The Godivarius Lost and Found
2022, Warwick University – Sampling sounds of the future (Coventry city of culture)
A possible history of a mystery violin found in the Coventry Music Museum, commissioned as part of Warwick University’s ‘Sampling the City’.
Presentation notes – read by Dr Noortje Marres (Director of Centre for Interdisciplinary
“As a sound artist and musician, my first instincts when posed with the question ‘what does the future of Coventry sound like?’ were to consider the environmental
sounds, and the music. As a violinist who performs music from all over the world and across time (and the reason I am sadly not here tonight in person) I engage in time and space travel on a regular basis. This tool of music, to connect people across multiple points in time and space is of great fascination to me, particularly as I am also an avid SCI-FI fan, so I chose the musical path. For me, and many others, Science-Fiction and fantasy hold great power as a language for story telling. A space where the shackles of reality, whether environmental, social, physical, political… can be shed in an instant, re-shaped and re-imagined without too much persuasion. However through that process, they also cast a different light on the reality we temporarily leave behind, from a different perspective; perhaps from a different person, time, or place, or something we’ve never even considered could have a perspective. This work has marked the start of an ongoing research project attempting to use the language of SCI-FI, and the tool of the violin to create narratives that are pertinent to our reality, but are also not bound by them and allow us to travel into a different space, as we so often do when in the flow of music. There is much future scope for the development of this work, particularly in developing a visual language that clearly references SCI-FI but also is not inhibited by current visions of it…but without a working time machine at present, this is where I am currently. There is an awkward ‘computery-ness’ to this work that is both an intentional reference to the issues of rendering live culture through digital means, and also an embraced forced outcome owing to the processes and techniques used in making motion graphics without high budget animation studios. This is an area I will continue to poke over time.
As a project shrouded in the City of Culture agenda and posing the question of ‘what does the future of Coventry sound like’, I felt a duty to do my local research; I live in Birmingham but have worked in Coventry often. I began by speaking at length with Dave Barrett, a local musician, teacher, BBC radio presenter and all round living cultural artefact. My thoughts from the start were concerned with how living breathing culture is documented on the internet and then, for those who were not there at the time, becomes the culture itself. But I am of an age where the internet wasn’t always around…I know there are gaps, and that these gaps get bigger the further back you go. I felt this was problematic as a research tool and I really wanted to talk with someone who was there. Hopefully this work communicates issues of ‘gappiness’ as both problems and sites of new opportunity and imagination. This is not a history lesson, although it is constructed with facts. Dave’s involvement in Coventry’s musical culture over decades is deep and his contributions both as an artist and facilitator are huge. It’s hard to walk down a street with him without someone stopping him to chat. He is also very
knowledgeable about a diverse range of music; something of great importance when looking into Coventry’s musical heritage, for fear of being consumed in another story of 2-tone and current internet echo chambers. Amongst other music and places, he pointed me towards Tom Lowry of Planet studios, the birthplace of many of the UKs Bhangra albums, and Pete Chambers at the Coventry Music Museum. Pete has spent much of his time and energy documenting the musical activities of Coventry in his largely self sustained music museum on Walsgrave Road and is very proud of the city and it’s contributions to music. He is passionate about Coventry and his work, and will generously share his time and resources with anyone interested. The museum holds artefacts illustrating Coventry’s music from the present day, right back to the ‘Coventry Mystery Plays’ of the 14th century, where the infamous ‘Coventry Carol’ is found. In this cabinet of early music sits a mystery violin; this violin illustrates a story of local master luthier Arthur Rowley, maker of ‘the Godivarius’ violins, of which only 1 of 100 or so is accounted for. But this violin is also unaccounted for; on loan to the museum as a potential candidate for being a ‘Godivarius’, or maybe something else, it’s story is completely unknown, it was lost and found. It’s this violin, these people and this place’s story I have tried to intertwine in this work. Ultimately I think the future will always sound like a fusion of the past; new fusions and connections across genres, places, times, people and technologies; fusions that through their decoding will reveal many things about the times, places and people that created them”.
[Tonal shift into the work beginning]
Sarah has developed a software that can analyse the acoustic frequencies stored within objects. All matter can transfer sound vibrations, resonant objects such as violins especially so. By vibrating the body of the instrument and causing it to resonate, the sound wave it produces can then be broken down through fourier transformation into it’s constituent parts. These parts are traces of all the vibrations that have ever passed through the object; some call them echoes, or ghosts. Through separating these parts and analysing them closer we are able to learn more about the source of these sounds, whether directly played on the violin or indirectly captured through ‘sympathetic resonance’, a process where an objects own resonant frequencies are stimulated by an external matching sound and ‘join in’. On the violin the main resonant frequencies are 196hz, 293.7hz, 440hz and 659.25hz (G,D,A,E) This advanced multi dimensional fourier analysis allows us to look beyond the sound further into the data to reveal some other information relating to it’s sources.
Sarah has been performing multiple analyses on this violin and has recorded one of her sessions attempting to decode this violin for us.
A sound walk tracing a sonic journey from the exhibition site to the music museum, augmented by the recordings was enacted. A blog post about the sound walk can be found here