There are sounds that touch the soul. Sounds that comfort, strengthen and raise us up. A good sound has charisma. Though “charis” literally means “grace,” it also means “beauty’s charm.” Finding the perfect sound has become my purpose in life – a journey that has taken me into the heart of sound. In order to set off on that journey, however, I had to leave music school and enter a school for violinmaking. To move forward, I studied physics. And to get there, I dared the impossible – to create a sound that no instrument in the world has ever produced. But my journey has not yet come to an end.
Others may have finished their journeys. Such as the great Italian violinmakers Antonio Stradivari and Joseph Guarneri del Gesù. The secrets they took with them to the grave are inimitable – even to this day. Their instruments are not just works of art valued at millions of dollars – they are being played to this day by the world’s greatest virtuosi. But how is that possible? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself since I was seven years old, when I was attending a small music school in Swabia. Music is my life. We played music at home on Sundays. I’ve played in a chamber orchestra, a hard rock band and in the pedestrian zone. We even built our own tube amp. But the rest of the time, I was at school, listening to the constant answers to questions I had never asked. That’s why I left the music school after the 10th grade and began studying to be a luthier – a violinmaker. Driving me on was a dream of building instruments with a better sound than a Stradivarius and – should I not succeed – to find out why it wasn’t possible.
Did the masters of the 18th century have some kind of secret knowledge? Or was it the wood’s aging process that gave their instruments the kind of mature sound a young instrument could never achieve? The violin originated during one of the most remarkable eras of all times. For the great masters of the Renaissance, combining art and science was just a matter of fact. It is unfathomable to think of such artistic works being created without this special attention to detail and feel for nature. It requires an environment of gifted empiricism and holistic intuition to design such highly optimized acoustical systems. In the 19th century, however, the art of violinmaking fell prey to the trade of the industrial revolution.
The guild had sold its soul. But how would I manage to reconnect to the art of sound? I first began by trying out countless of the different recipes used to make traditional varnishes. However, it soon became clear to me that the old masters would have combined science without forfeiting art – just as acoustician Helmut Müller taught me. A physics teacher at my violinmaking school, he operated a research laboratory at his acoustic consulting firm Müller-BBM. It was in his laboratory that I was able to pursue the answers to all the unresolved questions I had tortured him with for so many years.