All posts by Michaël Samyn

Angels in Vienna

The Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna is one of the nicest museums I have visited. We had been there before but this time the explicit reason was to study the paintings of Archangel Michael by Gerard David, Luca Giordano and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. I didn’t find the latter but the museum offered plenty compensation. The Kunsthistorisches…

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A journey through sound in Karlsruhe

Last Tuesday I visited the Siccas guitar store in Karlsruhe, Germany. And it was well worth the six hour drive from my home in Ghent, Belgium. Manuel Luchena proved a wonderful host offering me many different guitars to try and sharing lots of insights, despite my relatively low level of expertise as a classical guitar student. I made an enchanting journey through the diverse universe of sounds that different types of guitars can produce.

We started with the Hanika Natural Torres but it only took a few seconds to realize that this guitar felt too much like a factory-made instrument for my taste. I am interested in a Torres style guitar but the Hanika has nothing to do with Torres really except for its fan bracing.

I don’t know what it is exactly but an instrument made by hand by a single dedicated person just feels better. You can tell the difference by simply touching the guitar, even before hearing it. And the sound almost always proves you right. When it comes to factory-made guitars, in my albeit limited experience the cheaper models are more interesting than the high end ones. They tend to have more character.

A more interesting encounter followed with several Milestones models, designed in Germany but built in China, presumably at a fraction of the price. The Milestones Torres Relic is a surprisingly nice instrument with a sort of worn look. But I think I would outgrow it quickly as a student. I need an instrument that is both comfortable to play and challenges me to learn. And while I am looking for a shorter scale guitar to fit my small inflexible aging hands, its 630 mm is just too short. Milestones creates guitars inspired by classic designs. They’re German style guitar is great too but not exactly what I need now. I also tried the Milestones Romantica Relic. Better than the cheap romantic guitar I have at home, and with a wider neck and proper tuners, it still felt similarly limited.

 

Manuel offered me an 1840 René Lacôte romantic guitar in comparison. What a difference! Despite its smaller scale and oddities like a fretboard level with the body, this instrument does offer a variety of sounds similar to that of classical guitars.

At the complete opposite end of the spectrum, but also made in China was Yulong Guo’s Chamber Concert model. This guitar combines all the modern features in one instrument: a double top, lattice bracing, an arched back, an arm rest and an elevated fretboard. My god! The dark booming full sound that this instrument produces hardly reminds of a guitar anymore. It’s very dark and loud and a lot of fun to play but not suitable for my taste and need now. It would be wonderful to have around as a second guitar, though, to play for fun.

The only other lattice braced guitar I tried had been built by my fellow citizen Karel Dedain. I had recently played a new classical model in his Ghent studio and was curious about this one. If only because I love the idea of having a guitar from a luthier in my town. What a difference with, frankly, most of the lattice braced guitars that I’ve heard! Unlike those, this instrument is subtle and refined, it sounds and feels much more like a “real” guitar (not like a piano, e.g.), despite of the typical evenness of tone.

Back in the world of Torres, I enjoyed Marco Bortolozzo‘s copy of one of the master’s designs a lot. Assuming the odd buzzing on the second string would disappear after a while (as it does on third on virtually all guitars), this is a beautiful instrument, in part due to the pale birdseye maple sides and back which both sound and look good. Its slightly smaller body also feels very comfortable to me.

Another luthier I had been curious about ever since I started this exploration is Roy Fankhänel. And luckily Siccas had a recent model in stock! I had grown a bit sceptical about what I considered its too modern sound for my taste (as witnessed in online videos). But those reservations faded away after only the first seconds of touching the instrument. It sounds great and is very easy to play. But I feel too inexperienced for it. Which is just as well because it is quite a bit above my current budget.

So Manuel offered me a guitar that costs more than twice that much! Oh man! I can see why Hauser guitars are revered the way they are. The Hauser III is almost intimidating. Such a mature instrument! It feels like some sort of father figure. I am definitely not ready for it! I can’t even begin to describe the unique sounds that come out. And I know I don’t have what it takes to make this instrument sing. I did note how the typically flat bottom of the Hauser design fits very snugly against my right thigh. Nice!

Also from Germany but very different, was the guitar built by Cornelia Traudt. A very unique instrument with oddly thin basses and clear trebles. It felt as if the volume increases as you go down the strings. Peculiar. Interesting.

As we were deviating from the purchase path into an exploration of sound, Manuel handed me a John Ray encouraging me to appreciate what he called the dry sound of guitars made in Granada. As he noticed I wasn’t completely convinced, he gave me a Eduardo Durán Ferrer guitar, also built in Granada. Wow! Playing it feels like warm weather! Sitting in the sun. I can see what he means by dry now. Somewhat shorter sustain than what I’m used to but beautiful in its own way. This guitar also had a very thin D-shaped neck profile which worked really well with my (bad) habbit of resting on the tip of my left thumb.

To make the comparison with Madrid he first let me taste a Granada-built cedar top guitar (so far we had only tried spruce tops, because that’s what I’m interested in at the moment). Still “dry” despite of a slightly longer sustain. But the difference with the cedar-topped Bernabé Concierto is remarkable indeed! The guitar from Madrid sounds much more like the classical guitar that I’m familiar with: rich, round, versatile. But that doesn’t make it better. And that was the most interesting outcome of this journey for me: that there’s many different types of guitars and that many sound interesting for one or another reason, without one being particularly better than the other (with the possible exception of the Fankhänel and the Hauser that I don’t feel experienced enough to judge yet).

To experience all these sounds first hand, has been a true joy. And I feel so much better informed now. I’m also secretly proud that my fellow citizen’s work holds its own even among that of so many other great artisans.

―Michaël Samyn.

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Synthetic Image research in February

The central event of this week’s work on The Synthetic Image was a visit to the Louvre museum in Paris. Intended to study the two paintings of Archangel Michael by Raphael, the hours spent roaming the endless museum halls also inspired a great many ideas. More about that here. To prepare for the visit I…

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Raphael’s archangels and Louvre inspirations

The two paintings of the Archangel Michael by Raphael were the direct reason for wanting to visit the Louvre again. Paris being only two hours away from our home, I travel there regularly. But Raphael hadn’t moved me much in the past. And seeing the two paintings in person didn’t blow me away this time…

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The Endless Forest multiplayer in Unreal

The Unreal Forest: step 1

We have made quite a bit of progress in the past few weeks with the remake of The Endless Forest in the Unreal Engine. Thanks to the generous support of many of you, we can make this work our highest priority. We are continuing to raise funds to support this project. You have almost collected…

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Synthetic Image research in January

The first week I had reserved for The Synthetic Image research project sadly suffered from several unwelcome distractions and interruptions. Excessive rainfall had caused clogged drains in our new home that took two days to investigate and repair. Our car had a flat tire that needed to be fixed. I had to do some accounting…

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Carlo Crivelli’s Saint Michael

Carlo Crivelli: Saint Michael (about 1476) 90.5 x 26.5 cm tempera on poplar currently in the National Gallery in London This analysis was done on 18 January 2017 based on photographic reproductions found on the internet. One of 4 panels from an altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, a town in the Marche region in East Italy…

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Diorama of Archangel Michael

The choice of Archangel Michael as subject of my diorama is obvious: he is my patron saint since I carry the same name (although my atheist parents named my after the Florentine renaissance master Michelangelo Buonarroti). As a result I have always been fascinated by depictions of the archangel. Historical depictions Archangel Michael is most…

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New Year’s resolution

I like traditions. So I use the beginning of a new year to resolve to try out something for a year, to see if it improves my life. I’m pretty good at sticking to these resolutions. 2016 Last year I decided to not consult any news sources. In the beginning that included Twitter but I…

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Every poem is a cathedral

Notes scribbled down in a small notebook while visiting the Louvre in Paris with a feverish head last week. There is a place underneath everything where nothing has a function, where everything exists without reason or purpose. Pure joy of being. Art, when it is beautiful, connects to that place. Truth is absence of meaning….

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