An Italian Town Fell Silent So The Sounds Of A Stradivarius Could Be Preserved The mayor of Cremona, Italy, blocked traffic during five weeks of recording and asked residents to please keep quiet so master musicians could play four instruments — note by note — for posterity.
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An Italian Town Fell Silent So The Sounds Of A Stradivarius Could Be Preserved

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An Italian Town Fell Silent So The Sounds Of A Stradivarius Could Be Preserved

An Italian Town Fell Silent So The Sounds Of A Stradivarius Could Be Preserved

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For the next few minutes, we're going to visit Cremona, Italy. It's the hometown of Stradivarius, and it's where for five weeks the whole town had to stay quiet. The reason - musicians and recording technicians are trying to save the unadulterated sound of the legendary instruments for all posterity. Christopher Livesay explains.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLO PLAYING)

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY, BYLINE: That's a Stradivarius cello inside the concert hall of the Violin Museum in Cremona, Italy. It's the same town where master luthier Antonio Stradivari crafted his storied instruments three centuries ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELLO PLAYING)

LIVESAY: But there's no guarantee that sound will survive for centuries more, says Fausto Cacciatori, the museum's chief conservator.

FAUSTO CACCIATORI: (Through translator) What will these instruments sound like in 200 years? I hope they can still be played, but you never know. All it takes is one unfortunate event - an earthquake, for instance. Think about what happened to so much art during World War II.

LIVESAY: Cacciatori says Stradivarius needs a 21st century failsafe and someone who understands music but also technology, someone like a deejay.

LEONARDO TEDESCHI: We have played with Chemical Brothers, with a lot of big artists during our career.

LIVESAY: When he's not spinning records, Leonardo Tedeschi runs Audiozone, the sound engineering firm that had an idea.

TEDESCHI: To bring the sound of Stradivari and make it accessible around the world.

LIVESAY: By recording it and saving it in a database that future composers can use to make their own music electronically. The Violin Museum in Cremona agreed and enlisted world-class musicians to play four instruments made by Stradivarius, as well as other masters Amati and Guarneri. But that doesn't mean recording complete songs by, say, Vivaldi or Verdi. Rather, it means painstakingly recording every possible note.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRING INSTRUMENT PLAYING)

TEDESCHI: Every possible note, and even more difficult, every note transition. So na-na (ph), na-na, na-na.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRING INSTRUMENT PLAYING)

TEDESCHI: From one note to all the one in the same string.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRING INSTRUMENT PLAYING)

TEDESCHI: It's a very complicated process. So there will be several hundred thousand files to be edited.

LIVESAY: But not so fast. Tedeschi takes me outside the museum to show me the thorn in his side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUITCASE ROLLING OVER COBBLESTONES)

LIVESAY: A woman drags a suitcase across the cobblestones, then...

(SOUNDBITE OF STREET SWEEPER)

LIVESAY: ...A street sweeper. You name it - if it's close enough to the concert hall, it's audible to the 32 hypersensitive microphones during recording.

TEDESCHI: Every time that we hear this sound, the sound will mix with our frequencies of the instrument. And so we cannot use that sound in our product.

LIVESAY: So Tedeschi went to the mayor of Cremona...

GIANLUCA GALIMBERTI: My name is Gianluca Galimberti.

LIVESAY: ...And asked for help. Lucky for him, the mayor is also the president of the Stradivarius Foundation. He understood what they needed was...

GALIMBERTI: The silence around the museum of violin. But I think that we understood the importance of the project.

LIVESAY: So he asked the people of Cremona to please keep it down and block traffic around the concert hall during recordings. On this wintry day, a security guard stands watch beside a metal barricade window.

UNIDENTIFIED SECURITY GUARD: Buongiorno.

LIVESAY: I tiptoe past him into the quiet zone.

This is what it sounds like when an entire neighborhood has to take a vow of silence.

Try they might, it's impossible to block out all the sound all the time says Thomas Koritke, the chief recording engineer inside the concert hall.

THOMAS KORITKE: You hear it. Let me just put this up. What we are now doing is where they slam a car door outside.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRING INSTRUMENT NOTES)

LIVESAY: You can barely hear it on the second pluck.

(SOUNDBITE OF STRING INSTRUMENT NOTE)

LIVESAY: But it's enough to contaminate the recording and throw off the musicians. After playing for eight hours a day, six days a week for five straight weeks, they finally wrapped up earlier this month. It's a level of devotion Antonio Stradivari would likely appreciate. After all, attention to detail...

(SOUNDBITE OF STRING INSTRUMENT PLAYING)

LIVESAY: ...Is what makes a Stradivarius a Stradivarius. For NPR News, I'm Christopher Livesay in Cremona, Italy.

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