The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

By then jazz gui­tarist and ex­po­nents of the new genre of elec­tric blues, like Paul, were dis­cov­er­ing new tricks. The solid in­stru­ment could sus­tain a note far longer; the vi­bra­tions are not dis­si­pated in a cham­ber but en­hanced like a tuning fork ap­plied to a ta­ble. The strings, and even the neck, could be bent, some­times with a tremolo arm, to pro­duce novel sounds; the fret board could be tapped with both hands; feed­back and dis­tor­tion could be tamed to be­come the artist’s friend.

It granted the abil­ity to am­plify not just vibrating strings but the deep, and some­times ugly, stir­rings of the soul; the same tech­nol­ogy that gave birth to the dreamy slide gui­tar of Hawai­ian mu­sic also em­pow­ered the ni­hilism of Jimi Hen­drix, who would gnaw on his Strat with his teeth one moment and set fire to it the next.

Such is the abil­ity to mag­nify the deeper re­cesses of hu­man­ity that one is grate­ful in a way that the elec­tric vi­o­lin was not avail­able to ear­lier com­posers. Si­belius’s Ta­pi­ola for elec­tric orches­tra would have been 20 min­utes of sheer ter­ror; those who heard it would have emerged vis­i­bly shak­ing, as white-faced as the au­di­ence at the open­ing night of Al­fred Hitch­cock’s Psy­cho. The vi­o­lin in Shostakovich’s El­egy would not have been cry­ing to it­self, it would have been sob­bing un­con­trol­lably; con­cert hall clean­ers would have needed heavy-duty mops later to deal with the blubbery, tear-stained mess.

Dean is rel­ish­ing his new­found pow­ers: ‘‘ It gives the abil­ity to com­bine vir­tu­os­ity with a whole new vista of sonic char­ac­ter­is­tics. The pos­si­bil­i­ties are end­less. They’re lim­ited only by the tech­nol­ogy and the imag­i­na­tion for what we can do with those sounds.’’

The writ­ten range of the solid-bod­ied vi­o­lin can be ex­tended with the ad­di­tion of ex­tra strings since, un­like the del­i­cate light-tim­bered ver­sion, it is not lim­ited to four.

Tognetti mod­estly stopped at six, but it can do the work of a vi­ola and cover much of the range of the cello. The in­stru­ment’s maker, David Bruce John­son, adds a sev­enth or even an eighth to some of his in­stru­ments. The E flat looks sturdy enough to moor an ocean liner and could, with some mus­cu­lar bow work, per­form some of the lighter tasks of the bass.

John­son works with Euro­pean maple, and some­times sy­camore, cedar or poplar that ar­rives in huge boards at his work­shop in Birm­ing­ham in the English West Mid­lands.

The task from there is to pare back the weight to less than 400g, the max­i­mum a

Left, a Vi­olec­tra in­stru­ment and, be­low, its maker David Bruce John­son

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