Traditional Fiddle Tone

Traditional Fiddle Tone

In a recent thread about trad tunes being played by an eclectic Hasidic fiddler I asked about his tone. First I want to thank the fiddlers who responded. In particular Jim Dorans, but also the lot of you. Second I want to post the fiddler (Daniel Ahaviel) on a clip which has a better sound mix than the first thing I ever heard from Daniel. Jim Dorans surmised that the player’s tone is probably fine though he (Jim) could not find a solo recording. Here is the clip ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CYEM7wfVUz8


Again, I’m not a fiddler but I would say his tone is fine for most of the performance. I might even consider his playing superb. My question this time is about Daniel’s tone in one segment of the clip. It’s from 1m49s - 2m35s
OK it’s not Irish. But I think it might be considered a traditional style, which is why I’m asking here.

To set up my question I’ll lead in with tone in Irish playing styles. It’s different in contrast to other styles which can make it difficult to move between styles, also difficult to appreciate unfamiliar (less familiar) styles, rhythms, techniques & *tone*. My point about Irish trad is we all have some familiarity with it’s styles…etc.

My question: In the time segment (1m49s - 2m35s) I hear changes in his tone, bowing, a bit of haste or quickening but don’t know if it might all be in the style of his traditional playing intended to go with his movements; is it? Is there possibly a reason why what sounds like a loss of good tone in places is because the style (Hassidic dance?) calls for everything you see, hear and feel? Make no mistake I think the tone suffers in certain places during his dance. In fairness my flute tone would be apalling if I had to play anything while moving as he does.

The final part of my OP is about the challenge of appreciation for things like trad tone. Even within Irish traditional music some of us are constantly developing that appreciation and I for one have questions.

Thanks in advance!
AB

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As I posted on that other thread, my sense is that the “Irish medley” clip was a bad example of Ahaviel’s playing. He apparently enjoys it, regardless of his tone. Beyond that, I’m not at all interested in discussing Ahaviel’s fiddling.

As for fiddle tone in Irish trad, there is no one tone. Listen to fiddlers past and contemporary and you’ll hear quite a range. In the old days, they used either gut or steel strings, which clearly influenced tone. Now there are more choices, and many fiddlers can afford high-end instruments.

The oft-heard stereotype is that Irish fiddlers like fiddles with a “warm” or “dark” tone. That may be true in many cases. Or not.

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I think his tone is fine throughout. As I said earlier, you can’t really evaluate tone properly with that level of volume from the accompaniment, but he’s doing fine, imo. He plays the Czardas by Monti, and there’s a few different tones and types of attack required in that piece, and he seems to do them quite well. I’m not a fan of fiddling and dancing around at the same time, as I think it’s unnecessary, but it’s his choice.

As for tone in Irish fiddling, as gimpy said, there’s no one tone. If you consider all the greats of today and yesterday, there’s sweet, mellow, powerful, gutsy, strident, harsh, all the way through to real scrapy, but from what I can glean from trad listeners is that the power of delivery, rhythm, pulse, beat, and “nyahh” are more important than the tone itself. A highly subjective minefield it is too.

I’ll leave it there, because in the past I elaborated, made comparisons, opined, and got my arse well and truly reamed for it 🙂

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Interesting your saying fiddling and dancing isn’t necessary, Jim. I’m trying to think of when it happens with Irish music and it’s probably not something which happens in most, if any, sessions. Playing with dancers is very much part of Irish music traditionally. And many here have played for dance but they don’t dance while playing. I never thought of it as unnecessary, except for having the necessary coordination to do both at the same time. On the other hand there’s no reason I can think of not to dance and play tunes if you are good enough at both at the same time; depending on the circumstances. Not suggesting it for Irish session I just hadn’t considered it.

Thanks Jim & gimpy!

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Music is expressive, yes? So good fiddlers use different tones to express different feelings, moods, qualities, etc. (If Ahaviel was hoping to express “frenzy” in that one clip, he did it quite well. Some of his other clips sound fine…he’s obviously an adept fiddler. I just don’t like anything about that Irish medley clip. I’m not a big fan either of the heavy distortion Ashley MacIsaac uses on some recordings, but I enjoy his trad playing, even (especially) when he gets aggressive with the bow. It’s great that musicians can experiment with such a wide range of sounds, but I don’t have to like all of it.)

A.M. Distortion:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAk3S-FRsvs


A.M. Trad:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4mATVgE2_KI



I’ve posted the following clip before, but it applies here, too. Listen as the mood changes throughout, thanks to Martin’s use of tone, pace, density of ornamentation, dynamics, etc. Mostly, the tone is clean and clear, but at times it whispers, or pierces, or lulls, or goes gritty and coarse (particularly when he attacks from off the string, plays drones, etc.). If you don’t have half an hour (it’s worth the time), skip around through the track—you’ll hear all the above and more.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nl_xmIIU3Hw&list=OLAK5uy_kzqeh5lwjoD7-LvFVvHHOoKGsEVtBaYqE


Some fiddlers use a lot less variation in tone through a set, or in general, and a lot may depend on whether you’re on stage or in a session. Sometimes it’s good to simply blend in, other times you can really give a set or session a boost with a small dose of “big” tone or gritty tone.

AB, since you don’t play fiddle, it may help to understand that tone production with a bow on strings is a continuous dance of bow speed and bow pressure, always balancing the two off each other, always making micro-adjustments to get the subtlety of the sound you want. It’s not unlike the breath speed and pressure dance you do on flute or whistle, just different mechanics.

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LOL, this thread’s drifting faster than a Toyota Supra Turbo in Fast and Furious, but for fiddling while dancing (or vice versa 😉 ) have a listen to April Verch, who’s as natural as they get. (As an old man, my “dancing” looks about like April trying to hold still when she’s just fiddling.) Yes, it’s showbiz, but she’s been on stage since she was 3. Fiddling/dancing simultaneously starts at 4:21:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cle65sWOvt0

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Gimpy, thanks for the dissertation on tone and fiddle sound production. I am not *missing* anything in the description of this as you’re presenting it. As to the impetus for my bringing up fiddle tone it comes down to intention. Tone is not about one right way, of course it is not. However the quality of a player’s tone should not be divorced ‘from the player’s intention’. My observation and questions come down to only one thing, "are certain bits of a given musician’s playing intentional relative to their traditional style or are *a few of those bits* not?

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“are certain bits of a given musician’s playing intentional relative to their traditional style or are *a few of those bits* not?"

Hmmm. Only the musician herself/himself can know that, eh?

Not sure I’m fully understanding you. But the only insight I can offer is that, when everything’s clicking, what comes out of my fiddle follows the sound I hear in my head, in flight, spur of the moment, reflexively. It’s not mechanical. So yes, it’s intentional, but also closer to subconscious than conscious. I suspect most people who’ve played for decades would say pretty much the same thing. You imagine the music in your head and your bow hand and left fingers work their magic to make it happen.

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Sorry to stump you, Gimpy. I don’t think it’s limited to what is in the players head. Intention here is a reflection of the style of playing and that comes from what the tradition is expressing in those bits. Each player has their individual interpretation, abilities (and personal expression. Yet the bits I’m asking about are intentional *if* they are in-the-style of the tradition. Sorry to be so nebulous & wordy but in the example from my original post I have no idea if the bits are intentional or perhaps Daniel Ahaviel is rushing through them because ‘the show must go on’. One is in honour to a traditional style of playing in which I am not immersed. The other has shortcuts.

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EDIT:

Traditional Irish fiddle tone varies, traditional klezmer fiddle tone varies, the definition of “superb” varies.

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Undoubtedly a brilliant violinist but a bit demented too. Here are three very accomplished musicians based in Tel Aviv, I think. The Bloomers probably take their name from Joyce’s famous character.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qlhW1d_zMo

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I have always thought that exuberant and energetic and really great playing, can often sound bad on recordings, particularly if it’s gone through unthoughtful effects or post-processing. I have experienced many times, being in the room with a player who is just killing it with the energy, and for the recording to make the playing just sound very rough.

I don’t think the recording is the truth, it’s an ongoing problem with recording that it cannot capture that energy even close to what it’s like to being in the same room or better yet, right next to a good musician. Recording can however do other things for experience of music which are of great value, and I just believe its different kind of experience, with different aspects to appreciate and attend to.

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What I hear in the section of the performance that Ben highlighted is some overmodulation in the electric fiddle, which seems to have degraded the sound. He is really digging in with the bow there, and the electric fiddle pickup may not have had the dynamic range to match the fiddle’s acoustic output so it fell a bit short. It may not have been fixable from the sound board. But nice to hear some examples of a style of fiddling I hadn’t encountered in awhile!

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OMG! Thank you jond I appreciate your observation and response. FWIW (in that section) I think what you describe may have happened at points between 1m53s - 2m01s & again 2m19s - 2m36s. 😉

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funny thing happened at a local contra dance a few years back. i was skipping a dance to catch my breath and some new dancer asks me “how come these fiddlers are playing out of tune?”. Mind you, both fiddlers are excellent and would dance your feet off without breaking a sweat.

But the comment was bang on. Their tone is not the modern tone of “irish tunes played on classical violin” (as defined by the Bloomers video and which seems to be the standard for modern over-produced, heavily photoshopped irish music).

Our fiddlers fiddling is old-school, closer to scratchy fiddling on 1970-ies LPs, closer to Bruce Molsky and other “folk” fiddling than to the modern perfection of Eileen Ivers, Liz Carroll & co. (happily, to my ear, Kevin Burke & co sit somewhere in the middle between the two).

So I would say, definitely between 1990-ies and now there is a shift in acceptable/accepted/standard/preferred/etc tone of fiddle playing. (some people
would say that fiddling got better, better tone, better intonation).

Then there is the distorted electric fiddling of loud rock-and-roll bands. From 1970-ies "I can barely
tell what tune they play" (Fairport convention & etc) to absolute perfection of late 2000-th Eluveitie (better electronics, that’s all there is to it, really), there is also a definite shift. (again, some people would say fiddling got better, better tone, better distortion, better eq, better mixing).

But do these improvements translate to “better musical experience”? not necessarily. I listen to the 1890-ies wax cylinders, sound quiality is nah, tone is nah, but my feet start dancing. “better is the enemy of the good”.

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I once heard that Glen Gould the pianist used to enjoy listening and playing music with noisy appliances on in the background. One of the things with old recordings and live recordings that are not perfect quality (I.e raw and not from the mixing board) is that the brain ends up having more freedom to construct the experience rather than being tied to what’s clearly perceptible. It’s like you can unconsciously project more of what moves you personally into the recording, as the loss of clarity creates space for that. It’s common in much art to introduce opacity for this sort effect and yet with recording there is often a striving for as perfect reproduction as possible, or something very clean where all nuances are brought out and can be heard perfectly. I am not against this at all but it’s interesting that in some ways it’s completely unnecessary for capturing a good experience of the music itself.

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mandocello8, I’m with you on this. Before modern tone and intonation influenced Irish fiddlers, there was an older, different sense of tone and intonation (so-called sweetened notes, more microtones) that gave the sound a sometimes singing quality, sometimes wistful, often lonesome. Draiocht.

You can hear it in those early wax recordings, but also in players as recent as Johnny Doherty, Junior Crehan, Paddy Canny, and Bobby Casey. With that tone also came an Irish sense of pulse, phrasing, of nyah, and a degree of wildness.

My sense (from reading interviews with Irish musicians alive in the earlier half of the 20th century) is that these expressive qualities in the music came straight out of the players’ lives, and drew on both the solitude and quiet (relative to today) of life in rural Ireland, and also from the depth of community in that time. Today’s musicians can also draw on those inspirations, but it’s changed—no place is as remote or isolated as much of west Ireland was pre-1950s, and world influences have seeped into every inch of life. This is true everywhere, not just Ireland.

Few would want to return to those years of isolation, poverty, and constrained circumstances, but it’s not just a “romantic” fantasy to note that something has been lost to “progress” and integration with the outside world. And you can hear it in the music.

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Jamesa, interesting points. Even in more modern recordings I prefer the real-life “clutter” in albums like Music at Matt Molloy’s, the pub tracks on Pathway to the Well, and even the audience interaction on Hayes and Cahill’s Live in Seattle.

Studio recordings tend to be scrubbed clean of any of the “imperfections” that make music sound human and personal. And the musicians themselves strive for perfection. Beyond the blandness of such music, the whole mindset ripples out and persuades all of us to play more carefully and cleanly, with nothing less that perfect intonation, never the stray note, always smooth, clean tone, etc. So instead of expressing emotion through raw music, we’re all playing with restraint, sacrificing heart in the name of avoiding “mistakes” or sounding too rough. Bleh.

The focus on clean over heart is so pervasive that many musicians don’t seem to realize what they’re missing out on.

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“Jim, it would be great to see a description on that track if you have time to edit one.”

@AB - done, thanks for the reminder,