â€œI think best in foam,â€ Douglas Martin said as he sorted through a heap of pink violin-shaped slabs in the kitchen-cum-workshop of his snug colonial house in southern Maine.
Each piece of foam was a template for an experimental instrument he had built or was preparing to build, but none used the traditional spruce and maple favored through most of the hallowed 500-year history of the violin.
Joseph Curtin, a director of the workshop and a builder from Ann Arbor, Mich., who received a 2005 MacArthur Foundation â€œgenius awardâ€ for his violin designs, wrote about Mr. Martinâ€™s work in the societyâ€™s newsletter, saying â€œthe traditional violin became obsolete in early July of 2005.â€
In an interview, Mr. Curtin said that was only partly a playful exaggeration. It will be a long time before balsa and graphite become the materials of choice, he said. But he added that Mr. Martin and other experimenters were legitimately challenging longstanding notions of what makes a great acoustic instrument, and whether past mastersâ€™ work represents a sonic pinnacle or merely the best that could be achieved with traditional materials.
Rest of article is available at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/28/science/28acou.html?pagewanted=2