I made this fiddle as the first of a series to explore the sources of variety that we see in violins. I’m also thinking about traditional violinmaking in the Digital Age. A broader discussion of the ideas behind this series is laid out in an earlier post.
Variations on a Theme
One of the attractive things about violins is their variety, this mostly comes from four sources :
- Design: deliberate decisions on the structure and appearance of the violin and the materials chosen to build it
- Materials: wood is inherently variable
- Execution: the degree of precision and control with which the violinmaker executes the design
- Age: the wear and accretions that the violin collects over time
For this series of violins I want to experiment with the effects of these, especially the design, execution and aging
The patterns that cover the violin are Turing patterns generated by use of Diffusion-Reaction equations. These equations developed by Alan Turing, slayer of the Enigma machine and father of modern computing , produce an infinite variety of patterns and can be used to model some of the variety of form seen in nature such as tiger strips or leopard spots. The pattern generation was done for me by Istanbul based designer Kerim Dundar. Kerim has been using Turing patterns for years in his own design work and and has been become familiar enough with the program that he can “play” patterns as they evolve on the screen, nudging the direction that they take.
The equations interact with the boundaries in which they are formed so I sent Kerim the outlines of a violin and he filled them with patterns. We discussed the thickness of the black and white lines and the orientation and flow of the patterns. From the large range of patterns that he sent me, I picked one that I felt showed an interesting variety of texture and related to the outlines in a pleasing way.
The pattern on the left is the one that I chose to use . Looking at it from a distance the pattern became a simple a simple texture and I thought that there was not enough of a story to be seen there, so I edited in a corolla of sun rays or tentacles to the margins of the upper and lower bouts.
One of the things that I love about these patterns is that they have superficial but not precise symmetry.
The computer generated patterns had a precisely formed, hard edged feel to them. To introduce further variety into the violin I transferred the patterns onto the violin by hand using transfer paper and then carved the lines into the wood by hand. I purposely did this work rather imprecisely which introduced more variety into the patterns and gave them a more organic feel.
Age and Wear
To mimic the effect of age I used the “antiquing” techniques that we modern violinmakers use on our regular instruments. I wore and polished the high spots and put “patina” into the low spots. I also added color in the sun rays and on the ribs and scroll of the violin. This was a long iterative process of adding color, removing some or all of it and trying again until I had something that I felt was engaging and rewarded scrutiny both from a distance and from very close up.
Parallels with Biology
As I’ve mentioned before, I think that one of main reasons that violins are visually appealing to us is that they show many of the same characteristics of organic life. Any violin that you encounter is a product of the designers intention, the materials available to them, their ability to execute those ideas, and the wear that it has experienced. similarly with Life, any living organism that you encounter is an expression of its genetic code , or design, (genotype) modified by the environment in which it is grown and lives (phenotype).
Unlike the design of a violin, an organism’s genetic code comes with some individual variation built in: brown or blue eyes etc. This variety is mimicked in this project by the Turing patterns which are different every time you generate them.
Digital Age Violins
Using randomly generated patterns coupled with computer controlled machining, it would be possible to build some extra uniqueness into new production violins. I’m not sure if this would make the world a better place or not but its worth looking at and it will be the subject of my next project.
When I started carving the patterns into the wood this process seemed somehow to imbue them with a flavor of primitive art. I think that there is something very primal for humans about repeated parallel lines.
I thought that this particular type of patterning with many narrow channels cut part way through the wood of the plates might have some effect on the tone of the violin because I had effectively reduced the stiffness of the plates without reducing the weight as much. But I found as before with other Off-Beat Violins, that the carving did not seem to unduly affect the tone.
The next violin in this series will use a different type of computer generated pattern for decoration, then, instead of going through the prolonged work of carving the patterns by hand, I am going to have them cut by machine. I will be taking the hand work out of the decorative woodwork, but I will still be “aging” it by antiquing. I suspect that the effect of “age” alone will be enough to give the instrument the organic, natural look that I enjoy.