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Violinists cannot differentiate between Stradivarius and new violins, was: "golden ears"
MichaelW
post Jan 4 2012, 08:06
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QUOTE (andy o @ Jan 4 2012, 16:18) *
QUOTE (Takla @ Jan 3 2012, 17:11) *
But the test wasn't about people making unreasonable claims and refusing to see reason or accept surprising results.
Sure it was.


Surely the claims were not, a priori, unreasonable. Claiming to hear a difference between complex constructions of wood that generate sound is nothing like claiming to hear the difference between copper and silver interconnects.

There was already evidence that Stradivarius violins, qua Stradivarius, have no distinctive sound, and this is further evidence that a claim that they have fails, empirically. But it certainly does not prove that there is no difference between competently made violins, the way there is no SQ difference between competently made amplifiers.

It proves that the prestige of Stradivarius instruments is socially constructed, the product of scarcity, and has the nature of a bubble, feeding on itself. So one expected, but to show that requires not merely the organising of difficult and elaborate tests, but repeating those tests: like establishing that people, for the most part, prefer speakers with flat response. One might have expected that, but it's not inevitable, since it involves people, who are very non-linear, so you need to replicate results a lot.

Of course, if we now get a lot of deniers, that's unreasonable.
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DonP
post Jan 4 2012, 15:25
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So in the study were the new instruments brand new? The "new" violin in the NPR story with the sound clips was made in 1980.

FWIW the cellist in the last concert I went to is really into her carbon fiber cello.
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MichaelW
post Jan 4 2012, 17:50
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IIRC one was three days old.
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Takla
post Jan 5 2012, 03:29
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QUOTE (mzil @ Jan 5 2012, 00:53) *
........ the heft of the real thing could have still influenced them.


The antique instruments could not be reliably distinguished from the new ones by the extremely skilled and experienced performers, who are intimately familiar with such instruments, which very strongly suggests that this was not the case. There was some effort to disguise any differences such as applying perfume to the chin rests so that an old instrument could not be identified by its smell from an instrument made the previous week. In any case there should be no difference in "heft" (size? weight?) because the new instruments are intended to be as close to perfect replicas as possible of the ancient ones, in construction, sound, and use. Reading the article helps a lot smile.gif
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MichaelW
post Jan 5 2012, 04:38
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QUOTE (mzil @ Jan 5 2012, 13:53) *
My point is you have to have an expert on violin construction who can point these things out which the test researchers may be clueless about.


The instigator of the test is an apparently highly-regarded violin maker; the article says that the trust the violinists had in him was crucial to their participation. The article also points out that he had an interest in demonstrating the high quality of modern violins, but the procedures should have prevented that from influencing the results.

But what you say about knowledge of the instrument affecting the way people play is surely true. In the two samples linked from the article, it's clear the violinist plays the modern instrument with more vibrato--whether consciously or not, who can tell. But anyhow, it is likely that violinists who accept these results will still want to play an old Italian instrument. Given what an extraordinarily demanding task playing a violin must be, they're entitled to whatever help placebo will give them; athletes have lucky socks, why not let musos have talismanic fiddles. As long as we know it's the playing that counts.
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Nessuno
post Jan 5 2012, 09:42
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QUOTE (db1989 @ Jan 5 2012, 01:09) *
>implying the violinists were privy to the identities of the instruments

QUOTE ( [url="http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2012/01/02/violinists-can%E2%80%99t-tell-the-difference-between-stradivarius-violins-and-new-ones/")
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocke...;new-ones/[/url] ]The test was a true “double-blind” one, as neither the players nor the people who gave them the violins had any way of knowing which instrument was which. The room was dimly lit. The players were wearing goggles so they couldn’t see properly. The instruments had dabs of perfume on the chinrests that blocked out any distinctive smells. And even though Fritz and Curtin knew which the identities of the six violins, they only passed the instruments to the players via other researchers, who were hidden by screens, wearing their own goggles, and quite literally in the dark.



But, with all this blindness and hand to hand exchanging of violins, are we sure that in the end they really succeed in recollect the right instruments... or there are chances from now on there will be a 1980 violin travelling in a "Stradivari" carrycase? laugh.gif


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mzil
post Jan 5 2012, 10:33
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^Ha! Good point Nessuno!
---

And even though Fritz and Curtin knew which the identities of the six violins, they only passed the instruments to the players via other researchers, who were hidden by screens, wearing their own goggles, and quite literally in the dark.

If I'm understanding this correctly, the violins were being handed off, person to person at each exchange, with only the first hand off not being blinded (Fritz and Curtin "knew", which is fine by itself). I see a big problem here. It doesn't matter if you have even a dozen different intermediate carriers of the delicate and expensive violins, all blindfolded, before the ultimate test subject actually gets it placed in their hands. When a person places an extremely expensive, fragile, and delicate item in another person's hands, they will do so (possibly subconsciously) very carefully, purposefully, methodically, delicately and slowly. The recipient can easily tell this level of concern, based on how quickly and casually the giver hands them the item. This will then bestow upon them a general sense of the product's value and fragility, on a subconscious level, even if they are blindfolded (and the room reeks of perfume tongue.gif ). This is the "tell", ie the "giveaway". The greater sense of value given to the Strads could easily be passed on almost indefinitely, from blindfolded to blindfolded person, all based on this delicacy and swiftness of hand to hand exchange.

Instead, the violins would need to be both placed on, and then picked up from, a table, in a blind manner, to break this (subconscious) relay of human communication, via hand to hand exchanges. The human to human contact could be a clear giveaway as to which is the "Oh my god that's valuable, so don't drop it!" DUT.

This post has been edited by db1989: Jan 7 2012, 13:20
Reason for edit: shortening quote
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Gumboot
post Jan 5 2012, 12:10
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I seem to be having some pretty serious reading comprehension problems, too, because I see things like:
QUOTE
O1, the Stradivarius with the most illustrious history, was chosen far less often than any of the three new violins.

and
QUOTE
This time, a clear favourite emerged. The players chose one of the new violins (“N2”) as their take-home instrument most often, and it topped the rankings for all four qualities.

and
QUOTE
As before, O1 received the most severe rejections.


but also
QUOTE
Violinists cannot differentiate between Stradivarius and new violins

and
QUOTE (kraut @ Jan 3 2012, 14:15) *
There is no "special" distinguishing sound that makes those violins special, they could not distinguish between an "old" and a "new" violin.

and
QUOTE (kraut)
accumulated evidence including this newest one that points to inaudibility of differences


It's so confusing. Reading is hard!
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MichaelW
post Jan 5 2012, 15:55
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@gumboot, I'd been wondering about that, too. I guess you'd need a proper statistical analysis to tell if the preferences expressed amounted to anything significant, or were just noise on top of no consistent difference. I think our problem is imprecise writing, rather than sloppy reading.
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MichaelW
post Jan 7 2012, 02:27
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One reason why this test, and the few others like it, is actually news is that it took a lot of effort to get the controlled circumstances. It's not surprising that many violinists should have believed that old Italian violins did have a significant sound, since they would have been relying on memory. That's dodgy enough, but when you add the institutional glamour around the name Stradivarius, it's unsurprising things went wrong. Placebo is very powerful (which is probably why people with access to Cremona instruments won't get rid of them: they did compare pretty well with the very best of modern productions, and if they make the performer feel special playing them, then maybe that has an effect on the performance.)
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Gumboot
post Jan 7 2012, 11:46
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I think the test, or the write-up cited, fails because it still conflates subjective notions of good and bad with scientific notions of correlated and random.

The parts I quoted previously suggest correlated, in direct contradiction with the title of this thread. The question of whether the big name is actually preferable, and trying to bring science into that, is laughable.
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Kees de Visser
post Jan 7 2012, 13:03
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QUOTE (MichaelW @ Jan 7 2012, 03:27) *
Placebo is very powerful ... maybe that has an effect on the performance.
Exactly my thought and also my experience. I remember a violin competition where 2 of the 5 finalists got access to a Strad for the final (with orchestra). One of the 2 did win, but it's impossible to say if the Strad made the difference.
IMO it would be interesting to test two situations:
- do experienced Strad players perform worse on a modern violin
- do modern violin players perform better on a Strad

Both groups would need to get used to the other violin for a while and the comparison (recordings) should be done by themselves and other listeners.
Unfortunately this kind of test is very difficult to organize and it contains subjective elements (better/worse).
Anyway, classical music is full of myths and this one seems pretty harmless to me smile.gif
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Porcus
post Jan 7 2012, 15:20
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QUOTE (mzil @ Jan 5 2012, 10:33) *
If I'm understanding this correctly, the violins were being handed off, person to person at each exchange, with only the first hand off not being blinded (Fritz and Curtin "knew", which is fine by itself). I see a big problem here. It doesn't matter if you have even a dozen different intermediate carriers of the delicate and expensive violins, all blindfolded, before the ultimate test subject actually gets it placed in their hands. When a person places an extremely expensive, fragile, and delicate item in another person's hands, they will do so (possibly subconsciously) very carefully, purposefully, methodically, delicately and slowly. The recipient can easily tell this level of concern, based on how quickly and casually the giver hands them the item. This will then bestow upon them a general sense of the product's value and fragility, on a subconscious level, even if they are blindfolded (and the room reeks of perfume tongue.gif ). This is the "tell", ie the "giveaway". The greater sense of value given to the Strads could easily be passed on almost indefinitely, from blindfolded to blindfolded person, all based on this delicacy and swiftness of hand to hand exchange.


Well, it is fair to assume that there is a placebo bias favouring the Strads in a non-blind test. Had the result been in favour of the Stradivarii, then we would start scrutinizing the «degree of blindness» in the design of experiment: did they judge from sound or from other knowledge giving the identity away?

Here the Strads did not turn out better in an attempted double-blind experiment. Then the design of experiment either
- reduced the placebo down to a level where it did not affect the outcome (say, what if one X of many was affected?)
or possibly
- reduced the placebo down to a level where it did affect the outcome, but only to a level where it compensated for the actual worse sound of the Strad,
or possibly
- outright misled some the violinists into thinking that B was A and therefore by placebo chose an inferior modern violin, thinking it was the real thing, to a degree that it compensated for those who chose «right».


But we do not need to invoke placebo to explain why the Stradivarii «won» the test, because they didn't.


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Porcus
post Jan 7 2012, 15:36
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More references at http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/...90914111418.htm , by the way. Not the first time the old wood fails to live up to the reputation.


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godrick
post Jan 8 2012, 22:23
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Has anyone posting here actually read the study itself? I have many questions on it, but since I have not read the study (just a bunch of news articles), I could never in good conscience draw many of the conclusions or offer any of the critques mentioned here without reading the study very carefully.
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Gumboot
post Jan 9 2012, 00:45
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QUOTE (godrick @ Jan 8 2012, 21:23) *
but since I have not read the study (just a bunch of news articles), I could never in good conscience draw many of the conclusions or offer any of the critques mentioned here without reading the study very carefully.


I'm not sure you understand how the internet works. There's a process that has to be followed. It starts with researchers making things up to support their clients' business plans, then it's digested through a series of magazine articles, newspaper articles, etc., then it's blogged, reblogged, tweeted, retweeted, posted on wikipedia, replaced with something entirely unrelated, and then it becomes a fact.

It's only once it becomes fact that we can wave it around and try to make a point about how stupid everybody else is.

The stuff you're talking about is like fact ore. It's no use to real people.

This post has been edited by Gumboot: Jan 9 2012, 00:53
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godrick
post Jan 9 2012, 03:45
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We seem to be caught in a certain cycle.... http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1174

This post has been edited by godrick: Jan 9 2012, 03:45
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andy o
post Jan 9 2012, 05:54
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QUOTE (Gumboot @ Jan 8 2012, 15:45) *
QUOTE (godrick @ Jan 8 2012, 21:23) *
but since I have not read the study (just a bunch of news articles), I could never in good conscience draw many of the conclusions or offer any of the critques mentioned here without reading the study very carefully.


I'm not sure you understand how the internet works. There's a process that has to be followed. It starts with researchers making things up to support their clients' business plans, then it's digested through a series of magazine articles, newspaper articles, etc., then it's blogged, reblogged, tweeted, retweeted, posted on wikipedia, replaced with something entirely unrelated, and then it becomes a fact.

It's only once it becomes fact that we can wave it around and try to make a point about how stupid everybody else is.

The stuff you're talking about is like fact ore. It's no use to real people.

Well the important thing is you have found a way to feel superior.
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Gumboot
post Jan 9 2012, 08:18
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QUOTE (andy o @ Jan 9 2012, 04:54) *
Well the important thing is you have found a way to feel superior.


Superior to the internet! Woo!
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Nessuno
post Jan 10 2012, 22:27
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A hopefully interesting contribution to this thread by report of yours truly: yesterday evening italian radio station RAI Radiotre aired a live symphonic concerto from the Teatro alla Scala, soloist was the violinist Frank Peter Zimmerman playing a Stradivari.
After the concert he was interviewed. I was listening rather distractly when my attention was raised by the speaker asking this very question:- has been written on some magazines that in a test some colleagues of yours have failed to prefer a Stradivari over more recent instruments, what about? - Zimmerman admitted that a newer instrument of comparable built quality may results easier to play and if played to someone not fully acquainted to it, even easier to the ears. This might happen, he continued, because an instrument such as a Stradivari is an unicum, possesses a personality of his own, indeed a very strong one, and requires the player a deeper knowledge and to respectfully go along with it to fully reveal its superior qualities.


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godrick
post Jan 10 2012, 23:09
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...so Zimmerman's implication is that the test duration favored newer violins over older violins, that older violins have something called "personality" that newer ones do not, and that as one plays with older violins for longer periods of time you'll play it better but that won't happen with newer violins, and if the test playing had been longer then the old violins would have been favored? That's quite a bundle of claims, supported by....what exactly?

I guess if I had spent a fortune on an old violin, then I'd make up something like that to protect my investment. But since I have not, I think ToS #8 requires Zimmerman and anyone who believes him to prove each of those claims.
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Gumboot
post Jan 10 2012, 23:46
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QUOTE (godrick @ Jan 10 2012, 22:09) *
...so Zimmerman's implication is that the test duration favored newer violins over older violins, that older violins have something called "personality" that newer ones do not,


Probably not so much that new ones don't have personality, but that they're a little more uniform (or at least they aim for a common standard) and much more likely to be what people learnt on, so everybody will have experience with them.

It shouldn't be at all surprising to suggest that an old, rare device might have irregularities which take some time to learn to work around or exploit.
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andy o
post Jan 11 2012, 00:40
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The evidence contradicts Zimmerman, no matter how well he plays the violin. As told by Nessuno, his claims fit perfectly the original title of "golden ears" of this thread.

btw, godrick, don't know if you have seen it yet, but the study was linked to in Yong's post. It's been there all this time.
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Takla
post Jan 11 2012, 00:42
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QUOTE (godrick @ Jan 10 2012, 22:09) *
...so Zimmerman's implication is ...ra ra ra.... then I'd make up something like that to protect my investment. But since I have not, I think ToS #8 requires Zimmerman and anyone who believes him to prove each of those claims.


I think your insistence is misplaced. Why can he not claim that an older instrument is harder to play? These are objects made of organic materials that change in shape and size over time, and not consistently either. Those materials decay, both visibly and invisibly, as well as alter with the seasons (temperature and humidty), and do so inconsistently, and this matters hugely in an instrument whose sound is defined in the most part by the resonance of its body. Typically such instruments have even been damaged and repaired several times. A new instrument of comparable craftsmanship is likely to closely conform to the builder's template and naturally be be easier to play, being a regular shape with predictable responses. These are not PCBs! Anyone who has lived in an old wooden (or wood framed) house of a few hundred years vintage knows that nothing fits....everything has expanded or contracted until doors are loose or they stick, floorboards have gone from even to wave like, the old lead windows no longer fit the no-longer square frames; these are differences that can be found from week to week or month to month according to the season. Can you imagine playing a wooden musical instrument of the same vintage????? Even if it has benefited from the most meticulous care it will definitely be a more idiosyncratic object with every passing decade.

Some things that lots of people are irrationally overlooking in their headlong rush to sound like bona fide rationalists (or at least modern www era reproductions of the same):

The value of a Stradivarius in today's market no longer derives from its supposed sound quality. These are historic objects, associated with notable persons over hundreds of years. It wouldn't matter at all if the general consensus became that a gratis software emulator, or a plastic toy, sounded even better, any more than if you found Noah's Ark but some dull person proved that a passenger ferry of 1980s vintage would carry more pairs of beasts further in less time, and smell better too. If some authoratitive and universally accepted authority concluded today that the best instruments by modern makers sounded as good as, or better, than any historic Strad then the change in financial value of that Strad in the next day's market would be Z E R O.

A famous, experienced, and brilliant violinist chooses to describe his intrinsically unique antique instrument as having a personality, as something idiosyncratic that is not easy to play, that takes time to master. He claims that putting in the same effort with a modern instrument does not produce the same reward of better sound. Is this actually irrational at all? Do the people claiming a lack of reason actually use reason? Do they have real knowledge and expertise in the way organic materials change with temperature and humidity, and the differences between wood that was treated and used 300 years ago and similar materials that are just a few weeks old? Do they have real expertise in becoming expert in using ancient artefacts that are not of uniform shape, and which perform in unexpected ways? Can they compare that to their experience of using modern versions of the same artefacts which behave in predictable ways and are new enough to closely match the designer's or manufacturer's template? He claims that he produces a different performance with this violin than he does with other violins. What is wrong with that claim? Do you know that he would produce the same performance with a different instrument, or are you making a mere assertion, founded on nothing more substantial than the expectation of anonymous peer approval?

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andy o
post Jan 11 2012, 00:47
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And he was being kind of a condescending dick to his colleagues too (again, as told by Nessuno smile.gif), one of which was gracious and open-minded enough to acknowledge he was wrong in the very blog post linked.

QUOTE (solalona @ Jan 10 2012, 15:45) *
QUOTE (godrick @ Jan 9 2012, 03:45) *
We seem to be caught in a certain cycle..
.. http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1174

i think you are right


No, he's not. The linked blog post doesn't resemble that at all. I'm surprised how many people just are complaining that there's no sources, just shows that they didn't read the post at all.

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