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MMD > Archives > May 2000 > 2000.05.18 > 03Prev  Next

Scientific Musical Instrument Challenge
By Mark Kinsler

>[ But why is Ben Franklin's 'Armonica' considered scientific?  One
>[ could also sound a saucer bell with a rosined bow.  What's the
>[ difference if an organ pipe is designed using scientific methods
>[ versus "cut and try?"  -- Robbie

Good question, and I'm afraid that the answer isn't very satisfactory:
the instrument was scientific because it was designed by a scientist,
i.e., a "gentleman" under the old class system.  A musician, and
particularly a musical instrument maker, is _not_ a "gentleman" --
he is an artist or tradesman, and would take his meals in the kitchen
with the other tradesmen and servants.

These traditions are persistent.  The popular press is still amused
when a scientist designs or even plays a musical instrument.

In my younger days I designed a fairly horrible violin.  I could build
a duplicate and probably get some good publicity, because I now have a
doctorate in electrical engineering.

The newspapers would love it: "High Voltage Engineer Designs Improved
Violin."  The instrument, with its resonator made of a plastic cup,
would be considered somehow superior to conventional instruments -- but
only by virtue of my academic degrees.

If the same instrument, or a better one, was made by a homeless
musician, it would be considered "folk art," at best.

Mark Kinsler

 [ Joshua C. Stoddard demonstrated his self-playing steam calliope in
 [ 1856.  Nothing like it existed before, but since he was a beekeeper,
 [ not an esteemed organ maker, his instrument must be folk art.
 [ Nobody ever called a calliope a "scientific musical instrument" --
 [ it's too loud for genteel ears!  Thank goodness that musical
 [ instruments are judged by the music-loving audience, not a
 [ gentleman scientist or newspaper.  -- Robbie

(Message sent Thu 18 May 2000, 13:37:29 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Challenge, Instrument, Musical, Scientific

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