Prof. Marco Malagodi is going to explain some of the secrets that science unvealed about the construction of stringed instruments….
Cultural District of Violin Making and Scientific Research, AN.I.M.A. project (ANalysis and Investigation of Materials and Acoustics – Studying the materials to understand the intangible heritage) (Promoter: Cremona Municipality – Cultural District of Violin Making)
A question that is often analysed by the researchers and experts is how the materials used to make violins can influence the wood’s characteristics, its durability and consequently the acoustics of the same instrument made with that wood. In order to study the impact of the different wood’s treatments that are connected both to the changes provoked by the materials used but also by the variations in the geometry of the different components on the acoustic quality of the violin, it becomes fundamental the analysis of the instruments’ timbre characteristics during every significant phase of the making process. In Cremona, even nowadays, the handicraft historic tradition connected mainly to the “Golden Age” of Cremona violin- making tradition represents a point of reference. In fact, during that period, thanks to the presence in the town of some families of violin-makers like Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri, it was perfected a peculiar technique. The fundamental moments of the making process (starting from the wood’s choice and selection) include the preliminary wood’s treatments, the application of some filling materials and, then, the varnishes’ laying on the surface. However, these procedures are extremely different one from the others and they need different techniques and treatments for the use of the materials. Moreover, there are hundreds of historic methods used to prepare the varnishes for the surface’s dressing and, in the past, some of them were deeply analysed by the violin-makers. The fact that a violin can present different non-homogeneous layers of materials (included not-processed wood) and different wood fillers or varnishes, makes the analysis of the relationship between the material and the quality of the sound extremely complex. Beyond this great variety of materials’ treatments and applications in the different operative steps, it is necessary to take into consideration the great diversity in the geometry of the violin, in the thickness of the assembled components, in the dimensions, in the distances and in the volumes.
All these elements, obviously, have a direct impact on the wood’s structural and chemical characteristics and on the vibratory, timbre and acoustic peculiarities of the violin.
All these aspects have been studied for long by the researchers and violin-makers coming from different nations. Until now it has not been developed a specific research on this theme in Cremona, the town that has always safeguarded this tradition and that is considered the ideal place to implement this kind of project. Thanks to the support and to the coordination of the Cultural District of Violin-Making this project, that was born from a precise necessity expressed by a group of professional violin-makers from Cremona, can be implemented in cooperation with the Scientific Labs of the violin’s Museum.
The meetings between the violin-makers and the researchers of the Labs organized in 2017 and 2018 allowed to identify the main critical elements that characterize the daily working practices. All the different priorities connected to the analysis of all the factors at stake and of the goals that we want to reach, also thanks to an increase in the violin-maker’s awareness for the work s/he is carrying out, were analysed.
The project aims at combining the analysis of the wood treatments’ effects with the structural and vibratory characteristics of the same wood: we would like to connect these results with the parameters obtained by the study of the geometrical changes in the violins implemented during the making process.
The great value of this project is related to the scientific importance of the theme and to the direct participation of the violin-makers. We would like to transform Cremona in a territory able to cooperate directly in the making process and we would also like to transform the town in the beneficiary of the investigation’s results. We want to understand, keep, enhance and innovate. The obtained results will be available not only for the scientific community (with the obvious advantages deriving from this action) but also, and more specifically, for old and new violin-makers who are and will be the keepers of the ancient tradition and, at the same time, will propose innovation and progress.
The analysis of the historical making techniques used today in several Cremona violin-making workshops reveals a low-level of dissemination of the scientific methods that can be implemented for the analysis of the materials and of the tools. The same can be said for the vibratory and acoustic analysis of the instruments. The use of these methods as a support in the making process of the instruments is even more unusual. On the other side, research about acoustics is often destined to a small community of experts. Its results are not transferred in the violin-making practice. This project aims at reducing the gap between the scientific community and the community of violin-makers, fostering the flow of information (in the two directions) and establishing a strong and close cooperation that aims at integrating the two communities.
The project’s results can have several interesting applications for the violin-makers. In particular ANIMA will contribute to:
(i.) identify the variables of the process of violin-making, that are really important for the success of the
instruments and that can be directly controlled by the violin-maker in the workshop;
(ii.) identify the parameters necessary to define the best characteristics of the materials;
(iii.) identify the best values of these parameters;
(iv.) identify the best techniques, measurement instruments, analysis, interpretation and use of the results.
The project’s scientific results will be acquired by the Scientific Labs of the Violin’s Museum for future research and for the organization of a wider database. The progressive dissemination of good practices should create a virtuous circle in which the flow of information and experiences between researchers and violin-makers can become stable and long-lasting. The fundamental condition for the implementation of these goals and of the expected results is the conveyance to the violin-makers of the researchers’ knowledge once it has been adequately simplified. The violin-makers must be informed about the principles and instruments necessary for the identification and comprehension of the phenomena and the creation, also thanks to psyco-acoustics, of a shared vocabulary that can allow to have a correct communication between the researchers and the violin- makers to enhance the comprehension and the evaluation of the obtained results.
This shared language will be useful in general for the experts who, in future, will apply research to violin- making practices.
The project can be theoretically divided in three main phases: two should be developed parallel to one another and a third one must be built on the results of the previous ones:
1. A.N.I.M.A 1 – Materials: characterization of the materials and of the acoustic characteristics in the
single phases of wood dressing;
2. A.N.I.M.A 2 – Geometry: characterization of the instruments’ acoustic qualities in connection with the
making-geometrical qualities. Production of 15 prototypes of semi-finished violins;
3. A.N.I.M.A 3 – Integration of the results obtained by ANIMA 1 and ANIMA 2.
In every project’s phase the cooperation with the violin-makers will be close, especially for the implementation of the experimental trials: wood processing, application of the dressing treatments and production of violin for the phase A2.
The project’s sustainability will be ensured by the spontaneous cooperation of the violin-makers and by the progressive investments of the universities (Pavia University – Arvedi Laboratory of Non-Invasive Diagnostics and Milan Poly-technical University – Acoustic Lab) in favour of the staff involved in the research activities.