What are you listening to/watching?

What can I say? It doesn't fit above, put it here. Also the location of board rules/info.
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2233
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Salmoneus »

Not sure if this is the right place to post, because I'm primarily asking a(n open-ended) question. But I'm also linking to things I've listened to, and continuing the recent conversation about musical instruments, so....


I really like the sound of the English guittar. (sic). Here's another piece/peformer/instrument It's so... clean! And yet warm!

Guittars went out of fashion in England in the 18th century, for reasons involving prostitutes*. Fortunately, however, they had by then been exported to Portugal, where they became known as "Portuguese guitars". Later, in the late 19th and early 20th century, these were imported into Germany, where they became the 'waldzither'. [more accurately: re-imported. The guittar is a development of earlier German instruments (and ultimately of the cittern), and the French sister-instrument was even called the 'German cittern'. It's possible that the English/Portuguese innovations only modified a surviving rural folk instrument tradition in parts of Germany]

Waldzithers therefore have a very similar sound: listen to this, for example (there's a slow prelude-y bit before going into a folk dance). There's actually several types of waldzither, with the two main modern types being the Hamburg version and the Thuringian version. Fortunately, some guy has helpfully recorded the same (modern) tune on both, in high quality, so we can hear the timbre well! Here's what his tune sounds like on the Thuringian waldzither, and here's the same thing on the Hamburger. Except... is it? The obvious difference between the two is that the Hamburg instrument retains the Portuguese 'fan' tuning engines, the direct descendent of JN Preston's English tuning engines**, while the Thuringian instrument has instead borrowed the perpendicular tuning engines of the Spanish guitar. [these are also guittar engines - they were adopted on Spanish instruments before being made obsolete on English ones by the Preston engines, but the Spanish never got the memo to upgrade, so still have them]. However, perhaps more significant for timbre is that the Hamburg instrument normally have a rather odd (modernist!) glass bridge. Going back to that first waldzither clip: note the glass bridge and fan head. But in the comparison videos, both seem to have wooden bridges. So I don't know what's making the different timbre (the hamburger one being a bit less bright), other than individual instrument differences. It's also possible that that IS a glass bridge, since some of them were made of opaque glass - but it doesn't look like it to me.

ANYWAY. English guittar. German waldzither. Generally the same sort of sound - because they're the same instument. And, incidentally, if you want one, you'll probably find it easy to get the German version. They were produced en masse in the 10's, 20's and 30's, but then went completely out of fashion, and apparently the internet is swimming in unwanted originals (of varying quality, to be fair). Presumably this is a side-effect of Nazism, and subsequent German national shame - the interest in German 'folk' instruments evaporated, whereas in Portugal it just got stronger over time. The English ones, on the other hand, stopped being widely made in the 18th century (damn you, Mr Kirkman!), so you'd need a modern reproduction. (it's a bit surprising the Americans aren't reviving it, what with its connexions to their national history, but they have so many national instruments to choose from...).


So, logically, the Portuguese guitar sounds the same, right? Wrong! The Portuguese version has its own, distinctive timbre. And not just because in every damn portuguese guitar, there's a spanish guitar clodding around in the background! [yeah yeah, I know, fado guitars aren't quite the same as modern classical Spanish guitars. But they're very close relatives, compared to the cittern-family instruments we're talking about here***]. They're not unpleasant, but they're very different. They don't have the same, glowing warmth - instead, they're sharp and brittle. I know there are stylistic differences here as well - both these portuguese videos use vibrato on their longer notes, and the second one uses tremolo. But it's not just that.

So why do they sound like that? Why don't they sound like the English and German (and indeed French) versions, given that they're physically extremely similar?

I know there's no one answer, but I'd be interesting to hear your thoughts.

I've had a couple of ideas, but I'm not sure which factors are really at work here, and which are more important:

- at first I thought strumming method might be a big factor: the English guittar was finger-activated (softer sound), whereas the Portuguse guitar uses a plectrum (harsher sound). But then I realise: that first waldzither video has a plectrum too. So it's not that simple. But then again: that waldzither plectrum is blunt, whereas Portuguese finger-picks are very sharp and thin. Maybe the ultra-sharp activation is a key element here? I notice that with the English and German instruments, faster fingering seems to encourage a less glowing sound (the strings certainly have less time to resonate, but maybe also a sharper activation deadens them?), so maybe this is a real thing.

- modern portuguese instruments have grown considerably larger than the English and German versions. This could, sfaics, have two effects. One is that this improves the coupling generally: the ability of the instrument to convert string vibration into air vibration via the soundboard and soundbox. Instruments with poor coupling - think of the baltic psaltery family - have purer, persisting sounds (which set up resonance between stings) - whereas instruments with excellent coupling - think of the plucked cello and even more so the plucked violin - have muddier sounds that die quickly, but as a trade-off they're louder (they move more air) and get support for their lower harmonics in particula, so sound richer. In this case, the Portuguese guitar, with its slightly bigger soundboard and soundbox, should be a bit better at converting string motion into air motion, so it should be louder (can't tell these days, since you never know where they had to put the microphone!) but also less clear. And that's... true? But not quite in the right way, I don't think. Spanish guitars go even further, with massive soundboxes, and considerable research into maximising coupling through bracing placement and so forth, and as a result they sound much less sharp than the Portuguese guitar. If this were the factor, I'd have expected the Portuguese version to sound less sharp than the English, not vice versa?

- the other effect of size might be that the PG should be a bit better at resonating with the lower notes in particular, but a bit LESS good at resonating with the higher frequencies. This might both generally make higher notes less rich (and of course the PG tends to concentrate on higher notes, because it always has the SG taking the bassline) and also generally make the PG's notes less metallic, by deadening their upper harmonics. Maybe that's what's going on here? I don't have a good enough ear to tell!

- or maybe it's just tuning. EGs had an open tuning, CEGceg. [fitting their social function! This tuning makes it easy to strum chords, making the instrument appealing for amateurs who use it primarily to accompany their own singing]. GWs mostly lost a course and were tuned CGceg. PGs were originally also tuned CEGceg, but during the 20th century, scordatura tunings designed for expert players gradually took over as the norm, so now they're mostly CGadga', or DAbea'b'. This should reduce the amount of string resonance, which should reduce the glow - so maybe that's it? But that seems like a small change for such a big effect! Particularly since tunings were experimented with for a while, and you'd have thought that if this caused SUCH a big change, audiences wouldn't have been so blasé about it (either the new tunings would have been rejected, or adopted more quickly, rather than there being a hundred years of experimentation). Also: unlike the EG, the PG lower three courses are tuned in octaves, reintroducing some of the resonance that would otherwise be lost. So could it really all be blamed on tuning? It makes sense conceptually, I just find it a little hard to swallow! Alternatively, it may be significant that the PG's uppermost strings are tuned higher than the EG's (despite the body being built to resonate with lower notes). This may make those strings sound twangier?


Well, I can't answer these question, but I can add an extra data point! Listen to those waldzither pieces again. Now try this one. As you can see, it's a Hamburger waldzither as before (Portuguese-style fan), but it doesn't have the same rich sound (and I don't think it's purely because of the recording quality). The performer, though, has introduced two modern changes. First, the tuning has been altered the ubiquitous modern "folk" tuning, Gdad'. [oh, let's not get into the whole "mandolin" issue here! Does this turn this instrument into a "mandolin"? Or an "Irish cittern"? Who knows...] This should still be fairly resonant... but less so than C(E)Gceg, so maybe that's an issue. And again, it tunes the highest string (much) higher than the EG, perhaps making it twangier. But she's also using apparently a "sharp" plectrum, and that seems to make a difference too. The result isn't the same as the PG's timbre, but it's certainly a step or two closer to it than the original GW was.


In conclusion: I have no conclusion, I'm just thinking out loud here. Feel free to chime in!


*Guittars were so popular - by the mid-late 18th century, they were the universal instrument of English and American wealthy women - that the makers of virginals, spinets and harpsichords (which had previously occupied that social niche) were going bankrupt. So one harpsichord manufacturer, Jacob Kirkman, had the genius idea of... buying lots and lots of guittars. He didn't pay much, so the guittars he bought were generally not very good. He then went around London giving guittars as free gifts to women of low social standing, particularly prostitutes. Soon, the brothels and allyways of the city were filled with the joyful and popular sound of badly-made guittars... which forced all the well-born women to immediately give up the instrument for fear of insalubrious connotations and return to the harpsichord, which was safely placed in a price-bracket that lower-class women couldn't afford. Guittar makers introduced a number of innovations to entice them back - most notably the invention of the keytar, in which the women wouldn't have to strum the strings, but rather press keys that triggered a miniature hammer mechanism to do it for them - but it was no use. The instrument lingered on in popularity in socially-backwards North America into the early decades of the 19th century (it was the instrument of the Founding Fathers and their wives and daughters), but was eventually everywhere replaced by the more exotic new Spanish Guitar.

**Originally, tuning pegs rotated, perpendicular to the string, to tune them. The addition of geared engines, in place of the old wooden pegs, allowed higher tensions to be reached and maintained reliably. Preston realised, however, that once you had gears, you didn't need the pegs to be perpendicular anymore - instead, his were parallel to the string - you literally just pull the string further up or less far. This makes tuning much more intuitive - you can directly see the marker on the gear go up and down the line as tension changes, rather than having to remember how many half-turns you've given the peg, saves space, and also helps the strings remain in tune longer (the peg is less directly pulled to unwind). The downside is that it puts all the tuning close together, which is a space issue, so Preston invented what's called "watch-key tuning": instead of a protruding PEG, the string is tuned by a recessed HOLE. You then have a single 'watch key' (tied to the instrument, or just left in a hole), which you used to tune each string in turn. This means that instead of a guitar's giant tuning head, you only one very small, square little metal box at the end of the neck. This is a brilliant idea, in my opinion, but unfortunately the Portuguese kept losing their keys, so this is the one part of the guittar that's not preserved: instead, the Portuguese took the English parallel tuning pegs, and splayed them out slightly to form a 'fan', giving each string enough space to have its own manual screwhead. This fan seems to have become more pronounced over time - the waldzithers have somewhat more compact version than the modern Portuguese ones, I think. The Portuguese solution is admittedly visually elegant, but a little less conceptually elegant than the original watch-key concept (and a little more inconvenient for storage).
Last edited by Salmoneus on 22 Feb 2021 02:04, edited 1 time in total.
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2233
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Salmoneus »

But, if you want simulataneously a total break from that post, but also more of the same, here's the traditional Chinese* version of the instrument. (well, the bass version).

[round-body, flat back (I think!?), open tuning (G'DGd), moderately long neck. These strings are metal-wound plastic, though, rather than the EG/PG's pure metal.]



*mostly. Developed in the 20th century by applying western principles, and in particular massively increasing the number of frets, to a folk instrument (which is very old and traditional, but oddly isn't the old and traditional instrument that used to be called the ruan - the Chinese have evidently had as much difficulty with instrument names staying put as Europe did...)
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2791
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by elemtilas »

Couple thoughts on this fascinating threadlet (gonna skip a lot):
Salmoneus wrote: 22 Feb 2021 01:48 So, logically, the Portuguese guitar sounds the same, right? Wrong! The Portuguese version has its own, distinctive timbre. And not just because in every damn portuguese guitar, there's a spanish guitar clodding around in the background! [yeah yeah, I know, fado guitars aren't quite the same as modern classical Spanish guitars. But they're very close relatives, compared to the cittern-family instruments we're talking about here***]. They're not unpleasant, but they're very different. They don't have the same, glowing warmth - instead, they're sharp and brittle. I know there are stylistic differences here as well - both these portuguese videos use vibrato on their longer notes, and the second one uses tremolo. But it's not just that.

So why do they sound like that? Why don't they sound like the English and German (and indeed French) versions, given that they're physically extremely similar?
I'd put most of the blame more on post-production of that Portuguese example and the rest on strings being used (different weights and materials and even age of strings change the sound). Even taking into account performance style and ages of the three instruments (roughly a century apart, but the looks of them!), I think if you put

this 20th century Portuguese guitar

this 18th cen. English guittar

and this late 19th / early 20th cen. waldzither

next to each other, you'll get that same intimate & warm sound from all three.

The factors you mention do indeed affect at least the perception of the sound made by the instrument and there are many others. Different materials and weights of plectrum have their effect, the construction of each instrument (how it's braced, how thick the wood is, whether or not the wood is "tuned") also affect. Whether or not an instrument has been repaired or has had parts replaced may contribute. The presence of cracks or an uneven fretboard. As you say, even the tuning of the strings will affect: open tunings tend to resonate. Another factor to consider is set up. Two identical Chinese factory made guitars: leave one untouched from the factory, but tune it; and take the other, remove the frets, straighten and level the fingerboard, replace and level the frets, put good strings on it and make sure the action is just right and even that cheap instrument will sound amazing in relatively talented hands.

When you get down to it, though, the real difference is in the players! I can take any one of those three guitars and make them all sound like absolute trash. The worst cacophony you've ever heard! I'd be willing to bet that a top notch player can take a Chinese factory made instrument, set it up and make it sound like a really good instrument. It's all about the touch and caress of the artist vs the raking and hacking and sawing of the unknowing.

Clearly, there is no one single answer. As with any musical instrument
First, the tuning has been altered the ubiquitous modern "folk" tuning, Gdad'. [oh, let's not get into the whole "mandolin" issue here! Does this turn this instrument into a "mandolin"? Or an "Irish cittern"? Who knows... This should still be fairly resonant... but less so than C(E)Gceg, so maybe that's an issue. And again, it tunes the highest string (much) higher than the EG, perhaps making it twangier. But she's also using apparently a "sharp" plectrum, and that seems to make a difference too. The result isn't the same as the PG's timbre, but it's certainly a step or two closer to it than the original GW was.
Don't knock GDAD. That's an ancient and venerable fiddle tuning. Was in use long before the modern "folk fad" came along in the 1960s. Other cross tunings exist as well, like AEAE and GDGD and AEAC#..


More later! I've got some thoughts about your harpsichord piano and rackets as well.
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2233
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Salmoneus »

elemtilas wrote: 22 Feb 2021 02:54 Couple thoughts on this fascinating threadlet (gonna skip a lot):
Salmoneus wrote: 22 Feb 2021 01:48 So, logically, the Portuguese guitar sounds the same, right? Wrong! The Portuguese version has its own, distinctive timbre. And not just because in every damn portuguese guitar, there's a spanish guitar clodding around in the background! [yeah yeah, I know, fado guitars aren't quite the same as modern classical Spanish guitars. But they're very close relatives, compared to the cittern-family instruments we're talking about here***]. They're not unpleasant, but they're very different. They don't have the same, glowing warmth - instead, they're sharp and brittle. I know there are stylistic differences here as well - both these portuguese videos use vibrato on their longer notes, and the second one uses tremolo. But it's not just that.

So why do they sound like that? Why don't they sound like the English and German (and indeed French) versions, given that they're physically extremely similar?
I'd put most of the blame more on post-production of that Portuguese example and the rest on strings being used (different weights and materials and even age of strings change the sound). Even taking into account performance style and ages of the three instruments (roughly a century apart, but the looks of them!), I think if you put

this 20th century Portuguese guitar

this 18th cen. English guittar


and this late 19th / early 20th cen. waldzither

next to each other, you'll get that same intimate & warm sound from all three.
Thanks for replying.

But, see, no, the second two sound like the same type of instrument to me, while the first sounds completely different. Admittedly, it's closer than the two recordings I linked to... but mostly at the beginning, with the lower notes. Once he gets into the high notes, it goes back to that Portuguese sound.

Here's another, longer, solo example. Intercut between that and the guittar clip and tell me you can't hear the difference!
The factors you mention do indeed affect at least the perception of the sound made by the instrument and there are many others. Different materials and weights of plectrum have their effect, the construction of each instrument (how it's braced, how thick the wood is, whether or not the wood is "tuned") also affect. Whether or not an instrument has been repaired or has had parts replaced may contribute. The presence of cracks or an uneven fretboard. As you say, even the tuning of the strings will affect: open tunings tend to resonate. Another factor to consider is set up. Two identical Chinese factory made guitars: leave one untouched from the factory, but tune it; and take the other, remove the frets, straighten and level the fingerboard, replace and level the frets, put good strings on it and make sure the action is just right and even that cheap instrument will sound amazing in relatively talented hands.

When you get down to it, though, the real difference is in the players! I can take any one of those three guitars and make them all sound like absolute trash. The worst cacophony you've ever heard! I'd be willing to bet that a top notch player can take a Chinese factory made instrument, set it up and make it sound like a really good instrument. It's all about the touch and caress of the artist vs the raking and hacking and sawing of the unknowing.
My point wasn't that the Portuguese guitar was 'good' and the others were 'trash'. (for one thing, I actually prefer the non-Portuguese instruments). It's that the timbre is very different.

And yes of course each individual instrument will sound a little different - that might be why that Hamburger sounds a little different from that Thuringer, for instance. But in this case, it seems as though every PG sounds very different from every English or German guitar, so it seems that som systematic difference must be responsible.

Though as I said, yes, the use of and nature of the plectra may be (part of) the issue. But I'm just speculating and don't have enough knowlege to know whether this is the case, and if so how much of the timbral difference is due to this.

[I do wish sometimes that music people would take a more analytical, pro-conworlding attitude to their instruments. Maintain some variables, while altering others, and show us the difference! Obviously some design elements are harder to change, because you need to actually be an instrument maker (soundbox shape, for instance), but others are simple enough. What does a portuguese guitar sound like if you pluck the strings manually? What if you tune it to the traditional tuning? What if...]

Oh, on bracing: this could make a difference, yes, I guess. However, while I don't know about the older instruments, Portuguese guitar bracing is simple and seemingly conservative, so I suspect it's very similar to the English and German guitars. Meanwhile, spanish guitar bracings are all over the place, yet don't seem to have a timbral effect on this scale, so I'm assuming bracing isn't the issue.
First, the tuning has been altered the ubiquitous modern "folk" tuning, Gdad'. [oh, let's not get into the whole "mandolin" issue here! Does this turn this instrument into a "mandolin"? Or an "Irish cittern"? Who knows... This should still be fairly resonant... but less so than C(E)Gceg, so maybe that's an issue. And again, it tunes the highest string (much) higher than the EG, perhaps making it twangier. But she's also using apparently a "sharp" plectrum, and that seems to make a difference too. The result isn't the same as the PG's timbre, but it's certainly a step or two closer to it than the original GW was.
Don't knock GDAD. That's an ancient and venerable fiddle tuning. Was in use long before the modern "folk fad" came along in the 1960s.
I'm not "knocking" it, and you don't have to defend it. I'm not saying it is of the devil or anything.
It's just that there seems to be a trend for a lot of modern "folk" instruments to be GDAD, regardless of their ancestry, and for even antique instruments, like that waldzither, to be retuned to GDAD.

I suppose this is a bit irritating, because it seems like part of a homogenising impulse that simultaneously "honours" traditional music, while in practice making it all as similar as possible. So now you can buy a "cittern" or a "bouzouki" or a "mandola", or a "mandolin", and so on, and aside from some minor differences (some being bass versions, some having an extra string) they're all more or less the same instrument, tuned the same way, and they have little if anything in common with actual historical/folk citterns, bouzoukis, mandolas or mandolins (and are actually more akin to English guittars). And the general public think they're listening to something ancient and nationally-specific, rather than a generic instrument...

[bah humbug]
User avatar
Pabappa
greek
greek
Posts: 471
Joined: 18 Nov 2017 02:41
Contact:

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Pabappa »

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaC7-UICzws


geese think they are the keystone predators of the world ... attacking an animal a thousand times their better. and this isnt the only time it has happened. it makes me wonder if geese's natural instincts have given way to learned behavior due to human kindness being far more common than encounters with truly wild animals in the modern world. in a fair fight the goose would have been very easy prey, even in a boat, even for a human with no weapons at hand, let alone a human and a dog.

this is roughly equivalent to me rushing unarmed into a bear den, slapping one of them on the belly a few times, ...and after being gently pushed out by the confused bear, i rush back in a few seconds later, "to close in for the kill".
I'll take the theses, and you can have the thoses.
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2791
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by elemtilas »

Salmoneus wrote: 22 Feb 2021 13:35
Thanks for replying.
No worries! This is a great thread!
But, see, no, the second two sound like the same type of instrument to me, while the first sounds completely different. Admittedly, it's closer than the two recordings I linked to... but mostly at the beginning, with the lower notes. Once he gets into the high notes, it goes back to that Portuguese sound.
Well, all three are the same type of instrument. I listened to the Portuguese guitar recording you linked to and still feel that the sound I'm getting is due more to the amplification, post-processing, recording process than the particular or general instrument itself. That's why I linked to a different recording of a Portuguese guitar, which I think demonstrates that the is indeed "the same" (typologically) as the English and German guitars.

The player in the link you posted is using ordinary guitar thumb and finger picks, which of course will affect the sound somewhat in comparison to using finger nails or a plectrum.
Here's another, longer, solo example. Intercut between that and the guittar clip and tell me you can't hear the difference!
There are obviously differences --- but I think these differences can be ascribed to normal ordinary factors (as I delineated earlier) rather than anything radically different about the instruments. Obviously, I can't get into any of these instruments to measure and assess their physical properties. I hold to my assessment that the three instruments you've pointed out are basically the same thing. And for good reason! The early 1900s saw an absolute boom in musical instrument production, especially in Germany. They were making guitars, lautes, mandolins, fiddles, cellos, even ukuleles. Just about everyone that could work wood mass produced whatever they could slap some string on and sell overseas. I am not at all surprised to find a Portuguese style guitar being popular in Germany in the early 20th century.
My point wasn't that the Portuguese guitar was 'good' and the others were 'trash'. (for one thing, I actually prefer the non-Portuguese instruments). It's that the timbre is very different.
Well, it all depends on the instrument and the recording you listen to, as well as the other factors. Whether it was done in a studio or on the street can also affect.

I think what we'd need to do, really, is gather the three instruments in question, set them up properly, find a competent guitarist and compare the three under ideal and same conditions. I have the feeling they'd be more similar than different.
And yes of course each individual instrument will sound a little different - that might be why that Hamburger sounds a little different from that Thuringer, for instance. But in this case, it seems as though every PG sounds very different from every English or German guitar, so it seems that som systematic difference must be responsible.
Indeed, there could be something that isn't immediately obvious!
Though as I said, yes, the use of and nature of the plectra may be (part of) the issue. But I'm just speculating and don't have enough knowlege to know whether this is the case, and if so how much of the timbral difference is due to this.
Yep. Plectra and picks come in a wide variety of materials, weights & thicknesses. There's horn, bone, wood, plastic, metal, felt, ivory (mastadon!); in sizes ranging from extra thick and stiff on down to thin and flexible. Different shapes mean more or less contact with the string. Though not skilled with stringed instruments, I've had enough instruments & varieties of picks & bows to hand to make some contribution here.

And also the strings themselves. Very difficult to determine what strings are in use on a video; and of course impossible when the instrument isn't shown at all. But strings come in a wide variety of materials & thicknesses as well. They can be new and cheap or old and crappy; or they can be old and still sing beautifully. No matter the material, they do age & stretch and that can affect the timbre. Idiosyncratic or local tuning customs (like downtuning or uptuning) will affect a string's performance as well.
[I do wish sometimes that music people would take a more analytical, pro-conworlding attitude to their instruments. Maintain some variables, while altering others, and show us the difference! Obviously some design elements are harder to change, because you need to actually be an instrument maker (soundbox shape, for instance), but others are simple enough. What does a portuguese guitar sound like if you pluck the strings manually? What if you tune it to the traditional tuning? What if...]
Heh.

Hm.

Let me think on this one... I have some instruments, after all, and it might be interesting to put them to some conworlding use.
Oh, on bracing: this could make a difference, yes, I guess. However, while I don't know about the older instruments, Portuguese guitar bracing is simple and seemingly conservative, so I suspect it's very similar to the English and German guitars. Meanwhile, spanish guitar bracings are all over the place, yet don't seem to have a timbral effect on this scale, so I'm assuming bracing isn't the issue.
Sure. Depends on the kind of guitar. Modern steel strung guitars are heavily braced because the steel strings create more tension on the system. They need the bracing to keep from ripping apart, not only in the box, but also the steel rod up through the neck. Whereas an antique parlour guitar or a Spanish guitar designed to use gut and silk strings can be built light as a feather!

And there are curious hybrids, too. I've got an old violin~mandolin hybrid that's mostly built like a fiddle, but has some curious bracing in it.


Don't knock GDAD. That's an ancient and venerable fiddle tuning. Was in use long before the modern "folk fad" came along in the 1960s.
I'm not "knocking" it, and you don't have to defend it. I'm not saying it is of the devil or anything.
Fair enough. You did use the scare quotes, though, so I wasn't sure!
It's just that there seems to be a trend for a lot of modern "folk" instruments to be GDAD, regardless of their ancestry, and for even antique instruments, like that waldzither, to be retuned to GDAD.
And that's okay too. Thing about folk music is that, sometimes, we tend to think of it in monolithic terms. Irish Traditional Music. Pure Drop. They think that music can only be "tradition" (real scare quotes here!) if it's done in a certain way, in certain instruments, and by certain people. Otherwise it's fake. They don't take into account that traditional musicians (especially in America) had access to thousands of different traditions!
I suppose this is a bit irritating, because it seems like part of a homogenising impulse that simultaneously "honours" traditional music, while in practice making it all as similar as possible. So now you can buy a "cittern" or a "bouzouki" or a "mandola", or a "mandolin", and so on, and aside from some minor differences (some being bass versions, some having an extra string) they're all more or less the same instrument, tuned the same way, and they have little if anything in common with actual historical/folk citterns, bouzoukis, mandolas or mandolins (and are actually more akin to English guittars). And the general public think they're listening to something ancient and nationally-specific, rather than a generic instrument...

[bah humbug]
There's truth in what you say. But I think the great trend of folk music in the 20th century is just that: a homogenising. Simply because people that were separate in their villages in Europe, where they had developped ancient traditions become uprooted, either via migration to the US or Australia or Canada, or else because of war. Whenever they come together, old traditions die out and become mixed and new traditions are born. Certainly that's the history of music in the US. I get the whole "honouring traditional music" thing, too. Because what do all those Irish Americans do, once they've been in the US for a few generations and all of a sudden some group of Clancy's come over to play? All of a sudden they're Irish again and they take over what they perceive to be the traditional music of their ancestors. And who the heck ever heard of a bouzouki in 18th or 19th century Ireland, anyway!
Khemehekis
runic
runic
Posts: 2639
Joined: 14 Aug 2010 09:36
Location: California über alles

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Khemehekis »

♂♥♂♀

Squirrels chase koi . . . chase squirrels

My Kankonian-English dictionary: 70,000 words and counting

31,416: The number of the conlanging beast!
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2791
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by elemtilas »

Today, still on Portuguese Guitars!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vat6Y0Vua0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQMZV-xTs6Y (love that bajo!)

And speaking of Portuguese, I recall from the recent post in CBB quotes re Brasilian Portuguese sounding Russian; I think the fellow in this video speaking European Portuguese sounds more Irish!
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2791
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by elemtilas »

One for Salmoneus:

The keyed guitar (original is German, 19th cen.)
User avatar
Torco
sinic
sinic
Posts: 216
Joined: 14 Oct 2010 08:36

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Torco »

damn, the shawm is one honky boi
I'd suggest wind instruments, actually - there's a lot of things you can do there that haven't been done, or at least haven't been done in a modern, western aesthetic.
Hmm... I'm intrigued, tell me more. Reeds seem finnicky to get right, but things like ocarinas and flutes are relatively easy to experiment with, which is a plus. It's true that the range of timbres of wind instrument is a looot thicker than strings.

Fair enough on the harpsichord, but I remind you of its hamartia: it has no dynamics. the more delicate action of the piano would enable whatever dynamic range you want for the instrument, which would be extremely cool: additionally, one can quickly realize the timbral breadth available to a string-and-a-pick kind of action: the angle of the pick, the amount of stiffness in the grip, the shape of the pick, as well as the point of contact vis a vis the string all affect the tone: stiffer grip gives you a sharper attack, whereas an oblique action and a more central pluck point gives you a mellower and sweeter note. Sooner than go back to the harpsichord I'd go into an even more complex action in order to have a bunch of picks poised to pluck a string. of course, you'd need more of a gearbox than a pedal to work the variations. The best thing about piano actions, however, is buying a used piano for -relatively- cheap.

I intuit that the difficulty of rapid repeats for centerpluck instruments could be solved in at least these ways: make the string shorter and tighter: a center pluck is already sweeter, so you can afford to increase tension, and shorter strings can yield a nice fundamental if you make the thing heavy enough. Oh, also, just make the movement of the pick faster and across a bigger distance, give the pick arm a somewhat soft grip (maybe with springs): that way it's harder to miss the string when you engage, and you introduce a cool sort of randomness into quick repeats that goes with at least some musical vibes.
(if you ever become a millionaire and want to build one of these, get in touch and I'll go into more detail!)
you betcha XD
Yes, I have - the guqin is one of the big inspirations for the main instrument of my main conculture. Although personally I have limited patience for actual guqin music - the instrument itself has a great sound, but all the string-scraping, sound-of-silence business I'm less fond of. At the other end of the timbral universe of plucked zithers, presumably you've also heard the zheng?
honestly, agreed. I find myself enjoying what I can only guess are C-drama soundtrack songs rather than the classical guqin pieces, for which I apologize to the chinese nation.

zhengs (and their cousins the kotos) are damned nice, too, but I can't seem to fall in love with the... plinky? nature of it. I wonder what makes one plinky and the other one dumky... seems like it'd be the first step in any journey of experimental luthery. incidentally, the word tartold, when goodled, yields pornography about mature british women. Because in some senses I am still 12 I find this hilarious.
User avatar
Torco
sinic
sinic
Posts: 216
Joined: 14 Oct 2010 08:36

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Torco »

omg there was a lot more thread!

the thing about coupling kind of went right over my head, but I have a few intuitive thoughts about the english / portuguese guitar.

the portuguese strings sound to me like they're nylon, which imitates gut, which is elastic and soft and loses a lot of the energy of the higher harmonics cause, well, it's soft. the english guittar sounds like the strings are made out of wire, which preserves a lot of the higher harmonics (and thus, ends up more plinky and less dumky, heh, I seem to have answered my own question lmao) also the british one feels like the strings are tighter and thinner, and if my electric guitar is any indication, the thicker the strings the mellower the tone.

the portuguese guitar is bigger, and sounds more like a regular old spanish acoustic guitar <cause, well, it is more like one>. some of this is probably the nylon but I have the feeling it's also about how much body there is _behind_ the bridge? cause the pipa, which is very bright, has the bridge way towards the butt of the thing, whereas a guitar (or the portuguese instrument here) sort of have the bridge towards the middle. the same is true of the lute, which is brighter than a guitar too. I feel as if this is something of an extension of the timbral effect of point of contact on a bowed string (which is this: the closer to the bridge you play the more bright, resonant, loud and harsh the thing sounds, whereas if you bow onto the fingerboard you start getting a mellower, darker note. and if you continue up you get a wimpy, flute-like kind of tone. I understand this is the case with any bowed string, and is probably a function of the amount of energy which goes into which harmonic as above).

Also it could be the case that the construction of the english guittar is... tighter? i.e. the body of the thing is stiffer: this could be due to a number of things, but is most likely due to it just being smaller. But the beauty of the english thing, in my ears at least, is sympathetic resonance of other strings, and that seems to me also about tuning. still, I suppose a stiffer body and thinner strings would give you more of those unintentional drones.

Oh, oh, also the shape almost certainly plays a role: check out the baroque guitar, which is more waisted and sounds more like the english thing in some ways. also the charango. , which is bright but also much sweeter.
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2791
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by elemtilas »

Torco wrote: 27 Feb 2021 07:28 damn, the shawm is one honky boi
I'd suggest wind instruments, actually - there's a lot of things you can do there that haven't been done, or at least haven't been done in a modern, western aesthetic.
Hmm... I'm intrigued, tell me more. Reeds seem finnicky to get right, but things like ocarinas and flutes are relatively easy to experiment with, which is a plus. It's true that the range of timbres of wind instrument is a looot thicker than strings.
Reeds are finnicky, and the more there are, the more finnickier they get!

Shawms are relatively easy to get, in their Levantine forms. Can find them all over Ebay. Almost every country and region has its traditional shawm. They are basically a reasonably conical tube with a double reed (some played with pirouettes, others not), seven to ten finger holes. And yeah, they're pretty loud! As with most old instruments, they were built in choirs from descant on down to sub bass.

Related, but more subdued, are the dulcians, from which the bassoon descended. Lovely warm tonality here!

They were refined during the 18th century to yield the simple system oboe & bassoon. Oboes eventually got partially mechanised and lost their strident voice. And of course, most of the consort sizes disappeared. Only the bass and contrabass dulcian went on into bassoondom. Although, smaller sized bassoons have always been made for young learners, and there are workshops in Europe that continue to make cute octave bassoons for kids.

Racketts have been mentioned. Those are terribly fun. You can literally carry a contrabassoon in your pocket. Whopping big reeds, too, and they require a pirouette. Like the clarinet, the rackett makes use of cylindrical bore physics to act as a stopped pipe: it sounds an octave lower than the pipe length would seem to allow, and rather than overblowing an octave, it overblows a twelfth. It has eleven finger holes, so you need all your finger tips to play, plus both thumbs and the middle joints of both index fingers.

Lacking from modern music entirely, there are whole families of capped reed instruments, too. With these, you blow into a mouthpiece, but never actually touch the reeds. Some are quiet, and others, like the crumhorn, are pretty raucous! And, of course, they come in a wide variety of sizes too!

And there are loads of interesting reed and flute instruments that have been developed and lost by the wayside since the early 1800s. You've got the tarogato, an Eastern European wooden saxophone; the rothphone, a saxophone shaped tenor oboe in brass; the octavin, a bassoon shaped clarinet like instrument; the orkon, a keyed recorder and so on.

And then there's the wonderful world of bagpipes. Capped reed instruments that are blown with leather bags and inflated either by mouth or by bellows. Here, more than anywhere else, occidental folk traditions and art music meet in a curious way. Most instruments have been altered to fit the typical western scale patterns, and that includes most bagpipes. The Scottish pipes, however, continued to be tuned in an idiosyncratic fashion. Those examples aside, there are some wonderful examples of bagpipes from France, the cornemuse du centre; the huge Italian zonpagna and of course the refined Irish uilleann pipes. Some pipes are single reeded, others double, some are mixed.

Ocarinas are okay. Flutes (the fippleless kind) are quite possibly finnickier than reeds. The embouchure of the lips has to be perfect and breath control is paramount. Much easier to reach higher partials.

Most wind instruments have an easy range of 2 1/2 octaves or so, some can reach four. Orchestral strings can reach to four or more, depending on how many strings and string extensions.

And this doesn't even go into brass instruments at all!
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2791
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by elemtilas »

Salmoneus wrote: 18 Feb 2021 21:11 That said, that shouldn't mean that experimentation should stop. One of the big tragedies of the decline of the classical music tradition is that musical instruments aren't (outside of random inventors and their little-seen youtube videos) being developed to the same extent as before, and even the 'last' generation of instruments were never given a repertoire - the saxophone managed to transition into jazz, but the poor, poor heckelphone is left stranded!
Heckelphone, definitely an underrated tonal space. Plaintive like oboe, but deeper.

But really, all it will take is for some musician to champion its cause. Modern orchestras are bringing back the octobass and the ophicleide and even the serpent. There's no reason the heckelphone can't be recalled from behind the curtains!
And coming back to the piano, it's a shame that the standard piano is SO dominant over anything else piano-shaped. The harpsichord has survived, but the clavichord should still be a thing (seriously, it's much smaller, cheaper and more portable than a piano - a good, mass-produced clavichord would actually be a very valuable teaching instrument for children!),
Happily, the clavichord is actually being produced. Not in the numbers that pianos are being made, though! Of course, there is a problem: most makers (and most players) are interested in informed music practices, period instrument performance and the like, so they tend to copy old instruments and charge an arm and a leg for them. In theory, as you know, the clavichord is a crazy simple instrument: there's no action to speak of and the size and complexity make it a fairly easy job for almost anyone to make from a kit. Those at least are relatively inexpensive, but still far more expensive than a cheap piano.
and we should make more use of viennese fortepianos (and not just replicas) - I love Mozart on a modern piano, but we should also have more historically-informed performances of him - and why can't we still have tangent pianos damnit!?
This one is actually fairly easy. Just get yourself a cheap harpsichord and make some leather topped jacks! Just straight pieces of wood!
If I really had money to burn, though, I'd have someone build a plucked piano. Modern piano tensions and string weights, but plucked.
For this, have you considered a 20th century harpsichord? The fashion early in the century was to build them like pianos: iron frames and all. Pleyel made them.
And plucked like a muselaar, not like a harpsichord. [I know there'd be mechanical problems, but that's what modernity is for, solving mechanical problems].
Especially with the big heavy bass strings! The bass was the main problem with the muselar, from what I've read. Possibly a combination of piano like dampers activated by the harpsichord key would help matters.
Oh, I know. Lacking money, and lacking any ability to play anything other than a keyboard, I only have a few, cheap instruments. But instruments are probably the one thing I could see myself spending ridiculous amounts of money on if I had the opportunity. Cars, watches, clothes, never really been that interersting to me, but I wouldn't mind having a bassoon, and a simple-system flute, and a heckelphone, and a rackett, and a baryton, and a....
What kind of keyboard? Keep a look out for an all-in-one, like a Roland digital harpsichord.
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2233
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Salmoneus »

Torco wrote: 27 Feb 2021 07:28 Hmm... I'm intrigued, tell me more. Reeds seem finnicky to get right, but things like ocarinas and flutes are relatively easy to experiment with, which is a plus. It's true that the range of timbres of wind instrument is a looot thicker than strings.
Well, wind instruments have a lot of parameters, and the specific instruments we have today have a fairly random combination of parametric settings. You could change any one of them while keeping the others the same, and have a noticeably different instrument.

Modern europe is very poor in cylindrical bores - mediaeval and renaissance Europe was full of them. Racketts, doucaines, crumhorns, cornamuses, kortholts and sorduns were all double-reed straight bore instruments (baroque racketts are fundamentally different - they're conical, and the sound comes out the opposite end!). Today, the closest analogy might be the caucasian duduk (and closely-related national versions under different names). However, duduks have a very wide bore, and very large toneholes. Our one possible surviving doucaine, on the other hand, has a very narrow bore, and reconstructions of it sound very different (much more mediaeval, i.e. abrasive). Similarly, as recently as the classical period, you could get low-pitch clarinets with noticeably narrower bores, called basset horns, which have a wonderful timbre (still soft, but darker and more piercing than an alto clarinet - Mozart used them extensively in his darker pieces, like the Requiem). [you can still buy 'basset horns' but most, even from the best companies, are essentially fake - in that they're just standard model clarinets but in F]

As for reverse-conical instruments, we now only have the recorder. And in historically-accurate performances, old-style flutes. [almost all flutes around the world are cylindrical, including European flutes prior to 1600, and European flutes after 1920. But European flutes approximately 1600-1850 (1850-1920 was an overlap period as the fashion spread) were reverse-conical, which gives them a distinctively different sound - much less piercing, much darker, much more suited to the low end of their range, whereas modern and renaissance flutes prioritise the upper registers and are nimbler, but also unfortunately more aggressive. You can also sometimes hear old-style flutes in 'folk' music - the so-called "Irish flute" is an English early-19th flute, often with the keys removed. (when new flutes arrived, the English had a huge backlog of old flutes to get rid of, so they shipped them off to Ireland and other impoverished places, and these literally old flutes often had their keys damaged or broken off entirely, so many modern replicas are keyless - despite the fact that they have a tonehole that cannot be played by human fingers, stuck permanently open because the key for it no longer exists!)]

Even small differences make a difference. A good example of this comes from the oboe and its flaring bell (it flares much more than it looks - the internal flare is bigger than the external flare). The most famous lower-pitch oboes - the rarer d'amore and the more common English horn - have bells instead, which add a slightly darker, more mournful tone (hence the English horn being the instrument of death), but don't make a gigantic difference. But there's a less-famous instrument, that basically only exists due to the demands of Bach obsessives, called the oboe da caccia: it's curved instead of straight, and covered in leather, but the big acoustic difference is that it has a GIANT bell. Made of metal, like a hunting horn. And just expanding the bell like this makes a massive difference - it has a really wonderful sound, still an oboe, but with almost a saxophonic edge at times.

[the saxophone and (modern -it has nothing to do with the traditional instrument of that name!) tarogato are often explained as having single reeds, and they do, and that's part of their sound. (more accurately: the wide mouthpiece you get with a single reed is mostly what makes the difference, not the reed itself). But acoustically, the real reason for their difference is that they're massively conical compared to the relative gently-conical oboe and bassoon. This makes them a little 'brassy'. The oboe da caccia gets a little of this brass through its flaring bell, but its oboey main bore keeps it from being as brassy as they are]

And speaking of brass: what about the old zinks/cornetts/lizards/serpents/ophicleides (toneholed wooden instruments but blown like brass)? Or in the opposite direction, how about applying brass-style length-alteration to a reed or flute!?

---

Three other areas that would be fertile ground for experimentation....

- the bell. More or less flared. But also: do you need a bell at all? The bell maintains the timbre of the lower notes, substituting for toneholes - but they aren't the only way to do that. I think you can produce the same effect with an array of small holes at the end (particularly if they're arranged in increasing size). And indeed, there is one instrument that does this: the cornamusa, described as having a covered bell with "small holes on the sides through which the sound comes out" - usually arranged in reconstructions in a circle or heart. Unfortunately, no clear cornamusa has survived and all reconstructions are speculative! But I would love, for example, to put a cornamusa-style covered bell onto a clarinet. the clarinet is designed with a huge bell to sound like a trumpet in its upper register - hence its name. But I love the lower, chalumeau register, where the clarinet is really distinctive, with half the partials missing. The bell creates a brassy noise that cancels out this feature - or bug, as it was seen then - removing the distinctive timbre, but a cornamusa-style bell would hopefully let that timbre continue into the upper register.

[this is also why we don't have high-pitched clarinets: the current clarinet and its slightly-higher soprano version already go really high in their clarion form, so they don't need to start high (even the "piccolo" clarinet starts from middle C!). But it would be interesting to hear chalumeau register in the higher pitches!]

- helmholtz resonator traps. Basically, if you have a "blind alley" built into your instrument, it acts like a resonating chamber, or ocarina, in its own right - but more importantly, it "sucks in" all partials above a certain pitch. This makes the instrument sound darker (but makes it hard or impossible to play high notes). There's only one European instrument I know of that does this systematically: the old-style flute. (there's a small but substantial section of pipe "above" the mouthpiece, closed off at the end with a cork. Adjusting the position of this cork was one of the main ways these flutes were tuned, but it also changes the timbre: moving the cork further out creates a larger, lower-pitch resonating chamber 'above' the mouthpiece, which lowers the cut-off pitch, making darker, hollower timbres. Oh, and the cornamusa might have done this to some extent as well - most reconstructions put the side-holes a small distance from the covered-bell, which effectively creates a partial-trap at the bottom of the instrument.

- double pipes. Here's an amazing thing: if have a cylindrical reed instrument, and add a second cylindrical pipe, from the same reed - usually a shorter second pipe, so that the overall bore is now not a straight line, but a sort of Y-shape with a long leg, one short arm (to the reed) and one slightly longer arm (the second pipe)... you now have, acoustically, a conical instrument! It's a much easier way to build a conical instrument, in fact, but hundreds of years of frustrated instrument-builders laborious creating conical bores somehow never stumbled upon this idea! [mind you, they also never stumbled upon the forked-insert conical bore, which middle-eastern instruments use, which is also a much cheaper and easier way to make a (real) conical bore]

This lets you build an instrument with the simplicity and small size of a cylindrical bore, but the ease-of-use and timbre of a conical bore. There's now a commercial, plastic instrument that does this: Yamaha's venera. However, a number of other people appear to have independently invented it, and you can buy wooden ones on the same principle.

It's better than that, though: acoustically, it turns out that the instrument sounds like a conical instrument of the same volume. What that means is that by changing the length of the second pipe, and hence the volume, without changing the length of the main pipe, you effectively change the effective conicity of the instrument. So you can quite easily create a highly-conical, saxophony timbre with only a narrow cylindrical bore of short length!

But what I don't think anyone's exploited yet is that doing this defines one fixed open end of the pipe. The pipe is now from the bell of the second tube to the open tonehole on the primary tube - which means that the timbral effect of the bell automatically applies fully to every note on the instrument, making it easier to create a desired timbre.

-----------

And then we come to free-reed instruments...

Fair enough on the harpsichord, but I remind you of its hamartia: it has no dynamics.
Indeed. Which is why they're designed with registrations instead.

(and if you add a muselaar-style arp stop, it's a really striking register difference!)

the more delicate action of the piano would enable whatever dynamic range you want for the instrument, which would be extremely cool
Unfortunately: no, it wouldn't. The piano action lets you control the velocity with which you make contact with the string. But the velocity of contact doesn't alter the amplitude of the sound made by a plucked string! Instead, that's determined by the distance that the string is deviated by the pluck, which is mechanically determined. You can make a harpsichord louder by moving the quill closer to the string (so that the string takes longer to slide off it, so it's pulled further), but it would be mechanically very difficult to tie this to key velocity.

: additionally, one can quickly realize the timbral breadth available to a string-and-a-pick kind of action: the angle of the pick, the amount of stiffness in the grip, the shape of the pick, as well as the point of contact vis a vis the string all affect the tone: stiffer grip gives you a sharper attack, whereas an oblique action and a more central pluck point gives you a mellower and sweeter note. Sooner than go back to the harpsichord I'd go into an even more complex action in order to have a bunch of picks poised to pluck a string. of course, you'd need more of a gearbox than a pedal to work the variations.
This is actually what harpsichords do. Well, they can do. They often have from two to four sets of strings, each with their own jacks; in some cases, the jacks are indeed placed differently. And some harpsichords have two or even three sets of jacks on one set of strings: the most common are a lute stop (the names vary and not all lutes stop do this) that plucks extremely close to the end of the string, and a leather stop that plucks with soft-tipped leather quills (the 'fingertip' to the 'plectrum' of the normal quill).

However, harpsichords ended before pedals were invented, so instead these stops are activated by hand with levers. In earlier ones, you have to take the thing apart to do this - you choose your sound before each performance. But in later ones, the lever is accessible to the hand on the outside - though still not conveniently, so you can change the sound for a particular section, but you can't really change the sound for particular notes, except to the extent that you have multiple keyboards for different sets of strings. [this is why harpsichords often have multiple keyboards].

Of course, actual harpsichord style was mostly to play everything as loudly and aggressively as possible all the time, so the full musical range of the instrument was never really fully exploited...

I intuit that the difficulty of rapid repeats for centerpluck instruments could be solved in at least these ways: make the string shorter and tighter: a center pluck is already sweeter, so you can afford to increase tension, and shorter strings can yield a nice fundamental if you make the thing heavy enough.
Compared to an actual harpsichord: yes. And indeed, it's probably not a coincidence that centre-plucking went out of fashion precisely when harpsichords got bigger!

However, compared to a "piano-harpsichord": no. Piano strings already have super-high tensions and in some cases are super-thick and heavy. To shorten and stiffen them adequately, you'd have to be dealing with effectively metal rods... [aka "the toy piano"]
Oh, also, just make the movement of the pick faster and across a bigger distance, give the pick arm a somewhat soft grip (maybe with springs): that way it's harder to miss the string when you engage, and you introduce a cool sort of randomness into quick repeats that goes with at least some musical vibes.
That is an interesting idea. I'm not entirely convinced (and aside from the missing problem, there's the timing problem - if the quill hits the string when its down, it plays a little before the beat, or a little after it if it hits at the top... and there's also theoretically a dynamics problem (the amplitude of a hammer-stroke would vary considerably depending on whether the string is moving in the same direction as the hammer, or in the opposite direction), though with the harpsichord of course that's not a problem), but a quicker-moving jack would potentially ameliorate these problems, yes...
(though it might make worse the problem of potential double-striking?)

zhengs (and their cousins the kotos) are damned nice, too, but I can't seem to fall in love with the... plinky? nature of it. I wonder what makes one plinky and the other one dumky... seems like it'd be the first step in any journey of experimental luthery. incidentally, the word tartold, when goodled, yields pornography about mature british women. Because in some senses I am still 12 I find this hilarious.
I wouldn't call them plinky, but they're very... bright. Cheerful! [the koto is a bit plonkier than the zheng, I think]

There's three major contributers to the tone difference, I think:

- the soundbox. The qin has a relatively simplistic design and, iirc, smaller and less optimised soundholes
- coupling! The zheng uses bridges: higher bridges both inherently increase coupling, and all else being equal also increase string tension, increasing coupling. The qin has pretty awful coupling. This, combined with the soundhole problem, creates a much quieter instrument and one that almost sounds as though a lot of the sound is being, as it were, trapped, rather than let free
- the distinctive feature of the qin is that it's played by selecting harmonics, unlike almost all other string instrument. Harmonics have a different timbre, 'bell-like' - because you're selecting a harmonic, it doesn't itself have all the harmonics that a fundamental has. So the zheng, which plays fundamentals with lots of upper harmonics, sounds brighter than the qin, which plays a specific harmonic of the fundamental (and destroys some other harmonics).
Salmoneus
MVP
MVP
Posts: 2233
Joined: 19 Sep 2011 19:37

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Salmoneus »

Torco wrote: 27 Feb 2021 07:47 omg there was a lot more thread!

the thing about coupling kind of went right over my head
I'll try to clarify, because it's an important concept for anyone interested in instruments (nat- or con-...). I'll go from the beginning, so sorry if this is patronise - feel free to jump on whererever you find appropriate!

A string instrument generates sound through the vibration of a string. However, you can't hear the vibration of the string directly: instead, you hear a vibration in the air, caused by the vibration of the string.

The big question for a string instrument, then, is how to convert the vibration of the string itself into the vibration of air.

A plain string by itself can do this: the string pushes the air as it vibrates, vibrating the air. However, a 1-dimensional string, being thin, does not push a lot of air. The total amount of air moved is very small. As a result, when you pluck a taut string by itself, you only get a very quiet sound, even if you pluck (or strike, or bow) really hard!

Therefore, most string instruments use a 'soundboard'. This is a flat, 2-dimensional surface that is in some way 'activated' by a vibrating string: the vibration of the string is transferred into a flat soundboard attached to the string, making the soundboard vibrate. The soundboard then, in turn, vibrates the surrounding air. Why is this better? Because the 2D soundboard vibrates a much bigger amount of air. The big flat soundboard pushes a big chunk of air, whereas the string by itself almost cuts through the air - so the soundboard is better at moving a larger quantity of air. This makes the sound louder.

Many instruments also go a step further, including a 3-dimensional 'soundbox' (or more generally 'resonating chamber'). This is a volume of air that is either fully enclosed, or at least partially enclosed (an open bowl is an early and common form of resonating chamber). A soundboard by itself can have the problem that when it pushes the air, it doesn't all bounce back, but rather some of it gets pushed away entirely; a soundbox traps a volume of air, so that it can be fully vibrated before it escapes - but if it's too trapped, the sound stays in the instrument, so 'soundholes' let a bit of the trapped vibration out to vibrate the surrounding air.

But of course, none of this increases the total energy in the system, which comes from the original pluck (hit, scrape, etc). Instead, there's a tradeoff: a soundboard lets you move MORE air (louder), but doing so uses up the energy of the pluck more quickly, so the vibration dies away faster. A vibrating string tends to yield a quieter but more sustained sound; a vibrating soundboard gives a louder sound, but one that dies away faster. There's also the issue of inefficiency caused by stiffness of the vibrating objects (creating heat rather than sound) - in general, soundboards are stiffer and less efficient than strings. However, some of the die-off can be counteracted with a resonating soundbox, as the vibration of the trapped air takes some time to escape (and can even continue to drive the soundboard's vibration when that would otherwise have died off).

Meanwhile, however, as soon as you introduce complicated things like soundboards and soundboxes, you introduce irregularities into the sound. A simple string, if it's sufficiently thin and flexible (in practice this only begins to be a problem with heavy metal piano strings), produces an extremely regular harmonic sound: the fundamental frequency, and then the harmonic series of partials above it [recap: a harmonic vibration consists of a basic vibration, but also 'echoes', called 'partials' or 'harmonics', with frequencies exactly 2, 3, 4, 5, etc times the frequency of the basic vibration]. But less flexible objects, like boards and boxes and even volumes of air, have their own inherent 'resonant frequencies', depending on their shape and flexibility. Where these frequencies happen to match a partial of the fundamental being played, that partial is amplified; where the resonant frequencies don't match a partial, that partial is weakened. To give a simplistic example: a large soundbox tends to reinforce low-pitch partials, but not suppot high-pitch ones, while a small soundbox tends to reinforce higher-pitch partials, but not lower ones - hence, as a general rule, the lower the intended pitch of your instrument, the bigger you make the soundbox.

The string itself sounds very similar on most string instruments (though it'll vary a bit depending on weight, flexibility, length, etc). Most of the distinctive sound of the instrument (aside from features of how you pluck/hit/scrape the string) is actually caused by the 'irregularities' introduced by the soundbox and soundboard.

So the sound of each instrument is made up of different elements, coming from different parts of the instrument, which for simplicity we'll divide into two: the sound of the string, and the sound of the body. String sound tends to be quiet, to be sustained (or at least to die away at a regular rate), and to be 'pure' and mathematically simple. Body sound tends to be loud, to be brief (it dies away abruptly - ignoring here of course scraped instruments where you continually re-generate the sound), and to be 'dirty' and mathematically complicated (and hence distinctive).

[we can then probably subdivide body sound: sound coming from the board itself tends to be briefer and dirtier; sound coming from a soundbox (or an unusually resonant soundboard, like a metal sheet) tends to be more sustained and 'richer' - more complicated than a pure string, but more harmonic than a simple board. To put it really simplistically: string sound goes "zhzhwimmmmmmmmmm", soundbox sound goes "dwummb", and soundboard sound goes "twunk"]

Now! Depending on how you convey the energy from the string to the body, and how good the body is at receiving that vibrational energy, you can alter the balance of these two sounds. This is what we mean by "coupling". The string is "coupled" to the body: a lot of, or 'good', coupling means that more of the sound comes from the body; little or bad coupling means that more of the sound comes from the string. So when you pluck a string of your cello the sound is plunkier - more compressed, but potentially louder - than when you pluck a string on a guitar, which gives a more resonant, sustained sound: the cello has a lot more coupling than the guitar. [although it's complicated by the fact that the cello is also a bit better at activating its soundbox, and in particular activates the BACK of the instrument as an additional soundboard, and also by the fact its rigidly arched soundboard is inherently less dirty than the relatively flappy flat soundboard of the guitar. But in simplistic terms...] And in turn, an instrument like a kantele has a soft, singing tone, because it has very little coupling.

What determines how much coupling there is? Well, lots of things, unfortunately. But the biggest thing is simple: how much force is applied to the soundboard by the string. A higher-tension string pushes the bridge into the soundboard, helping vibration move from the string to the board. Similarly, a very high bridge is pushed harder into the soundboard by the same tension (because it bends the string more, and the string wants to unbend). So high-tension strings and high bridges yield high coupling, and low-tension strings and low bridges yield low coupling. Although, as I say, there are also other complications.

An instrument like the guqin or the kantele has no bridge. Therefore, vibration has to travel through the pin, which is much less efficient, hence lower coupling, hence a quieter instrument.
[/quote]
, but I have a few intuitive thoughts about the english / portuguese guitar.

the portuguese strings sound to me like they're nylon, which imitates gut, which is elastic and soft and loses a lot of the energy of the higher harmonics cause, well, it's soft. the english guittar sounds like the strings are made out of wire, which preserves a lot of the higher harmonics (and thus, ends up more plinky and less dumky, heh, I seem to have answered my own question lmao) also the british one feels like the strings are tighter and thinner, and if my electric guitar is any indication, the thicker the strings the mellower the tone. [/quote]

Both instruments actually use metal strings. However, I think I remember reading the guy who played one of the English instruments saying that he actually used harpsichord wire, which would probably be lighter than modern portuguese guitar wire. Although I don't actually know. This may be an important part of the difference in sound.

The effect of the weight is complicated. Ceteris paribus, thicker strings are more inharmonic - they're 'dirtier' and more 'percussive' (naturally: as you make a string thicker and stiffer, it's less like a string and more like a bar; this is a distinctive feature of modern pianos, which have a very 'percussive', dirty sound (which listeners may interpret as either "ugly" or "characterful"...)). However, thicker strings at the same pitch and length must be higher tension, which makes this 'problem' worse in some ways (higher tension = stiffer), but also counteracts it by removing the inharmonicities of strings flapping around. In general a higher tension string is 'purer' and more filled with harmonics.
the portuguese guitar is bigger, and sounds more like a regular old spanish acoustic guitar <cause, well, it is more like one>. some of this is probably the nylon but I have the feeling it's also about how much body there is _behind_ the bridge? cause the pipa, which is very bright, has the bridge way towards the butt of the thing, whereas a guitar (or the portuguese instrument here) sort of have the bridge towards the middle.
This is, again, related to coupling. If you put the bridge near the edge of the soundboard, it's not as good at making the soundboard wobble, because the edge of the soundboard is fixed to the sides of the instrument. You're effectively "plucking" the soundboard at the end, whereas plucking in the middle of the soundboard, like plucking the middle of a string, gives a purer and louder sound.

I don't really understand the pipa yet, but I think it also has the issue that its soundbox is relatively shallow and narrow, so it doesn't resonate much with the lower harmonics. This is a feature of many non-European instruments, which tend to have much smaller soundboxes than their European equivalents, and tend to have a 'twangier' (if plucked) or 'breathier' (if bowed) sound: they intentionally amplify the upper harmonics rather than the lower ones.

The weird thing about the spanish guitar, meanwhile, isn't the bridge, but the tailpins. Most string instruments have the string pass down to the bottom of the soundboard, but the modern guitar has them glued to a thing right on the soundboard. This actually pulls the soundboard upward, while the bridge pushes the soundboard down; together, this creates a weird twisting motion. This helps you create waves in the soundbox that AREN'T up-and-down like the string and the board, but instead side-to-side - which is why the guitar is relatively shallow. It uses lateral waves instead. Cellos do this to some extent as well, generating their twisting mostly through the asymmetrical bridge. Erhus, on the other hand, just bite the bullet and have a really deep, but not that broad, soundbox - erhu soundbox waves are therefore mostly at 90 degrees to guitar or cello soundbox waves! This is partly why the erhu bow is around the string rather than over it - it lets you play at a sharper angle, putting more vertical waves into the string, and hence into the vertical soundbox. Whereas the cello mechanism is able to make use of the more transverse waves created by bowing over the surface of the string.

I think - though I'm not certain - that instruments like the pipa and the portuguese guitar are less good at creating these transverse waves to optimise their soundbox space, and that this is part of why they have a 'brighter' sound than a spanish guitar, or indeed a lute.

The spanish guitar's real virtue, thought, is its flexibility - literally. Its weird shape, big soundhole and twisting soundboard result in multiple different, very different, vibrational 'modes' for the soundboard: if you play different notes, the soundboard doesn't just vibrate at a different frequency, it vibrates in a different SHAPE. [iirc there's 8 or 9 different vibrational patterns?] And this allows the soundboard to have multiple different resonant frequencies, supporting different ranges of notes. All instruments do this to some degree, but the spanish guitar is unusual in how many distinct vibrational modes it has, which helps to maintain its mellow, resonant sound across a wide range of pitches.
the same is true of the lute, which is brighter than a guitar too.
This may also relate to soundbox shape (bow vs box), but I suspect primarily to strings - lutes had thinner strings than guitars have. Of course, that's partly because the lute is a more inherently resonant shape, so lighter (quieter) strings can make it hum more easily than they could on a (relativey clumsy) guitar.

I feel as if this is something of an extension of the timbral effect of point of contact on a bowed string (which is this: the closer to the bridge you play the more bright, resonant, loud and harsh the thing sounds, whereas if you bow onto the fingerboard you start getting a mellower, darker note. and if you continue up you get a wimpy, flute-like kind of tone. I understand this is the case with any bowed string, and is probably a function of the amount of energy which goes into which harmonic as above).
I don't know, but I think there's probably two factors here:
- playing near the end of a string results in a quieter, less harmonic sound (because some of the energy gets dragged into whatever the string is attached to, and the string is stiffer)
- but playing near the bridge increases the coupling, as more of the energy goes into the soundboard, whereas playing nearer the nut just wastes the energy entirely
Also it could be the case that the construction of the english guittar is... tighter? i.e. the body of the thing is stiffer: this could be due to a number of things, but is most likely due to it just being smaller.
I'm not sure about this. My impression is that despite being slightly smaller (and you can pick pairs of english and portuguese guitars where the size difference is smaller) the construction is pretty much the same.
User avatar
Torco
sinic
sinic
Posts: 216
Joined: 14 Oct 2010 08:36

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Torco »

Ooooh, right, I see. so that's why heavier strings yield more sustain: the coupling is not improved a by lot, but the amount of energy in the string is more and, so, it takes more time to dissipate into the wood and air. that was a very good explanation, tbh, thanks.
User avatar
eldin raigmore
korean
korean
Posts: 5797
Joined: 14 Aug 2010 19:38
Location: SouthEast Michigan

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by eldin raigmore »

Now watching “Better Than Us”.
Heard & read Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics in Russian!
User avatar
Torco
sinic
sinic
Posts: 216
Joined: 14 Oct 2010 08:36

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by Torco »

Ooooo, fancy. three laws is great!

I'm watching this medical drama thing new amsterdam: it's like scrubs, except not awful. I'm enjoying it.
User avatar
elemtilas
runic
runic
Posts: 2791
Joined: 22 Nov 2014 04:48

Re: What are you listening to/watching?

Post by elemtilas »

Torco wrote: 03 Mar 2021 03:50 I'm watching this medical drama thing new amsterdam: it's like scrubs, except not awful. I'm enjoying it.
Nice! Every nurse's / doctor's dream medical director. Who would've guessed? A hospital administrator that actually wants clinicians to, well, do clinical stuff!
Post Reply