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Ultralight Instruments Meet Heavy Innovation

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Ultralight Instruments Meet Heavy Innovation

Ultralight Instruments Meet Heavy Innovation

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Throughout the month of November, we're broadcasting a new series on the impact of technology on music. Last week, we met students at the Clive Davis School of Recorded Music in New York City who were learning basic acoustics, electronics and developing their own plans to enter the pop, jazz and rock music industry. Today, we want to explore the classical world. And the question is, did classical instruments reach the state of the art in the 18 century? In a moment, we'll visit with a violin maker in Brooklyn, who's still shaping instruments out of wood and glue, but he's getting some high tech help. By using sophisticated equipment, he's been able to analyze the old masters techniques and apply them to new violins. First, though to Portland, Oregon, where today, the Violin Society of America wraps up a week long get together. Reporter Sadie Babits sent this post card with highlights of the latest innovations in instrument building.

(Soundbite of violin playing)

Mr. JOSEPH CURTIN (Ultralight Violin Maker): Hi I'm Joseph Curtin. I'm a violinmaker. This is my ultralight violin which is very symmetrical, has elements that are ancient, like this scroll design which I saw in a museum in Japan, which I thought looks fresh and modern, as well. And overall, it's sort of a minimalist instrument. I've taken all the lines and taken some of the baroque curls out of them and reduced it to a sort of more basic outline, which gives a sort of modern flavor.

(Soundbite of violin playing)

Mr. DAVID RIVINUS (Viola Maker): My name is David Rivinus. See, I put my chin on the left side here, down below, and then all of my handwork is happening on the upper right. So, from the lower left to the upper right, it's very short.

SADIE BABITS: This is the size of a violin.

Mr. RIVINUS: This is the size of a violin, yeah. But it's a viola.

Mr. WEIGANG LI (First Violinist, Shanghai Quartet): This is like Salvador Dali's painting.

Mr. RIVINUS: I would say that it looks as if someone took a viola that had been made out of silly putty and grabbed it on the upper left, and grabbed it on the lower right, and just pulled it and stretched it in those directions.

(Soundbite of viola playing)

Mr. LI: It's so small, it's like a violin.

(Soundbite of violin and cello playing)

Mr. JIM HAM (Cello Maker): My name is Jim Ham, and this is my friend Ted White.

Mr. Ted WHITE (Cello Maker): Hi.

(Soundbite of cello playing)

Mr. HAM: The idea was actually to build a balsa wood instrument.

(Soundbite of cello playing)

Mr. HAM: The entire concept of the cello is to make it musically functional and very, very light in weight, and it turns out that we've learned a lot.

Mr. WHITE: And I would like to see us come to the point where we can exceed what you can get out of a Stradivarius. You say that in some quarters and they go "hiss" and cross their fingers at you, right? Because that's the golden standard not to be exceeded. But I don't see why you can't exceed that.

(Soundbite of cello playing)

HANSEN: Reporter Sadie Babits sent that audio postcard from the Violin Society of America Convention. It ends today in Portland, Oregon.

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