Thursday, June 21, 2018

Old Italian violins imitate the human voice.

A fascinating study from Tai et al. (open source):

Amati and Stradivari violins are highly appreciated by musicians and collectors, but the objective understanding of their acoustic qualities is still lacking. By applying speech analysis techniques, we found early Italian violins to emulate the vocal tract resonances of male singers, comparable to basses or baritones. Stradivari pushed these resonance peaks higher to resemble the shorter vocal tract lengths of tenors or altos. Stradivari violins also exhibit vowel qualities that correspond to lower tongue height and backness. These properties may explain the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins. The ideal for violin tone in the Baroque era was to imitate the human voice, and we found that Cremonese violins are capable of producing the formant features of human singers.
The shape and design of the modern violin are largely influenced by two makers from Cremona, Italy: The instrument was invented by Andrea Amati and then improved by Antonio Stradivari. Although the construction methods of Amati and Stradivari have been carefully examined, the underlying acoustic qualities which contribute to their popularity are little understood. According to Geminiani, a Baroque violinist, the ideal violin tone should “rival the most perfect human voice.” To investigate whether Amati and Stradivari violins produce voice-like features, we recorded the scales of 15 antique Italian violins as well as male and female singers. The frequency response curves are similar between the Andrea Amati violin and human singers, up to ∼4.2 kHz. By linear predictive coding analyses, the first two formants of the Amati exhibit vowel-like qualities (F1/F2 = 503/1,583 Hz), mapping to the central region on the vowel diagram. Its third and fourth formants (F3/F4 = 2,602/3,731 Hz) resemble those produced by male singers. Using F1 to F4 values to estimate the corresponding vocal tract length, we observed that antique Italian violins generally resemble basses/baritones, but Stradivari violins are closer to tenors/altos. Furthermore, the vowel qualities of Stradivari violins show reduced backness and height. The unique formant properties displayed by Stradivari violins may represent the acoustic correlate of their distinctive brilliance perceived by musicians. Our data demonstrate that the pioneering designs of Cremonese violins exhibit voice-like qualities in their acoustic output.

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