change his mind some of these days)

 

 

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Another story.

Almost 20 years ago when he was 4 years old. I was taking care of the kids one evening, when my wife was at work.

Internet connection was new and I managed to download 

Zigeunerweisen performad by Aaron Rosand.

So not so far from human voice?

He sat in my lap while it played, when it came to the slower part he said 

Pappa - fiolen gråter.. (the violin cries)

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16 hours ago, Peter K-G said:

Human singing voices that have defects are sometimes considered to be great, i guess the same applies to the violin family.

Unfortunately I can't stand cellos. To my ears they are just plain wrong acoustically. 

I really like this piece, but the instrument just can't handle it.

Low notes growls and break and the high notes squeaks..

 

 

Excuse me, is this supposed to be a joke?

Both the instrument and the strings she is using are the opposite of the usual brighter cello sound. The "squeaks" are natural harmonics.

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11 hours ago, Don Noon said:

 

The guqin and ehru sound obnixious if you're ears are tuned to the sound of a violin. 

 

I am not sure if many Westerners will appreciate traditional Chinese guqin music. But I don't think obnoxius is the right word to describe the acoustics of guqin. Guqin has weak higher harmonics and we can't find the fourth formant on guqin notes using speech analysis software PRAAT. 

Here is one of the guqin masters heard in high-quality recording: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdZ7vxMJv78

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11 hours ago, Don Noon said:

Frankly, I don't see a whit of utility in looking for singer formants in anything, even singers.  

 

Have you read any research on singer formant or speaker ring? This is the best scientiifc explanation for carrying power.

https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.642.3861&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Formants come from resoanances near certain frequencies. So are you suggesting that we should not even study resonance in sound production?   

"In speech science and phonetics, a formant is the broad spectral maximum that results from an acoustic resonance of the human vocal tract." ~Wikipedia

 

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15 hours ago, Anders Buen said:

Knut Guettler was a specialist on the bowed string. This short conference article show how the bow speed and position influences the played spectrum. http://www.knutsacoustics.com/files/Bow-speed-or-bowing-position-SMAC03.pdf

A nice study. There is a lot of good acoustics research, especially on string instruments, coming from Norway and Sweden. I wonder why.   

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1 hour ago, Bruce Tai said:

I am not sure if many Westerners will appreciate traditional Chinese guqin music. But I don't think obnoxius is the right word to describe the acoustics of guqin. Guqin has weak higher harmonics and we can't find the fourth formant on guqin notes using speech analysis software PRAAT. 

Here is one of the guqin masters heard in high-quality recording: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdZ7vxMJv78

I think both guqin and ehru are wonderful and the players absolutely wonderful. I wish western music will learn to steal some of that expression range.

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54 minutes ago, Bruce Tai said:

Have you read any research on singer formant or speaker ring? This is the best scientiifc explanation for carrying power.

I don't think so. There may be other explanations for carrying power. Not to say that singer's formant does not help.

In general you need be very careful with some "scientific studies" , in particularly acoustics. Their authors might not be as smart as their degrees suggest and often are looking for the keys under the lampposts. There are of course, very valuable studies but not that many.

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58 minutes ago, Bruce Tai said:

Have you read any research on singer formant or speaker ring? This is the best scientiifc explanation for carrying power.

https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.642.3861&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Formants come from resoanances near certain frequencies. So are you suggesting that we should not even study resonance in sound production?   

"In speech science and phonetics, a formant is the broad spectral maximum that results from an acoustic resonance of the human vocal tract." ~Wikipedia

 

So does this research suggest that a powerful voice has harmonic components that we are not aware of?

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9 hours ago, MMarsden said:

Careful examination will find Pavarotti's greatness comes from how similar he sounds like a cello.

I heard Pavarotti a couple of times claiming he only wants to sound like Pavarotti. I never thought he sounded like a cello. Pav. does a very specific thing with his voice and I heard nobody able to do that on a cello. I would appreciate if you could post a clip where this similarity you sense is reasonably obvious.

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44 minutes ago, Bruce Tai said:

So are you suggesting that we should not even study resonance in sound production?

Not at all.  Perhaps my statement was overly broad, as the "formant" stuff has some history in academic analysis of the human voice.  For those who want to continue that nomenclature and delve into their source in dimensions and resonances of human cavities, have at it.

Other instruments will have structural resonances as sources of acoustic peaks and dips.

You can talk about human perception of clarity and carrying power as related to certain frequency bands, and have it be applicable to all instruments and singers.

You can even note that the "bridge body hill" in violins and the "singer's formant" sorta kinda are similar, and could well be related to carrying power and clarity.

In a stretch, you might even find some correlation between certain violin spectral peaks and certain sung vowels, although I'd file that in the pointless curiosity bin.

That to me is about the limit of what you can say reasonably about violin and singer similarities.  It is FAR beyond the limit to start with the assumption of Strad perfection and then go hunting for singer formants in the spectra to explain why they are so great.  If the point is to please the owners of the instruments or to get the interest of the general public, that's something else.

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2 hours ago, sospiri said:

Excuse me, is this supposed to be a joke?

Both the instrument and the strings she is using are the opposite of the usual brighter cello sound. The "squeaks" are natural harmonics.

You're excused and can go play with the other kids now, but be nice (or I'll spray polyurethane in your cello)

....that's what a joke look like, maybe not a good one and kinda mean too, but you get the idea....

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51 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

Not at all.  Perhaps my statement was overly broad, as the "formant" stuff has some history in academic analysis of the human voice.  For those who want to continue that nomenclature and delve into their source in dimensions and resonances of human cavities, have at it.

Other instruments will have structural resonances as sources of acoustic peaks and dips.

You can talk about human perception of clarity and carrying power as related to certain frequency bands, and have it be applicable to all instruments and singers.

You can even note that the "bridge body hill" in violins and the "singer's formant" sorta kinda are similar, and could well be related to carrying power and clarity.

In a stretch, you might even find some correlation between certain violin spectral peaks and certain sung vowels, although I'd file that in the pointless curiosity bin.

That to me is about the limit of what you can say reasonably about violin and singer similarities.  It is FAR beyond the limit to start with the assumption of Strad perfection and then go hunting for singer formants in the spectra to explain why they are so great.  If the point is to please the owners of the instruments or to get the interest of the general public, that's something else.

So does this suggest that a powerful voice has harmonic components that we aren't aware of?

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19 hours ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

The comparisons of musical instruments and the human voice have been going on for thousands of years. See the attached article "Voicelikeness of musical instruments: A literature review of acoustical, psychological and expressiveness perspectives"

Voicelikeness.pdf 728.58 kB · 9 downloads

Professor Wolfe is an expert on this issue and he is very humble in saying that there is no real consensus on voicelikeness and that he does not know which instrument sounds most voice like. The usual answers people give are saxophones and cellos, I think. It is incredibly difficult obtain high quality recordings of 5 good cellists playing complete scales on 5 good cellos and repeat that for all major instruments, in a consistent acoustic setting. Perhaps some companies like Sibelius Software Limited have such recordings but that's a valuable asset for them. Without comprehensive sound libraries accessible by researchers, it would be difficult to define voicelikness.  

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