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“I think best in foam,” 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 “genius award” for his violin designs, wrote about Mr. Martin’s work in the society’s newsletter, saying “the traditional violin became obsolete in early July of 2005.”

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 masters’ 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

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