Violins and the Power of Suggestion

violin

The results of a long anticipated study published on April 7 seem to shatter long-held assumptions about the superiority of 300-year-old Stradivari and Guarneri violins to fine modern instruments. The study, led by French scientist Claudia Fritz with the help of American luthier Joseph Curtin, follows up on a controversial blind test conducted in an Indianapolis hotel room in 2010. Ten prominent violinists, including Ilya Kaler and Elmar Oliveira, were unable to distinguish old instruments from new in a blind test. In fact, modern instruments were slightly favored. This tantalizing documentary shows how the Paris Double-Blind Violin Experiment unfolded. 

Currently, many soloists own copies of their famous Strads and Guarneris and frequently perform on these well-crafted modern instruments in concerts. In the end, it’s the relationship between the instrument and the violinist which may be most important. Over time we learn how each violin wants to be played and we discover new colors and tonal possibilities. It’s a relationship of give and take. If we put the right energy into the violin, it rewards us. Nothing can diminish the technological and artistic achievements of the old Italian makers. But this study may be the first step in overcoming an irrational bias against fine modern instruments.

The violin is a ruthlessly honest seismograph of the heart. Four strings stretched over the bridge put sixty-five pounds of pressure on the wooden sounding chamber; this stored energy amplifies every nuance of weight, balance, friction, and muscle tone as the musician draws the bow over the string. Each tremor and movement reflects the musician’s minutest unconscious impulse. There is nothing hidden with the violin-it is like mathematics in that respect; pretense is impossible. The sound coming out of that instrument is a sensitive lie detector, a sensitive truth detector.

-Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts

Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts

Unknown-38What is the source of a creative idea? What is the link between art and spirituality? How can we unlock our inner muse, find joy in the creative process and unleash the full potential of our imagination? Stephen Nachmanovitch’s book, Free Play: The Power of Improvisation in Life and the Arts delves into these questions. Nachmanovitch is an improvisational violinist and violistcomputer artist and teacher. Musicians and non-musicians alike will find his book meaningful, inspiring and thought provoking.

Nachmanovitch stresses that improvisation is not chaotic, but flows from a natural formal structure:

[quote]We carry around the rules inherent in our organism. As living, patterned beings, we are incapable of producing anything random. We cannot even program a computer to produce random numbers; the most we can do is create a pattern so complex that we get an illusion of randomness. Our body-mind is a highly organized and structured affair, interconnected as only a natural organism can be that has evolved over hundreds of millions of years. An improviser does not operate from a formless vacuum, but from three billion years of organic evolution; all that we were is encoded somewhere in us.[/quote]

Nachmanovitch also highlights the common threads which run through music, dance, visual art, literature and religious traditions. He shows that life and art are inseparable. Michelangelo believed that the statue already existed and that his job was simply to carve away the excess stone. Nachmanovitch suggests that:

[quote]As stone is to a sculptor, so time is to a musician. Whenever he gets up to play, the musician stands there facing his own unsculpted block of time.[/quote]

Nachmanovitch stresses the ephemeral aspect of improvisation and the spontaneous creative impulse:

[quote]The fact that improvisation vanishes makes us appreciate that every moment of life is unique-a kiss, a sunset, a dance, a joke. None will ever recur in quite the same way. Each happens only once in the history of the universe.[/quote]

To learn more about Nachmanovitch and his work, visit his website, listen to this podcast and watch this short interview:

[quote]If you forget yourself , you become the universe.[/quote]

-Hakuin Ekaku

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