Australian Institute of Physics

South Australian Branch

Public lecture

Dr Ra Inta shows explains spectrograms for two different violins

Ms Ingrid Homburg played various violins as part of a listening test after the lecture.

Notice of a Free Public Lecture presented

by the Australian Institute of Physics (SA branch)

Ph: (08) 8201 2093 or (08) 8277 7036 (a.h.) Fax: (08) 8201 2905

Post: AIP-SA secretary, c/o SoCPES, Flinders University, GPO Box 2100, Adelaide SA 5001

at 7:30 pm on Wednesday September 14th 2005

in Union Hall at the University of Adelaide

"Measurements of the Effects of Ageing and Playing on the Violin"

by Dr Ra Inta
School of Aerospace, Civil and Mechanical Engineering, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra

Physics and the violin. Not an association that readily springs to mind, excepting, possibly, that famous photograph of Einstein playing one. However, the scientific study of stringed musical instruments, dating back to Pythagoras, is one of the oldest recorded examples of a physical experiment combined with an abstract mathematical hypothesis. The origins of this hypothesis (i.e. harmony) had an essentially anecdotal origin.

I will present a report on results of the early stages of a long-term project designed to test another anecdotal belief of musical instruments: that playing a violin "improves" the instrument. This is an almost axiomatic belief within the violin community. Assuming this is true, there should be some physically measurable effect, or at least a consensus as a result of a panel of experts in a carefully controlled listening or playing test, without, a priori, needing to define this "improvement."

Two violins were made as similarly as possible by a prominent Sydney violin maker. One is kept in controlled conditions in the Powerhouse Museum, in Sydney, and is rarely played. The other is played regularly by a professional violinist. Physical measurements, as well as controlled listening and playing tests, were performed at various stages, including during the construction of the instruments. This ongoing experiment also makes it possible to address another anecdotal belief; that age also improves the violin, although (without a time-machine) this is much harder to evaluate.

Although this presentation relies on technical results, the conclusions are clear and are interpreted simply.

Ra was born in a secluded forest in the South Island of New Zealand. After completing an honourís degree at Canterbury University (NZ), he helped build stages for music events and directed two short films. After crossing "The Ditch" in 2000, he began his PhD studies on "The Acoustics of the Steel-String Guitar" at the Music Acoustics Laboratory at the University of New South Wales. He currently is a postdoctoral researcher at the Australian Defence Force Academy on the "Vibro-acoustic Communication between Termites" and has just begun his first mortgage.