Old Italian violins are routinely credited with playing qualities supposedly unobtainable in new instruments. These qualities include the ability to project their sound more effectively in a concert hall—despite seeming relatively quiet under the ear of the player—compared with new violins.
Although researchers have long tried to explain the mystery of Antonio Stradivari’s sound, it is only recently that studies have addressed the fundamental assumption of tonal superiority. Results from two studies show that, under blind conditions, experienced violinists tend to prefer playing new violins over Old Italians. Moreover, they are unable to tell new from old at better than chance levels.
In two separate experiments, three new violins were compared with three by Stradivari. Projection was tested both with and without orchestral accompaniment. Projection and preference were judged simultaneously by dividing listeners into two groups.
The results were unambiguous. The new violins projected better than the Stradivaris whether tested with orchestra or without, the new violins were generally preferred by the listeners, and the listeners could not reliably distinguish new from old. The single best-projecting violin was considered the loudest under the ear by players, and on average, violins that were quieter under the ear were found to project less well.
This according to “Listener evaluations of new and Old Italian violins” by Claudia Fritz, Joseph Curtin, Jacques Poitevineau, and Fan-Chia Tao. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 8 May 2017).
Above, detail from Antonio Stradivari in his atelier by Antonio Rinaldi; below, a report on one of the experiments, including excerpts from interviews with Fritz and Curtin.
In many societies musical roles are divided along gender lines: Women sing and men play. Men also sing and women sometimes play; yet, unlike men, women who play often do so in contexts of sexual and social marginality.
Contemporary anthropological theories regarding the interrelationship between social structure and gender stratification illuminate how women’s use of musical instruments is related to broader issues of social and gender structure; changes in the ideology of these structures often reflect changes that affect women as performers.
This according to “When women play: The relationship between musical instruments and gender style” by Ellen Koskoff (Canadian university music review/Revue de musique des universités canadiennes XVI/1  pp. 114–27; reprinted in A feminist ethnomusicology: Writings on music and gender [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014]).
Above and below, kulintang, a women’s instrumental genre discussed in the article.
Although Arrigo Boito devoted 56 years to the composition of his Nerone, at his death the opera was still incomplete; Arturo Toscanini bustled to refine and finish the last act for the work’s premiere at La Scala on 1 May 1924.
Since the figure of the mad psychopath Nero is best remembered in the collective imagination as he plays and sings while observing the Great Fire of Rome, for the first staging of the opera a true kithara was made by the lute maker Piero Parravicini at the Milan workshop of Antonio Monzino e Figli; today the instrument is on display at the Civico Museo degli Strumenti Musicali in Milan.
This according to “‘Or che i Numi son vinti, a me la cetra, a me l’altar!’: Kithara constructed for the premiere of Arrigo Boito’s Nerone” by Donatella Melini (Music in art XL/1–2  pp. 267–72).
Above, the instrument in question (click to enlarge); below, the scene referred to in the article’s title.
The gamelatron, a robotic gamelan built by the sound artist Aaron Taylor Kuffner, has appeared regularly at events such as Burning Man, raves, and exhibitions.
Breaching the conceptual divides between instrument and art installation, performance and recording, sculptor and composer, and prosthesis and robot, the gamelatron is a singular site for investigating imaginaries of the human, machine, and media.
This according to “Atmosphere as a concept for ethnomusicology: Comparing the gamelatron and gamelan” by Andrew McGraw (Ethnomusicology LX/1 [winter 2016] pp. 125–147.
Below, the gamelatron in action.
One day Manny Greenhill, Reverend Gary Davis’s sometime manager, received a desperate call from Wurlitzer, one of Boston’s most staid and respected music stores.
A quavering voice explained that an elderly man, a minister of some sort, had seized the most expensive guitar in the store and refused to part with it.
The man had tried out several models, had chosen the top-of-the-line Gibson, and had been there for some time, talking to it, and playing and singing spirituals in a loud voice. No one dared to take it away from him. “He says he has no money, but he gave your name, Mr. Greenhill, as his manager. He is upsetting the other customers. What shall we do?”
Greenhill bought Davis the guitar, and the debt became a longstanding joke: Davis was always going to pay him back for Miss Gibson “on the next check.”
This according to “Remembering Reverend Gary Davis” by Eric von Schmidt and John Kruth (Sing out! LI/4 [winter 2008] pp. 66–75).
Today is Davis’s 120th birthday! Above and below, Davis and Miss Gibson in action.
The vocal tract organ is a new musical instrument that consists of three-dimensional (3D)-printed vocal tracts (throat and mouth) for individual vowels sitting on loudspeakers to enable static vowel sounds to be produced.
The acoustic excitation from the loudspeakers is a synthesized version of the typical waveform produced by the vibrating human vocal folds during pitched sounds, which enables the instrument to be played from a keyboard.
The vocal tract organ will become an instrument in its own right, and it could be used as a direct replacement for the vox humana organ stop, given that its acoustic output is a much closer representation of the human vocal output than that from a vox humana organ pipe. The 3D-printed tracts may also be used in vocal and choral workshops as well as degree-level music technology education.
This according to “The vocal tract organ and the vox humana organ stop” by David M. Howard (Journal of music, technology & education VII/3  pp. 265–277).
Above, an illustration from the article; below, a composition by Professor Howard.
The inscription Dum vixi tacui, mortua dulce cano on an early 18th-century Italian spinet in Edinburgh is identifiable with the second line of a riddling couplet found in Nikolaus von Reusner’s Aenigmatographia (1599). The literary ancestry of Reusner’s couplet is traceable to a traditional Greek riddle about the tortoise-lyre, where the tortoise becomes vocal only after its death.
Many examples from classical authors and imitators in later European literature and popular tradition can be found. The motif was transferred to instruments made of wood, and Reusner’s couplet was much used as a motto on early violins; the famous luthier Gasparo Duiffopruggar particularly appears to have been associated with it.
This according to “The riddle of the tortoise and the lyre” by Edward Kerr Borthwick (Music & letters LI/4 [October 1970] pp. 373–87).
Above, a harpsichord in the Flemish style that includes the inscription; below, an instrumental work inspired by the original four-line poem.