29 januari 2015


Noi tutti siamo esiliati, viventi entro le cornici di uno strano quadro.
Chi sa questo, viva da grande. Gli altri sono insetti.

We are all exiles, living within the frames of a strange picture.
Who knows this, lives life at large. The others are insects.

(in a letter to Gabriele Piccolomini)


Insects? Pffff... But... now as we humans made our life on this planet impossible, insects will take over, for sure. Did Leonardo think of this? I don't think so. In his time everything to be imagined could be possible. A great future lay ahead of the human variety. Nature was still in tact so far. And of course it helped that he was a man. He could make and take his space. And he could taunt the others... these 'insects'.
So... The one 'who knows' that we are all exiles (living within the frames of a strange picture) lives life at large... In this we are all exiles? 
When you live a life like Leonardo, dedicating this life to inventions, craftsmanship and art, thinking ahead of the present developments, ahead in stead of backwards clinging to the attainments of the past, you tend to feel like an exile... an exile of your time.

A strange frame

When I got hold of the idea to make these string instruments, I was not aware of the fact that this meant that I was stepping out-of-the-box. It was quite the other way around. I had the feeling I stepped into a whole new world of craftsmanship.

My husband Hendrik was the motor behind this all. For some years he had already been talking about making a fiddle for himself. But because of all reasons he did not get to it. He got very ill, needed to be operated, needed radiotherapy... had already lost a part of his site because of a stroke... and he thought I could do it better, because I had 'the patience to start making ánd finish an instrument'.

It took a while before we got this so far, that we had all the equipment needed, gathered in a small workroom, to start working on the first fiddle. And it took some while to make it. We had a stenciled book, a Bouwbrief Vedelbouw (1980), from a Dutch association called Huismuziek that facilitate(d) common people to play music together and make music instruments. And we bought a book for violin builders. This gave me a very useful insight into the principles of creating the proper sounds out of a box with strings, technical and in physics. All the rest of it was guesswork. A jumped in the open.

An English translation (a short version though) of the book for violin builders, Akoestiek van de Instrumenten van de Violenfamilie by Jan James, is still available in print: Practical acoustics of instruments of the violin family and in pdf: henrystrobel.com

While Hendrik was recovering from his illness, while I was caring for him, housebound, there was enough time left for me to make a small soprano fiddle. This all took about a year. Hendrik was very pleased with the result: 'First there was nothing and then all of a sudden there is a fiddle to play on.' he smiled.

But (being my perfectionist) I was not so satisfied with the result. The lowest string did not 'speak' as clear as I wanted it to. I grabbed my courage together and started an other instrument, a soprano with a larger, more deeper, resonance box. Later... this appeared not to be the good idea! I found out that a wide but shallow sound-box is the better solution. Like for a viola. But unfortunately, I could not find the opportunity to build a third soprano viol with these principles. So I can not proof if this was better.

I went for my final goal... a 7string bass fiddle, where completely different proportions are applied. And it really became e stunner! Maybe you can imagine how glad I was.

Soprano fiddles, 2003-2004. Bass fiddle, 2005.

The shape of the case of this bass fiddle was based on the classical guitar. I gave it a 'fiddle shoulder'. Besides of the bass bar (where it should be... under the lowest strings), the soundboard was extra reinforced with extra bars. This extra support on the top appeared to be very useful in order op absorb the pressure of the strings, trough the bridge. This is one of the reasons why the sound of the fiddle is so open and clear! It reminded me of the dome of a church.

I insisted to make the pegs, the bridge and the sound-post myself. For the fingerboard and the tail-piece I could use the (very) hard wood 'Rosa Preto', which gave the fiddle its weight. We used Italian gut strings and also 'bundes' (frets) made of gut, that Hendrik removed later to shape the fiddle into a 6 string cello.... because otherwise he could not play Bach... This is how the instrument got its cello support for fixation to the floor. But, up to this day, I am very sorry he did. I made a fiddle, not a cello. A cello needs a thumb support on the back of the neck... so this will never be a proper cello.

A 10-string guitar

The whole bunch... books and instruments,
For the music inside the books see: http://hendrikcomposer.blogspot.pt
Why should I make a guitar? For guitars are made in factories, by renowned builders.

There was a plausible reason why I should make a 10-string guitar though... We did not have the money to buy one.

And also this project was a success! It made me feel like 'on top of the world'.

Later I found out that this whole project did not fit in the strange frame like it did fit in our small world.
Our world is made of the real things of practice and application.
The frame of the big world appeared to be made of commerce and (make)believe.

It is a struggle for (classical) musicians to survive within the strange frame. They are the exiles of the box. You stay within, or you are out of work. And for musicians; Playing an instrument that nobody knows and nobody has, cannot compete. It cannot be there. It can be played for fun, but not for real... strange as it is.

It is a struggle for professional builders to give there new build instruments a purpose. To sell them to be played in orchestras, on consorts. How many tests are done to prove that a Stradivari is not better than a new professional build violin...?
And then there is me, this builder that made these three fiddles. This cannot not be true. She is a painter, not a builder... or she is a 'modern artist' and thus made something that looks like an instrument, but actually is not... 'Does it make a sound?', people asked me. 'Or is it a statue?'

A renowned builder of viola da gamba and copies of other old string instruments told me: 'If you would like to organize a trend, I give you about 20 years to achieve something'. But, I did not want to organize a trend. I just built some useful instruments for playing music. And I am proud of the results. That's all...

However, when you are an instrumentalist that can think (and do) out-of-the-box, come and play. It is worth it :) And maybe you can widen up the box a bit. Make some space for yourself... :)



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