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Is the research on violin acoustics a viscious circle?


Andreas Preuss

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The question is, does research on violin acoustics taking Cremonese instruments as a reference create a loop which feeds itself? 

And if so, this would also mean that makers who try to use the gained knowledge have no other choice than working with the traditional models?

Then we could also ask the provokative question: Does acoustic research indirectly block the development of (fundamental) new ideas?

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45 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

Does acoustic research indirectly block the development of (fundamental) new ideas?

I think it's the buyers who indirectly block development of new ideas that are too different from traditional violins.  If you can't sell it, then development is a non-paying hobby.

I'm not that interested in research that is focused on a particular (Cremonese) goal, but definitely interested in research that tries to connect construction and material properties to details of the tonal/playability result, so I can tweak things toward the result I want.

The most practical/useful information IMO comes not from the research, but trial-and-errror, both one's own and whatever can be pilfered from others.  As it always has been.  Modifying wood properties is somewhere between research and trial-and-error.

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4 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

does research on violin acoustics taking Cremonese instruments as a reference create a loop which feeds itself?

What do you mean - maybe something like this-?

Say I get into violin acoustic research, hoping to find some metrics that are exclusive to the best Cremonese instruments because these are the standard.  Let's go further and say that I want all other violins satisfying these metrics to have that Cremonese-like 'something' that makes them top-flight instruments in the minds of listeners - players, buyers, and collectors.  Every new evaluation is a new revelation toward these goals - that's one marketing strategy among many - and as long as there's money people who believe it, I can make a career out of it.  This field's been farmed for probably a couple of centuries and isn't exhausted yet. 

On the brighter side, people like these instruments for a reason.  If you can create an instrument more suitable to a new playing style and musical sensibility...pit dancing, jazz, but something without electrification maybe - advances always entail risk, often financial.

 

 

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On 5/26/2023 at 7:24 PM, Don Noon said:

I think it's the buyers who indirectly block development of new ideas that are too different from traditional violins.  If you can't sell it, then development is a non-paying hobby.

The thing is, if you think from the beginning that something can’t work, you definitely won’t make it work. 
 

To put all on the buyers is not really justified. There are enough performers out there who are at least curious about new things. If an orchestral musician chooses to use a carbon violin it’s IMO exactly the case that there is a market for non traditional violins.

On 5/26/2023 at 7:24 PM, Don Noon said:

but definitely interested in research that tries to connect construction and material properties to details of the tonal/playability result, so I can tweak things toward the result I want.

The pre-set boundary of this research is the classical models. 

And maybe the research (as you view it) is not interesting because it doesn’t go anywhere. I think so too, though I don’t have your knowledge on physics.

I was looking through many papers to find something that could at least give a hint on a possible way to construct a violin differently. There is hardly anything. My understanding is that all research is getting more into details to explain the interaction between player instrument and the produced sound as perceived by the performer and the audience. 

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19 hours ago, Dwight Brown said:

I am familiar with the work of Joe Curtin. Very interesting, but in a certain way still hanging on to traditional concepts. I was always wondering how light his ultra light violin is. The way it looks like I’d guess around 350g without chinrest.
 

While I consider weight as one thing that can be lowered, much more focus should be done on abandoning the symmetry for ergonomic reasons. I am also aware that conservative violin makers oppose to this kind of thought saying ‘why trying to change something which works better than perfect?’

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20 hours ago, Dr. Mark said:

Say I get into violin acoustic research, hoping to find some metrics that are exclusive to the best Cremonese instruments because these are the standard. 

I think this exactly the logical loop. We think that those ‘exclusive’ metrics must follow the Cremonese way of construction. (I prefer to call it the Cremonese or classic concept) I simply have for good reasons massive doubts about it. 

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Curtin has done work with carbon composite tops and there was a viola he made a while back called "Evia" I cannot find the article any more but it had some of the features of the ultralight including the bolt on neck.  I have collaborated  (commissioned) on two cornerless instruments with Josh Beyer that were after the Chanot-Chardon Stradivari.  They worked out very well.  He made this viola for the guy I sat through Algebra one class with in high school, Andres Cardenas Concertmaster and Tchiakovsky medalist (the boy can play) He played mine which is a little bigger before I got it and ordered on after that.  Josh used to live in Pittsburg btw. I supplied the spruce for the top with was bought from the same place at the same time as the wood for the top of mine. Andres has used it on stage for Mozart Sinfonia Concertante.

https://beyerlutherie.com/#jp-carousel-995

 

DLB

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I have clients who want traditional violins.

I don't have any clients who want something that sounds/plays "better" (whatever that might be) but looks different.

I have a pretty good idea what the sound of great old violins is like... but newly built violins don't seem to quite get there, for some unknown reason.

A Curtin ultralight violin was out here some years ago at the Museum of Making Music.  I played it, and didn't like it.  No doubt his ultralights have evolved since then.

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I think of a violin as being something like a recipe for a much loved dish - like Spaghetti Bolognese.

At some point it reached perfection or became in some way canonical or archetypal. For the violin it was around about the time of Stradivari.

Anyone is welcome to add chilli or a bit of anchovy to their Bolognese sauce, but if the innovation goes too far it ceases to be Bolognese. 

Very few of us know exactly what goes into a Bolognese sauce but we are pretty sure when it isn't right.

In addition to this, we have to accept that Classical Music is exactly that ... Classical. People who make a career in it are by nature conservative, they are indoctrinated from a very early age, either by listening to iconic recordings or by going to concerts or by absorbing information from their equally conservative teachers.

For this reason I would say that innovation is actually a negative when it comes to violins - there is nothing which needs improving.

 

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13 minutes ago, Don Noon said:

I have a pretty good idea what the sound of great old violins is like... but newly built violins don't seem to quite get there, for some unknown reason.

Material age must do something and can’t be imitated. Maybe. 

In the other hand  I totally understand that serving customers has priority but I know also a bow maker who makes a certain percentage innovative bows and continues to make classical bows. This in mind, one approach doesn’t exclude the other.

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31 minutes ago, martin swan said:

nature conservative, they are indoctrinated from a very early age, either by listening to iconic recordings or by going to concerts or by absorbing information from their equally conservative teachers.

For this reason I would say that innovation is actually a negative when it comes to violins - there is nothing which needs improving.

 

We aren't that bad.  Your analogy about a perfected dish is a really good one though; too much deviation and it ceases to be a violin...  One area that could be worked on is violins with an interesting basic sound.  I think it's something even many top violins lack.  One of the violins in that auction had a real interesting basic sound.  One Curtin had an interesting basic sound, I noticed almost woolly on its lower strings but strong.  I'm a musically conservative classic guy but I don't have objections to different materials at all.  Imagine a violin made of synthetic materials where the cutting would be done by AI to give an interesting and repeatable basic sound.  It may be too complicated a problem for humans to solve, but could be solved by AI, the way it's expected AI will solve similarly complicated problems in physics.

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49 minutes ago, martin swan said:

I think of a violin as being something like a recipe for a much loved dish - like Spaghetti Bolognese.

At some point it reached perfection or became in some way canonical or archetypal. For the violin it was around about the time of Stradivari.

Anyone is welcome to add chilli or a bit of anchovy to their Bolognese sauce, but if the innovation goes too far it ceases to be Bolognese. 

Very few of us know exactly what goes into a Bolognese sauce but we are pretty sure when it isn't right.

In addition to this, we have to accept that Classical Music is exactly that ... Classical. People who make a career in it are by nature conservative, they are indoctrinated from a very early age, either by listening to iconic recordings or by going to concerts or by absorbing information from their equally conservative teachers.

For this reason I would say that innovation is actually a negative when it comes to violins - there is nothing which needs improving.

 

I see changes in the way performers see themselves and also how they choose their instruments. It is all part of an evolution. Part of this evolution is also how some people perceive the sound of Cremonese instruments. 

But it is also clear that behind all the existing conservatism there is the entire violin market which certainly won’t change from one day to the next. And I am not saying that it is bad, it is a reality we have to live with. Just as the reality that acoustic research is not interested in thinking outside the box.


Personally I think the violin sound of high class fiddles is more complex than ‘spaghetti bolognese’. (Which I was told by Italians is not even from Bologna neither ‘genuinely Italian’)

 

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42 minutes ago, Bill Merkel said:

We aren't that bad.  Your analogy about a perfected dish is a really good one though; too much deviation and it ceases to be a violin...  One area that could be worked on is violins with an interesting basic sound.  I think it's something even many top violins lack.  One of the violins in that auction had a real interesting basic sound.  One Curtin had an interesting basic sound, I noticed almost woolly on its lower strings but strong.  I'm a musically conservative classic guy but I don't have objections to different materials at all.  Imagine a violin made of synthetic materials where the cutting would be done by AI to give an interesting and repeatable basic sound.  It may be too complicated a problem for humans to solve, but could be solved by AI, the way it's expected AI will solve similarly complicated problems in physics.

I find your comment very refreshing. Your term ‘Interesting basic sound’ gives me some vision. 
 

Though AI might be able to speed up and refine certain procedures in classical violin making, I don’t see how it could develop something different. Usually all what chat GPT (for example) blurts out looks pretty smart but is only based on a sort of summary of existing knowledge. 

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10 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

 


Personally I think the violin sound of high class fiddles is more complex than ‘spaghetti bolognese’. (Which I was told by Italians is not even from Bologna neither ‘genuinely Italian’)

 

Haha you are being too literal :)

Of course it's more complex, but the successful recipe for the violin was set in stone some 300 years ago and there is no need to deviate from it or improve on it. If modern makers just come close, that's already a great achievement.

 

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One area of violin research I'd like to see is an investigation of why only some of Strad's or GD's or other old Italian violins were great and others made by the same maker were not so great.

Another area of research would be to study why players can't agree on what "great" and "not so great means".

 

 

 

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9 minutes ago, martin swan said:

Haha you are being too literal :)

Of course it's more complex, but the successful recipe for the violin was set in stone some 300 years ago and there is no need to deviate from it or improve on it. If modern makers just come close, that's already a great achievement.

 

I simply don’t think so. 

 I think we should abandon the idea of ‘improvement’ especially when it comes to sound. It is a slow evolution.

It is not true that the recipe of violin sound has been written in stone 300 years ago. No performer today would play an instrument from the workshop of Antonio Stradivari or Guiseppe Guarneri del Gesu in its original condition. Their genius was that their instruments could be transformed for a new sound ideal and instruments by other makers just wouldn’t do it. 

Improvements are on a completely different level. Basically we continue for example to build instruments which have from the beginning some constructional problems when being used for 20th century music. There is for example a piece by Shostakovich where players seem to have difficulties not to hit the violin with the bow. Sure this can be fixed, but if a car maker had the same attitude to clients, I’d say most of them would get pretty angry. 

 The challenge is to build instruments differently with same sound, and acoustic research could help.

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19 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

One area of violin research I'd like to see is an investigation of why only some of Strad's or GD's or other old Italian violins were great and others made by the same maker were not so great.

Well, I know some instruments of famous makers which were definitely restored to death, others completely wrong adjusted. Because if all these factors including the transformation from baroque to modern it is beyond all means to know what in the end caused the better or worse.

24 minutes ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Another area of research would be to study why players can't agree on what "great" and "not so great means".

For an oversimplified explanation this has mostly to do with the bow arm of a player.

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32 minutes ago, Andreas Preuss said:

 ( ... )

For an oversimplified explanation this has mostly to do with the bow arm of a player.

Would agree that the bow arm is the starting point.

But you are replying to the Messiah.

If we are to ever increase this narrowness of study, look no further than Maestro Kasprzyk.

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This is a difficult subject. It can be broken down to so many elements.

Maestro Preuss, having been there, are there credible schools outside of Toho and the limited teachers throughout Korea and to Singapore? I think so, but others do not. So much, ultimately, is branding. I asked if you knew of the instruments in the NHK broadcast orchestra awhile ago. I do not know what they are, but have known players in the past in these ensembles. Is it a Strad or DGD? I am assuming but never researched it as I did not want to know the truth.

Research is awesome. In the modern world, though perhaps not so with instrument, funding is a reality. There are loops, mostly economic as we lack the better understanding of the arts. Not sure that many go out of their ways to not perpetuate these loops, because it is ( predictable ) monies. It can be argued that most blessed tone, that of early Hilary Hahn, was Cremonese. But it was not. So if the acoustics might be in the shape, research might help in verifying this.

But I have argued your premise for a long time. I made a ( broken ) fishing pole bow once, for fun, and it made sound. Outside of various music summer camps, it's not worth the laughter. Yet it still can make music.

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38 minutes ago, GoPractice said:

Would agree that the bow arm is the starting point.

But you are replying to the Messiah.

If we are to ever increase this narrowness of study, look no further than Maestro Kasprzyk.

I have all the admiration for Marty Kasprzyks research and also got some ideas from him. 
 

At the same time I have to confess, he hopefully will forgive me saying this, that his models go in various aspects beyond certain red lines I set myself. 

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2 hours ago, Andreas Preuss said:

I know also a bow maker who makes a certain percentage innovative bows and continues to make classical bows. This in mind, one approach doesn’t exclude the other.

If you have a waiting list of clients who want traditional stuff, then making innovative things seems like a disservice, making the clients wait longer.  

1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

One area of violin research I'd like to see is an investigation of why only some of Strad's or GD's or other old Italian violins were great and others made by the same maker were not so great.

The same is true for today's makers... they all turn out differently, and some are better than others.  We might not have to get access to expensive old violins to do this kind of research.

1 hour ago, Marty Kasprzyk said:

Another area of research would be to study why players can't agree on what "great" and "not so great means".

Time to apply AI and burn out all of its circuits.

2 hours ago, Bill Merkel said:

I'm a musically conservative classic guy but I don't have objections to different materials at all.  Imagine a violin made of synthetic materials...

There may be some who wouldn't mind a carbon fiber violin, but the clients I have want a traditional-looking violin.  As long as the external appearance is traditional, I don't think they care much.  I'm content to work within these constraints, and leave the wilder stuff for quick-and-dirty  experiments that don't take too much time.

 

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