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For the Orchestra Geeks

for-the-orchestra-geeks

Stradivarius! Outdone!

Or so the article from ScienceDaily claims as it reports on a new application of biotechnology promising to make the legendary sound of the exceedingly rare Stradivarius pieces available to one and all. Using what, you ask?

Fungus.

One of the long-running theories behind the quality of Stradivarius violins was the density of the wood from which the instruments were made. Actually the benefactor of Europe’s Little Ice Age (1645-1715) where particularly long and cold winters and relatively short summers which gave trees little opportunity to really grow outwards, Stradivarius produced over 500 instruments with the wood he gathered from European forests; now much denser and harder from the frosts the trees were forced to endure.

From 1711 onwards, these Stradivarius pieces were renowned not only for their rarity in the modern day world, but their legendary sound as well. Craftsmen of great quality emerged around the same time, selling their exquisite violins to musicians, but none really truly equaled the quality of Stradivarius, and today, authentic Stradivarius violins go for over millions of dollars, and the mention of a Stradivarius in a field totally unrelated to music still registers the notion of the utter, unquestionable best.

Fast forward to this week. Scientist Francis Schwarze and violin maker Michael Rhonheimer created a violin using a kind of wood Schwarze treated with a special kind of fungus that, while attacking the wood, would change the structure of the wood in a way that would pack the cell density of the wood closer together, simulating the kind of wood density that trees during the Little Ice Age produced. From the article:

British star violinist Matthew Trusler played five different instruments behind a curtain, so that the audience did not know which was being played. One of the violins Trusler played was his own strad, worth two million dollars. The other four were all made by Rhonheimer – two with fungally-treated wood, the other two with untreated wood. A jury of experts, together with the conference participants, judged the tone quality of the violins. Of the more than 180 attendees, an overwhelming number – 90 persons – felt the tone of the fungally treated violin “Opus 58” to be the best. Trusler’s stradivarius reached second place with 39 votes, but amazingly enough 113 members of the audience thought that “Opus 58” was actually the strad! “Opus 58” is made from wood which had been treated with fungus for the longest time, nine months.

So in the end, it seems that the theory of the wood density proves correct, that the Stradivarius gets its sound from the closely packed, very homogeneous cellular structure of the wood. More than that though, this revelation probably halved the value of Stradivarius violins now that the sound is no longer unique to his instruments… if you’re holding any, now might be a good time to pawn them before these new fungal violins get on the market. 😛

See the original article here.

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