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Author: Subject: Adjectives to describe sound
bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 12-20-2014 at 07:33 AM
Adjectives to describe sound


"Adjectives to describe sound" is something I deal with on a daily basis. I am always searching for the right words to describe what I'm hearing under my ear (the place you hear the best) or what I'm hearing in front of me. Obviously language has it's limitations in describing what an instrument produces since what's happening is so magical.

I am including a list of adjectives used in the book "The Violin Maker" by John Marchese written about an award winning violin maker in Brooklyn, Sam Zygmuntowitcz. In the book they mention Norman Pickering, a well known physicist and acoustician in the violin world. He compiled a limited list of adjectives which was shared on page 92 of the book:

"Rough, hollow, thin, pure, flutey, metallic, resonant, dry, somber, clear, even, uneven, brilliant, wolfy, elegant, lively, raw, sonorous, muted, dark, light, plumy, tubby, harsh, punched, aggressive, silky, silvery, golden, noble, constricted, smooth, mellow, bright, dull, piercing, shrill, nasal, fuzzy, scratchy, rich full, weak, powerful, sweet."

Knowing the rich overtones that the oud produces, we've heard many amazing sounds violin players and makers are not even aware of. So, please feel free to share some words you like to use to describe your ouds.




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journeyman
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[*] posted on 12-20-2014 at 09:39 AM


There is one I like that describes one of my favorite sound qualities of the oud's lower register. It is best heard on Anouar Brahem's earlier recordings. I call it a "throaty" sound. -Roy



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BaniYazid
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[*] posted on 12-20-2014 at 03:04 PM


"deep" is often used
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jdowning
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[*] posted on 12-21-2014 at 06:15 AM


The 16th C German lutenists gave names to their strings alluding to the sound that they made. In Virdung's 'Musica Getutscht' published in 1511 the names for six courses - from bass (#1) to treble (#6) - are Gross Prummer (or Brummer), Mittler Prummer, Clain Prummer, Gross Sancksait, Clain Sancksait and Quintsait which translates to : Big Growler (or Snarler or Grumbler), Middle Growler, Small Growler, Big Singing (or melody) String, Small Singing String and Fifth String. (The sixth string is named the fifth because at one time it was the top string for a five course lute - standard until the end of the 15th C).
Later in the 16th C the three German bass strings were named Gross, Mittel and Klein Bomhart (or Bombard) (a Bombard being a siege mortar cannon) - as given by Hans Gerle 1546 and Mattheus Waissel 1592.

Interesting that the names given to these early plucked bass strings - that today are assumed to have been made from plain twisted animal gut - suggests that they sounded loud and 'raspy' (explosive even) contrary to current experience with thick gut bass strings. The early lute basses were in octave tuned pairs which would have helped to brighten the sound but not the late 16th C lute strings that were unison pairs down to the 6th course.

How about the early oud? The strings are named - from bass to treble - as Bamm, Mathlath, Mathna, Zir and Hadd. How do these names translate into English? The name 'Bamm' when pronounced phonetically suggests a loud percussive noise to me?

The problem with spoken language is that mere words can mean totally different things to different people. So for example what tone colour is 'golden' supposed to be?

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bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 12-21-2014 at 01:20 PM


When journeymen describes Anour Brahem's sound on the basses as "throaty" I feel like the idea is more or less conveyed. I understand what sound hes talking about. Of course it's hard to measure.



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jdowning
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[*] posted on 12-21-2014 at 03:20 PM


I don't - so, why not post comparative sound clips of these descriptive sound 'colours' so that we all might at least have some kind of objective measure of their meaning?
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bulerias1981
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[*] posted on 12-21-2014 at 09:07 PM


jdowning, not a bad idea at all! We can categorize sound by types. There certain types of sounds that I am very familiar with and have distinct qualities. I started recently studying violin over the last year, and even after working with violins for 8 years only until now have I begun to know what a good sounding violin is and how to compare different sounds.. I guess you have to be a player to really know.



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jdowning
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[*] posted on 12-22-2014 at 11:00 AM


To this end we might follow the practice of wine connoisseurs (or even wine snobs!) and hold violin 'tastings' where violinists with sufficient experience to appreciate the tonal nuances of their instrument would, in the same room, listen to say half a dozen violins by various makers and then describe in words - without consultation between themselves - the tonal characteristics of each violin.
At the same time the sound of each violin would be recorded to allow each recorded signal to be frequency analysed so, in the event that there might be some agreement among the auditors, it would be possible for anyone to determine graphically the particular audio characteristics associated with each sound description.

Perhaps Norman Pickering has already undertaken similar auditory experiments?

Always best to treat what one reads in books about violins with some caution. For example the Hill book 'The Violin Makers of the Guarneri Family (1626-1762)' in Chapter V - on the Tonal Aspect - refers to the writings of English Lutenist and Viol player Thomas Mace ('Musick's Monument', London, 1676) and implies that Mace is referring to the violin as well as the viol and lute when he wrote " As first, It is a New-made-Instrument; and therefore cannot yet Speak so Well, as it will do, when It comes to Age, and Ripeness; yet it gives forth a very Free, Brisk, Trouling, Plump, and Sweet Sound".(The Hill brothers took this quote out of context and changed 'As first' to 'At first')

What Mace was actually referring to is a unique instrument that he had invented - called a 'Dyphone' or double lute. Poor Mace was almost stone deaf at this time and could not hear the sounds of a normal lute. He could hear the sound of this much louder instrument but only through his teeth that he placed on the edge of the Dyphone to pick up the sound board vibrations. Must have been awkward to play let alone judge the sound colours of the instrument!

Having read with amusement some of the descriptions of taste coming from the wine experts we might find something like this coming from the violin sampling events:
" A Strad of 1684 - from a vintage year production of 25 violins. Clear dichroic varnish to the eye. A noble, golden toned fiddle with sweet, silvery upper harmonic accents. However the rather wolfy lower frequencies suggests this instrument may have gone past its prime 150 years ago".

Just kidding!

Of course violins are violins and ouds are ouds - as acoustically different as chalk from cheese.

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