Digital Amati: a computer program bringing luthiers back into contact with ancient principles | To concentrate


The following is published as part of a longer article by Harry Mairson in the September 2017 issue of The Strad, now available – download the number on desktop computer or via the The Strad app, or buy the print edition.

Understanding the principles of the Digital Amati project can be quite difficult at first glance; however, they are all based on Euclidean geometry, taught in schools since time immemorial. It is perhaps extraordinary that over the past 300 years luthiers have adhered so closely to the works of Italian masters without understanding the geometric principles underlying them. Stradivari made his “Messiah” of 1716; Vuillaume made exact copies of it, and many manufacturers after him have continued in the same vein. Sam Zygmuntowicz joked that thanks to the inevitable “pencil creep,” 19th-century French violins slowly increased in size as their makers slavishly traced each other’s patterns to create new ones.

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The inspiration for Digital Amati came from the revolutionary 2006 book by François Denis Treaty of lutherie: the violin and the art of measurement. In it, Denis took important steps towards integrating the dual and refined skills of design and copying – two steps he calls the “classic” and “romantic” eras of violin making. Through the careful reverse engineering of particular stringed instruments, using only the geometric constructions possible with a ruler and a compass – most importantly the idea of ​​using Euclidean and proportional methods – Denis provided a vocabulary and a geometric vernacular for their design and creation. As a result, he put an important and practical analytical tool in the hands of every luthier.

Lutherie Treaty is one of the best books I have ever read: a multilingual medley of art and architecture, mathematics and musicology, philosophy, history and science. When the Ashmolean Museum organized its successful exhibition of Stradivari instruments in 2013, its catalog paid an implicit but unmistakable tribute to Denis’s contribution: design and proportion borrowed directly from architects, painters and many other designers and craftsmen of the Renaissance.’

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A generation earlier, author and craftsman Kevin Coates wrote in his 1985 book Geometry, proportion and art of violin making, that violin making will never again achieve the same grace of illumination, of authentic creativity, unless it can return to […] the lost principles which nourished the genius that we now seek to reproduce without thinking, or rather without soul ”. Denis’s contribution was a timely and informed response to Coates’ critical appraisal. This allowed us to better understand what some of these principles were: fundamental geometric ideas, used and shared by Renaissance artists and craftsmen, who also founded the creations of luthiers. Their collective work was not only a beautiful product of the artistic imagination: it was principled and based on geometric methods.

To read the whole article by Harry Mairson, download the September 2017 issue of The Strad at desktop computer or via the The Strad app, or buy the print edition.


Gordon K. Morehouse