Wednesday, May 12, 2010

the sensations of making

This is spruce, from a log in the Italian Alps, stored for years to stabilize it's dimensions and it's moisture content, then split radially with a blade and mallet into wedges for the violin making trade in such a way that we are able to have the grain vertical, strong and straight. By the time I've used it, it has been kept at least five years more in the workshop.

Here the beginnings of a violin belly are being rough shaped with a broad gouge, across the grain rapidly to form the major arch of the instrument. This experience is physical, but it is also very sensory, even sensual. The spruce has an aroma, a clean and natural fragrance that seems attractive to every client who ever stumbled in while this work is happening. It makes a beautiful sound even while being gouged, and we learn to respond to it's differing tones as feedback from the removal of material. It has a surface sheen even on the ribbons of waste, and of course the growth rings make emphatic stripes on the work as evidence of the time it took for the tree to grow, and of the truth (or not) in the shapes we are carving.

This is all so beautiful it almost sounds too precious or twee to write about it; so romantically old-fashioned and so irrelevant to the realities of the present. I only write it to celebrate the simple sensations in the making of an example of an object that has made music for us for so long, and maybe to grizzle that we seem as cultures so removed now from simple sensations -because they have been rendered inefficient by manufacturing processes. Viva inefficiency.

(click on the pic for a big version to see the sheen on the curly bits)


  1. So, you "tune" the instrument even at this stage? The resonace of the body is apparent long before the violin takes it's shape? Facinating!

  2. You could say that it goes back further to when you select the wood, and the combinations you choose for a particular instrument idea,tapping the wood to hear it all the way through. This bit of spruce with that piece of maple with this acoustic idea with that outline shape, with this arching with that thicknessing arrangement to produce this tap tone on the belly with that tap tone on the back to produce this interval...