August 2008

Many have tried over the centuries to explain the amazing responsiveness of Stradivarius violins, some saying it is the wood from a particular era grown in a cold period in Europe’s history, while others say it’s the varnish, or the chemicals used by Cremona makers to treat the wood used in violins against insect attack. Joseph Nagvary is one of the latter. A Hungarian-born biochemist and luthier, Nagvary analysed both the varnish and the insect treatment techniques of the old masters, and is convinced that he can reproduce the Strad sound qualities in his own instruments through the right treatment of the timber and the right varnish.

Personally, I’m skeptical. Far more tonality comes from the way the wood is shaped and thicknessed, and if you look at most strads and Guarnerius instruments – most have either had much of the original varnish worn away, or have been re-varnished – and that doesn’t seem to have affected their tone greatly. Moreover, other scientific research into the Stradivarius varnish shows it to have been little or no different from the standard furniture varnishes used in his time. So I’m still on the side of those who believe a mini ice-age in Europe in the years preceding the making of the Cremona instruments gave rise to the unique tonal stability of those instruments – along with the particular craftsmanship of the top makers of that time.

Here’s a great version of a great tune


And I thought I was the only guy who dances while playing fiddle! Check out his clog dancing – no wonder his bow is usually just a mass of loose hair – and he’s not bad for a left hander either :-)

Actually he’s long been my favourite fiddler


Music and songs of all genres sing about desire and the human condition. Songs especially, focus on the nature of relationships between people, often through making mention of parts of the body – eyes, hands, embracing arms and so on.

fleshmap project

Two researchers into data visualisation have compiled musical maps of the body for different genres of song. Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg are two artists exploring the different emphases across genres: of touch, looking and listening. The similarities and differences across the genres emerges.

Man Ray - violon de Ingres

Man Ray’s 1924 portrait photo of a woman as a violin is one form of mapping desire through music onto the body, the Fleshmap project is another. All of these can be taken to illustrate the ways in which the body is inscribed in text – whether visual or literary texts.

Thanks to Largehearted Boy for publicising this link.


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