Jon Rose:   The Relative Violin


an interactive new media performance from Jon Rose

Jon Rose ... concept, interactive conductor, samples
Kaffe sampling,
Tom Demeyer interactive video
The Orchestra of Ancient Guts, Vienna.
Jim Munro and others, Vancouver.

In the 1970's I was very busy constructing violin hybrid instruments....violins joined together like siamese twins, violins with extra necks, aeolian violins with sails, a tromba marina, violin mobiles, a violin on a frame with 19 strings, a microtonal long neck violin with 16 strings, violins with fm radio broadcast systems built inside, violins with megaphones and internal amplification, etc.
I spent a lot of time looking through junk shops in Sydney buying the cheapest violins that little money could buy....violins in really bad condition would often be given to me. I became aware that most of these instruments had been made in China (notably the ´Skylark´models) and I started to imagine the factories, full of massed labouring violin makers, where these instruments were produced. Although the average professional western violin player found these instruments to be unplayable and (tone wise) unlistenable to, I took the opposite view. With their shrill tone production, they sounded closer to the er-hu (the traditional chinese two string violin) than to our model of beauty and perfection - the strad. They were in effect, the sound of Asia, the new string sound of our century! Also because of their price, I had no qualms about hacking into them with saw &drill to experiment with my own mutations and deconstructions. By invitation from The International Jazz Festival Beijing, I´ve had the opportunity twice in the 1990´s to investigate this phenomena further. On the first visit in 1994, full of optimism, I managed to visit a large instrument factory on the outskirts of Beijing...they made just about every instrument under the sun....but tragically no violins. On the second visit last year I took no chances; with help from film maker Ying Li Ma we researched the whole country looking for the violin mass production centres of the world.
A tale of woe met our enquiries. The two biggest violin factories (employer of thousands) had gone to the wall leaving behind just a few small family firms struggling to maintain the tradition. But, we were told, a brave new world of automation had recently taken over the chinese violin industry. A visit to a brand new violin factory was arranged. Imagine our excitement as we were told by the manager that they used a specially designed german steam press to ´stamp out´the belly and back plates of violins, violas, cellos, and double basses en masse... ten at a time in one hit.. Special machines were available throughout the violin process. They even had a machine that haired and tightened up the violin bow in one bow finished every 5 seconds. In the factory they made absolutely everything that goes into a violin case, including the case itself. He refused categorically to tell us how many violins the factory produced every hour. But we were clearly talking serious production here, the like of which had never been seen before. We asked, naturally enough, if we could shoot some video of this futuristic world.
Dear reader, this was a once in a lifetime chance and I tried by every means available to persuade Mr. Jin Yun Guo (the Korean boss) to indulge us. The answer was No. In fact the answer was ´No´ some three times from him, twice from central office in Korea where I sent a hurried fax explaining our humble interest, and three more times from Mrs.Kim (the general manager) to whom I sent an exhaustive letter and rang personally over the following weeks. Realising their absolute paranoia, that I was some kind of international spy determined to steal their secrets of automated violin mass production, I tried to allay their fears with the most crawling entreating letter I´ve ever written in my entire life. To no effect. I display an extract from this pitiful artifact below for your perusal. Alas our honesty and naivete had left us no possibility to prepare a hidden camera once we were on the factory premises.


So what video material will actually be shown tonight? Full credit must go to Ying Li Ma. After dealing with months of post rejective depression, she found her way to what remains of the original chinese violin making factories. In the vast ruined premises of these earlier paradigms of socialist productivity, the camera finds poignant reminders of a by gone age. Where once 100´s of workers sat, labouring away in disciplined harmony to the rousing broadcasts of revolutionary songs, now only a few dozen of the still employed struggle to keep the factory open. We thank their managements for the consideration shown to comrade Ying Li as she filmed the scattered remnants of former production glory. Yes, the new automated violins sound a lot better . Yes, we have to have enough violins for the rapidly increasing world population of violin players. Yes, they have to be made in China (everything else is these days) but No... nothing will ever replace the sheer minimalist beauty of massed RSI (repetitive strain injury). We salute the agony and ecstasy of the former thousands of violin makers in The People´s Republic of China! In the words of Mao Zedong

"The masses have a potentially inexhaustible enthusiasm for the violin. Those who can only follow the old tunes in a revolutionary period are utterly incapable of hearing this enthusiasm. They are deaf and all is silence ahead of them. Haven't we come across enough of these kinds of reactionary bureaucrats in music? Those who simply follow the status quo invariably underestimate the people's enthusiasm for the new functional violin music. Let something new appear and they always disapprove and rush to oppose it. Such people are always passively deaf, always fail to move forward at the critical moment and always have to be given a kick in the backside before they move a step." (Introductory note to 'This Township went co-operative in two years' (1955) from The Socialist Upsurge in China's Countryside ed. volume 2.)

Some (older) notes to the performance.

1. components
chamber orchestra plays repetetive 4 bar phrases like a huge human sampler (each phrase can be manipulated by Kaffe Mathews once set in motion);

live feed from internet of Suzuki class and soloist from Canada, they are mixed into the vienna performance and sampled & manipulated in real time by Kaffe mathews (they should not hear what's going on in Vienna though....too confusing);

live interactive video of members of the kammer orch on screen behind orch position, video manipulated by Tom Demeyer Steim; ( Interactive midi control of video effects from Jon, Kaffe and/or Tom) It would be great to have a video feed from Vancouver (as well as the sound) all the video components are 1. live portraits of orchestra members
2. hard disk loops of chinese workers in violin factory
3. internet images of canadian suzuki class & occasional soloist
4. maybe separate monitor runs the whole footage of Ying Li Ma's original violin factory video without sound (almost like a documentary)

interactive conductor with midi bow & pedals (controls midi string sounds, looped images of chinese workers in violin factory, and sounds of the chinese violin factory) Jon Rose; He will also direct the start and stops of the chamber orchestra 'samples'.

interactive sampling & mixing by Kaffe Mathews.

2. performance
should run for about 2 hours. There will be plenty of space/time for many inter reactive possibilities, solos, etc. VIOLIN FACTORY is more an event than a concert, the public are more witnesses than an audience. (The earlier pieces in the evening however are definitely 'concert' in concept)