There is a playable violin make of black stone, called the Blackbird

There is a playable violin make of black stone, called the Blackbird

The Blackbird is a full-size playable violin made of black diabase, based on designs by Antonio Stradivari (Stradivarius), but with technical modifications to allow it to be played. The violin was conceived and produced by the Swedish artist Lars Widenfalk.

The idea of constructing a musical instrument from stone came when Lars Widenfalk was working on big diabase blocks destined to form part of the artistic embellishment of the Norwegian TV building in Oslo. These blocks gave off a strikingly beautiful and strong sound during the work with hammer and chisel – it sang like an iron bell. It is also well-known among sculptors and geologists that different rock types have different sounds when being worked. Continue reading

New scientific study confirms the obvious: Freddie Mercury had an unparalleled singing voice

New scientific study confirms the obvious: Freddie Mercury had an unparalleled singing voice

Regardless of what they might think personally about Queen, most rock critics and music fans alike recognize the immense vocal talent that was the great Freddie Mercury. Still, in case there was ever any doubt, new analysis of both Mercury’s singing and speaking voices has shed fresh light on just how special his pipes really were.A group of Austrian, Czech, and Swedish researchers conducted the research, the results of which were published on Friday in Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology (via AlphaGalileo). While they couldn’t confirm the long-held belief that Mercury’s range spanned four full octaves, they did discover some interesting tidbits about the expanse of his voice. For one, despite being known largely as a tenor, he was more likely a baritone. They based this assumption off six interviews they analyzed to find a median speaking fundamental frequency of 117.3 Hz. That, coupled with anecdotal evidence that Mercury once turned down an opera duet because he was afraid fans wouldn’t recognize his baritone voice, led the conclusion that the singer was talented enough to jump out of his base range. Continue reading

Clara Rockmore and the Theremin

Clara Rockmore: Story of the theremin virtuoso who inspired Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones

Clara Rockmore was a pioneer of electronic music and, had she still been alive, would have turned 105 today.

Rockmore was a master of the theremin – the world’s first electronic music instrument and first instrument that could be played without being touched. The theremin inspired the likes of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Beach Boys. And was the instrument that led to the creation of the first synthesizer.

On what would have been her 105th birthday, Rockmore has been commemorated with a Google Doodle. The interactive game teaches you to play the theremin by hovering your mouse over the notes to play a melody. Continue reading

The last Stradivarius guitar

The Only Playable Stradivarius Guitar Left in the World “The Sabionari” Made in 1679

Rolf Lislevand plays A.Stradivari’s 1679 “Sabionari” guitar

Legendery Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari is generally considered the most significant and greatest artisan in his field, constructing the world’s finest violins that today are sold for millions of dollars.

In his lifetime he (and the Stradivari family) produced over 1000 instruments, of which 960 were violins, however a small number of guitars were also crafted, and as of today only one remains playable. Continue reading

Angklung Documentary

The amazing bamboo plant has been cultivated and utilized by mankind for thousands of years, and even though modern production techniques have supplied builders and craftsmen with technologically superior materials for many applications still this rapidly growing plant is the first choice in many countries for their industrial building, furniture, and even musical instrument manufacturing. Such is the case with the Angklung, a fascinating bamboo percussion instrument found throughout Southeast Asia.  Though probably indigenous to the West Java and Banten provinces in Indonesia, the Angklung has also been played by the Sundanese for many centuries.  I stumbled upon this interesting documentary on Youtube, and thought I’d share it…


Wallace Hartley’s Titanic Violin Discovered

Wallace Hartley’s Titanic Violin Discovered

Wallace Hartley, the son of a mill worker, learned to play music as a student at the George St Wesleyan School and later played at a local chapel where his father was choirmaster.

Survivors recount seeing the band playing even as water gushed on board, a scene which has been captured and recounted in most every telling of the sinking of the Titanic.

Hartley perished in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, along with 1,516 other people. Continue reading

History of the Oud

History of the Oud

1. The Term ‘ud

Detail from Maghrebi miniature, 13th cent. Literally, ‘ud means ‘twig’, ‘flexible rod’ or ‘aromatic stick’, and by inference ‘piece of wood’. In Ibn Khaldun (14th century), ‘ud denoted the plectrum of the lute called barbat. The etymology of the word has occasioned numerous commentaries, among them Farmer’s alluring thesis that the Arabs adopted the term to differentiate the instrument, with its wooden sound-table, from the similar Persian barbat, whose belly is covered with skin. Continue reading

Origins of the Jingling Johnny

Origins of the Jingling Johnny

Utilized by composers as diverse as Joseph Haydn and Beethoven, the instrument once collectively known as the Turkish crescent has undergone many changes over the centuries as it blended in with the cultures and peoples which adopted it’s unique sound.  Originally a military marching instrument, it consisted of an ornate conical brass crescent shaped crosspiece mounted on an 8 foot long shaft covered in a multitude of bells.  Played by either twisting or slamming the device, the bells could be rung rhythmically or gently jangled much like with a modern tambourine, and was used by troops to keep time during marches or while on parade. Continue reading

Origin of the violin

1. Origin of the violinStringed instruments first were recorded in Europe in the medieval ages. By “stringed” we refer to instruments played with a bow. This instrument was the “fiddle” of the minne-singers. But it didn’t have much in common with a violin. It was in the 15th century when, slowly, the family of gambs and violins developed.

In the times of the renaissance, which had a large impact on all the arts, not least in the construction of instruments. The violin as it is known nowadays was built in the early 16th century. In this climate the viola and the cello also emerged.

Everything that is explained about the violin and its structures can be referred to the whole family of stringed instruments. This group of instruments has been developed in order to satisfy new ideas of sounds that emerged in these times in Italy. Gradually, it took the place of the gambs and violas that preceded them.

It was with the Cremonese makers working in this environment that the violin and its family reached its zenith, and although technical innovations have been applied through time, the ground plan and its basic form are still used today.

In Italy, which escaped the war of thirty years, violin making reached an enormous upswing. Andrea Amati lived in Cremona between 1535 and 1611; he became the founder of the world’s most famous school of violin-making. It is not a certain institute, which is meant but a special local characterisation of all different centres of violinmaking; the art of painting has known a similar effect. So, there are for instance the school of Brescia, of Cremona, of Milan, but also the school of Naples and many more.

Afterwards, violin making expounded over the whole continent of Europe. But it was Cremona that was home to the most famous of all violin makers: The families Amati and Guarneri, Antonio Stradivari, the families Ruggeri and Bergonzi. For more than 150 years, violins made by Stradivari and Guarneri have been the most desired concert instruments.

2. Why old master instruments sound so good The decline of violin making began in the second half of the 18th century. Caused by a permanent growth of the demand for instruments the violinmakers were forced to produce more and to produce faster. They used varnishes that dried more quickly but which could not reach the quality of the elder ones. Still, every violinmaker and every enthusiast for violins regrets the disappearance of the old Italian, the so called classical, varnishes. So, there are some violin makers who try heavily to reconstruct old varnishes; they invest plenty of time for their experiments.

Many negative influences for violin making result from the pollution of our environment. It is known that in earlier times, rafts transported all the chopped trees. The river Po 250 years ago – a pure river – cannot be compared with the polluted waterway it is nowadays. The same fact is valid also for nearly all stretches of water. Because of the fact that wood is a material with high absorbency, all substances dissolved in the water penetrate the wood. During the process of drying out, all these substances remain in the wood. In addition during the whole process of later working by the violin maker, this negative influence cannot be corrected.

But the environment is an important aspect not only as far as wood is concerned. All substances, which are used to produce varnishes are natural produce. The so-called pore filler consists of propolis which is produced by bees. The colouring of varnishes consist of natural colours, the solvents are natural ethereal oils. All natural substances that are used in violin making nowadays are not comparable with the substances of earlier times; unfortunately, they have lost their purity.

The ideal materials that were used in classical violin making and the very positive effect of the aging process resulted in the completeness of all classical instruments made by Italian masters.

3. Restoration of masterpieces Is the sound of these instruments nowadays the same as it was in Stradivari’s times? Certainly not. The majority of musicians would decline instruments with an original sound of those times. It is absolutely clear that they wouldn’t be played in concert by a soloist (except in baroque music). The instruments would not have such a variety of sounds and they wouldn’t have the ability to reach the most distant rows of a concert hall with sufficient clarity. The fact that they can be played in concert today is owed to the violin makers. Much know-how and manual skills and plenty of experience are necessary in order to restore the tone of an old instrument again and again.

Further, there are repairs which are necessitated due to accidents and damage; the violin is a very tender instrument with a high tendency to get cracks if it has been dropped. Moreover, damage can be caused by air that is just too dry, which happens most often with new instruments; unfortunately these cracks caused by dryness are more common because of central heating and air conditioning

4. Making new instrumentsIn the course of the centuries, the workshop has not changed a great deal. There are still the same tools that were used by the old masters: the carpenter’s bench, saws, small and large planes as well as chisels made of wood just like those used for sculpturing. Moreover, blades and stencils, also brushes for varnishing and above all large knives for woodcarving are still in use. Still, at Sprenger Geigenbau, there are tools in use that were originally used by founder Fritz Sprenger.

For the violinmaker, wood is the most important material; it is only natural that the correct choice of wood is vital in order to achieve the best quality of sound. Wood that is too heavy because of its specific weight cannot be used – although it looks perhaps marvellous. It is also because of this aspect that mass-production of violins has to fail: these days even with modern, computer-controlled machines; the works is too mechanical, without any consideration for materials used. Mass-production will never fulfil the fundamental aspect, because each piece of wood needs to be treated differently, even when the wood is chopped out of the same trunk, the single pieces are very different of each other. At the lower end of the trunk, the wood is generally harder than at the top, also, parts which grew in the sunshine obviously differ from parts that grew in the shadow.

Two sorts of wood are the most common in violin making: spruce for the belly and maple for the back and the scroll. The fingerboard consists of ebony, which is a very hard wood. The pegs and tailpiece are mostly made of ebony, jacaranda or boxwood.

The finest wood of maple comes from Bosnia, the most adapted spruce comes from central European countries; it grows at an altitude of about 1000m above sea level. The wood of the ebony comes from Africa – it is wood of the date palm.

The most common kind of construction is the one with the so-called inner form. The ribs are adjusted to this form. The ribs, which are about 1.2 mm thick, are bent over the bending iron. Then, they are fixed with some glue at the top- and bottom-block and at the corner-blocks. The back and belly of the violin are sawed out with its exact outline. This whole process happens according to the precise pattern of the stencils. The stencils can be taken from an instrument, so for instance from a violin made by Stradivari or Guarneri; perhaps, they are changed a little bit with a small, personal peculiarity. The belly and the back, which have been cut out are arched afterwards.

Therefore, nothing except the ribs is bent or pressed, everything is worked out of a solid piece of wood. When the outer arching has been finished the insides of the back and belly are gouged out. The thickness of belly and back is not the same for the whole violin; its wood is between 2.5 and 4.5 mm thick. The violinmaker has to adjust his work to the character of the wood. This is an essential advantage over violins that are made by machines. After carving and preparation, the back is fixed to the rim of the rib. The f-holes are cut out of the belly and then the bass-bar is adjusted and fixed. In order to find the form of the f-holes, the violinmaker focuses on classical examples – perhaps also on his personal particularities. Next, the inner form has to be detached from the ribs; afterwards, the belly is fixed on the rim of the rib. Finally, the back and belly are put in and the edges are rounded. With that, the body of the instrument is finished.

The scroll is cut out of maple wood, which should – if possible – match the back and ribs. When the scroll and the so called peg-box has been worked out, the fingerboard gets adjusted to the neck. Then, the complete neck is fitted to the body, which obviously is a working process that has to be carried out with high precision; it has a large impact not only on the instrument’s technical playing possibilities but also on its sound. Now, the white instrument is finished. It is now only its varnished dress that is missing.

5. The varnishThe three most important functions of the varnish are the following:
1. It should protect the instrument from the negative influences of weather and dirt
2. It should raise the instrument’s possibilities of sound
3. It should emphasise the wood’s natural beauty

Most violinmakers strive for the development of an ideal recipe for varnishes. Indeed, the varnish has a large impact on the sound. A soft varnish and an insufficient undercoating have a tendency to deaden heavily the sound of a violin. If the varnish is too hard or brittle, in contrary, the sound becomes shrill and penetrating.

To sum up, one can say that an instrument, which is badly or incorrectly built cannot become a masterpiece just because of an excellent varnish. However, a good instrument can be ruined because of a miserable varnish.