In part 1, I described a plan to make a pair of violins with structural features that I think will have effects on the way those instruments sound. I decided to base the designs for the two violins around two of the vibrational modes that have been studied and used as tools by many violinmakers in an attempt to control the tonal qualities of our instruments. This second part describes the designs that I came up with for the two fiddles I intend to build. While part 1 was somewhat rational and vaguely scientific, this part drifts into more aesthetic and emotional areas. One of the beautiful things about the violin is that it stimulates both rational and intuitive modes of thinking.
I started by looking at the X and Ring- modes of the violin (hereafter referred to as as the X and O modes). I sketched many different cellular patterns (patterns made of repeated units or “cells”) which corresponded with those modal patterns. My thought was that the cell pattern would affect both the frequency at which the targeted mode occurs, and also how readily it occurs.
As I sketched, I was reminded of other patterns that have interested me in the past: branching and vein patterns, insect wings, scale patterns, Gothic windows, fluting, spirals …. and on and on. Further research into any of those topics led to new encounters and sparked new possibilities for cell patterns on the fiddle.
Corset and Flute
I settled on two designs. Both involve fluting patterns in the bouts and a corset like structure at the center of the instrument. There are two main reasons for this. The first stems from the way that I think of an instrument structurally, with a firm central area that supports the main loads of the instrument, leaving the bouts free to vibrate more broadly. The second is aesthetic. I’ve always liked transitions in structures, the intersection of two patterns often helps to visually define the shapes that you are looking at. There are many captivating examples in nature, think for instance of the way in which the ridges on a stem transition into a flower or a seed pod. The corset-and-flute arrangement allowed me to explore this a little and allows for some textural variation. I imagine the corset being relatively smooth and the fluting being rougher textured.
I imagine the Chladni O-mode falling within the central flute. That means that the neutral area will be thin and the ridges will add mass to the moving areas (the outer edges and the center of the plate). I guess that this would create an easily stimulated resonance at a low frequency.
Again the pattern is intended to allow easy stimulation of its targeted mode. The ridges stretch outwards like the limbs of a tree, some of them corresponding with the neutral areas of the X-mode. Again I suspect that the mode will be stimulated at a lower frequency than normal, but this is more or less a guess, I’m really at the edges of my understanding of plate vibrations. The idea is to try it and see. If it turns out to make a significant difference to the tone, we can try and figure out why afterwards.
In the Turtle Fiddle I noticed that I had created two orders of ridges: those of the main cells and those created between individual gouge marks within the cells. In this fiddle, I will add a third order of ridges by subdividing each cell or flute into three sub-cells. This is similar to the familiar branching pattern seen in trees, roots, leaves, rivers, veinous-systems, etc. What I think is a less commonly seen in nature is for two ‘twigs” to combine as they do in my design. This arrangement is positively frowned on in family trees, but the human imagination tends to run to these risqué regions.
An exciting feature of the X design is the possibility of carrying the fluting from the top plate, through the ribs, to the back plate.
X O – Looking out, Looking in
It occurred to me that the the X and O in a way symbolize two complimentary ways of being in the world. One, an outward looking, expansive and projecting mode, seeing a universe through discovery and information gathering. The other, inward looking, enveloping and digesting, finding a universe through analyzing information. We all repeatedly go through both of these phases.
These two modes have familiar contrasting symbols
- The Sun which radiates light, the moon, which repeatedly grows and devours itself.
- Day, where we venture out and explore, Night where we huddle at home and make sense of what we’ve seen in the world.
- Male projection, female enveloping, and all the psychological interpretations that arise from that duality.
In a way, these could symbolize my own journey with violinmaking. I started with a discomfort over the inward and backward looking world of violin making, where we are examining a handful of old instruments through a metaphorical and literal microscope. I felt that while this very rewarding it is not in sync with what I imagine was the outward looking, exploratory attitude of the makers whose work we most admire. This led me to the question which I considered in the post Shoki’s Scroll, finding other sources of inspiration in violinmaking. I had the idea that really anything at all that excites us could in some way be taken as an inspiration, and might breathe some life into our work. Pushing that idea a little further led to the Dimpled Viola and theTurtle Fiddle and this current project. But more importantly for me personally, it has allowed me to engage with the outside world and to explore its richness through my work. Suddenly, if something excites me, I have the possibility of doing something with it. It’s exhilarating.
This is not to dismiss the traditional, approach to violinmaking. The violin is a very complicated entity. Thankfully it is complicated enough to be beyond our current understanding (once we have the answers to how it works, it will cease to be so interesting). It is respect for the violins of the past and the passing on of working techniques that has allowed the violin to evolve slowly over the years We would be nowhere without a strong, tried and true framework to work within. But I do feel that a little more outward exploration could deepen our understanding and enliven our work.
At this point Fibonacci reappears
At times I’ve considered the possibilities of a primordial, geometric genesis of the violin. I see elements of truth in many of the theories that have been proposed, but overall the concept has not stuck with me. In the end, I tend to believe more in Evolution of the violin rather than in its Divine Creation. However, from time to time, I do still get out a ruler and a pair of compasses and try to find the grand unifying scheme. While doing that recently, I bumped into Fibonacci again and suddenly saw his spiral not so much as a key to unlocking the design of the violin, but instead as a useful metaphor for human insight and the way that we acquire knowledge. I had always seen his spiral as going infinitely outwards but of course it also goes infinitely inwards. Looking at the patterns as they unfold in either direction we see things that we didn’t see while looking in the other direction. This all gives us a deeper understanding of the replicating core unit that generates the spiral. So, if the core represents our knowledge – the lens through which we see and make sense of the universe – the diminishing and expanding spirals represent our fields of exploration. We need to look both inwards and outwards for the greatest experience and understanding.