Sound Installation Based on Historical Violins
The Stradivarius ‘f’enomenon—Tokyo Stradivarius Festival 2018 Exhibition was held at Mori Arts Center Gallery in Roppongi from October 9 to 15, 2018. Showcasing a genuine Stradivarius violin, this spectacular exhibition focused on Stradivarius’ 300 years of excellence. The exhibition included explanations of the instruments’ lineage, production environment, owners’ histories, and scientific experiments to unravel the secrets of their greatness. The venue consisted of four spaces, of which Qosmo planned and created the Stradivarius and Its Technology space.
This work was awarded the Grand Prix in the Digital Craft category of Spikes Asia, one of the largest advertising communications festivals in the Asian region.
Stradivarius: Timeless Journey is an exhibition that lets visitors re-experience the acoustic transitions in the history of Stradivarius, which continues to fascinate the modern world, along with the history of the playing spaces in which these instruments have performed. Visitors get immersed into the exhibition by ear, listening to music played on various stages that have appeared throughout the history of Stradivarius. The sequence of these replicated stages begin with the Stradivari workshop in Cremona, Italy, passing through to a salon in the Petit Trianon of Versailles where the Stradivarius San Lorenzo was played; then the lost Gewandhaus, the origin of the concert hall; and on to Suntory Hall, one of the most prestigious halls in Japan today.
“The hall is part of the instrument,” say many players and technicians. Even the same single note yields a completely different impression depending on which performer plays for what audience and in what place. In the planning of Stradivarius and Its Technology, we at Qosmo held the idea that Stradivarius gained its unmatched status not because it has produced the same sound for 300 years, but rather because it has flexibly changed its sound in response to the environment and the audience.
Antonio Stradivari completed the Stradivarius violin in an age when the concert hall was not yet common. When playing palace music at that time, the distance between the players and the audience was very small. Modern hall performances must deliver the violin’s live sound to the ears of two to three thousand people. No one knows whether Stradivari created his instruments while envisioning this future. But we are convinced that there are enduring merits of Stradivarius which remain unchanged from that time, and that considering those is the key to tracing the instrument’s long history of excellence.
First, the sound of a Stradivarius was recorded in an anechoic room. At the same time, we measured the radiation properties of the sounds with microelectromechanical system (MEMS) microphones using a total of 50 channels, and also measured the sound inside the violin by inserting the same microphones through the instrument’s f-shaped holes.
Cooperation with anechoic room recording and sound analysis: Ono Sokki Co., Ltd.
To simulate the reverberation of sounds in playing spaces, 3D models for each space were created. To reproduce the lost Stradivari workshop and Gewandhaus, data was prepared from historical materials and interviews.
Cooperation with drawing the Suntory Hall blueprint: Yasui Architects & Engineers, Inc.
We researched the materials used in the 3D models, and set the sound absorption rate for each material. Although the absorption rates of general wall and furniture materials are open-sourced, we could not apply those to old models.
For example, bricks used in the 1600s may have had rougher surfaces than bricks today. The humidity in the underground Stradivari workshop may have been higher than above ground. Even for common wood walls, using the rates for modern wood walls as the rates for older walls would not reproduce their features. Accordingly, we created these models based on careful consideration of their historical backgrounds and characteristics.
Based on the 3D models and sound absorption rates, we calculated the degree to which sounds would reflect on which positions of the rooms and in what directions. This reverberation data was combined with the anechoic-room sound recorded in process 1 to create a recording that simulates a Stradivarius playing in the virtual space.
However, it is difficult to create the atmosphere of the time with only such reverberation data. Using descriptions in historical materials as supplements, we pursued more sophisticated degrees of simulation. Deploying human adjustment by ear as a last resort, we recreated the true-to-life atmosphere of old days. This struggle testifies to the long path that exists before we can reproduce through computer simulations exactly what humans sense. As exemplified by acoustic and visual senses, humans perceive a complex mixture of environmental factors. With these challenges in mind, we asked professionals in various fields to cooperate with this project, and worked on simulations that are as elaborate as presently possible.
Finally, binaural treatment was implemented to support headphone playback at the exhibition. This lets audiences using headphones more realistically feel the position of the sound source and the sound fields generated from it.
To ensure that audiences can enjoy the sound of the Stradivarius violin to the fullest extent, we selected music to play on the exhibition’s various historical stages, according to each period and place. The selections focused on violin solo pieces and unaccompanied pieces.
Cooperation in song selection: Nippon Violin
From its birth, the violin’s shape is said to have been the one with which we are familiar today. But specifications for strings, playing methods, and more have gradually changed in line with the times. To reproduce the ever-changing resonance as it evolved through the ages, the exhibition adopted recording specifications meeting the playing environments of the times. The recordings for the modern Suntory Hall assumed the Modern Violin specifications. The recordings for the earlier three spaces assumed the Baroque Violin specifications.
The making-of video for this project includes scenes of recording at Ono Sokki, an interview with recording producer Toshihiko Kasai, and an interview with simulated sound design engineer Jiro Kubo. These two persons, playing different roles, engage in the reproduction of sounds as their everyday work. We had an interesting discussion about what they kept in mind in cooperating with each other in this project.
There are many wonderful concert halls in the world. It will be a long time before experiences created by technology can surpass the real on-site experience. However, technology has its own advantages, as seen in time-traveling to the past, or replicating places you have never explored. We hope that everyone who sees the exhibition can feel the spark of this possibility, and that this work will provide you with a first step for visiting concert halls and listening to the Stradivarius played for real.
We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Nippon Violin and Dentsu for their generous support, and to Mr. Yasuhisa Toyota of Nagata Acoustics for advising us. They readily agreed to take on this unprecedented challenge.
Miyu Hosoi (Qosmo, Inc.)
Sakiko Yasue (Qosmo, Inc.)
Shoya Dozono (Qosmo, Inc.)
Ryosuke Nakajima (Qosmo, Inc.)
ONO SOKKI CO.,LTD
Jiro Kubo (acousticfield, Inc.)
Toshihiko Kasai (studio ATLIO)
Akihiro Iizuka (studio ATLIO)
Yasuhisa Toyota (NAGATA ACOUSTICS)
Yasui Architects & Engineers, Inc.
Institut français du Japon / Goethe-Institut Tokyo / Andrew Dipper (Dipper Restorations) / Yukari Matsuoka
Sho Miyauchi (Design Office LINE Co., Ltd.)