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.


After I made my pochette fiddle, I realised that I was lacking a couple of key tools – in particular, I lacked curved soled luthier’s planes to scallop down the sides of the belly rise, so I decided to do something about it at last.

I went on ebay and found a set of four lovely looking brass planes. But I wasn’t sure of the finish, how well made they would be, and whether I could get used to using them.

I put in what I felt was a reasonable bargain bid. And sure enough I was beaten to it. The next morning, however, I woke and checked my email, and there was an email from the seller offering me a second chance to buy it at my last bid price as the other buyer had pulled out. So I took the plunge.

Luthier planes

And when the planes arrived I was delighted. Not only are they of excellent quality, but I find them quite easy to use too. They will see a lot of use on my next pochette. The work with the grain or across it. But I may still look out for some serrated blades so they will plane in all directions equally well.

luthier's planes


Full Circle is back in the Sydney recording studio to record another couple of tracks and to mix down the material into something resembling its final form.


After the tension and exhaustion of actually recording the material, the mix down is one of the most important aspects of the process. Tamlin, the sound engineer has done a fabulous job on getting the best sound out of our voices and instruments, and balancing the mix.


After seven hours we had something resembling a basic mix for us to take away and listen to, and all that remains is to decide on which tracks to keep and more importantly which to discard on the basis that less is more to ensure the best quality. There is still some work to do in post production, but we have made definite progress.


On visiting Sydney’s Powerhouse museum I encountered a violin-shaped pochette in the musical instruments section.

Pochette at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

The catalogue description reads:

Pochette with violin form body, maker unknown, Mittenwald, Bavaria, 1750-1790]
Small pocket sized violin,used by a dancing master for dance classes. Single piece belly of spruce and back of solid carved maple, accentuated curves with deep ribs, no purfling either side, heavy reddish brown varnish, with black discolouration across the middle of the belly and around the edges of the back. Black,[ebony] tuning pegs and tail piece, finger board of black stained pear wood, tuning pegs have small inlayed mother of pearl dots on the ends. Light coloured bridge with no maker’s mark, narrow headstock with deep srcoll carving, strung with 4 strings. – Powerhouse Museum

The whole instrument would be barely three inches wide and it is very shallow in the body so I suspect that it would not put out much sound.

Pochette at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney

But it’s an interesting instrument nonetheless.


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