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Understanding, Describing, and Discussing Timbre


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As a concertina newbie, one of my challenges is understanding the range of timbres that different concertinas make and how to talk about the differences. This makes it harder to understand if I've even heard concertina timbres at the ends of the spectrums. This leaves me with two questions:

 

1. What language or taxonomy do you find useful to describe concertina timbres? For example, Walker concertinas has a "mellow" to "bright" scale: https://www.wakker-concertinas.com/anglo overview.htm

 

2. Which individual specimens of instruments would you point to as examples of the poles or extremes of concertina timbres? If a good quality recording is easily available online, I would find that a really helpful resource. 

Edited by Dimble
Edited to clarify that second question refers to variations between individual instruments, not classes, types, or makes of instruments.
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That said, there are distinctive timbre differences when it comes to range.

G/D Anglo is what I mostly play, but my C/G Anglo works great too.

The timbre is quite different because the G/D plays a 4th lower than the C/G.

 

I've always wanted a brass reeded instrument because I'm guessing the the tone would be mellower than steel and perhaps also quieter.

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I have always found the description of concertina tone/timbre difficult. One way I have found of assessing and demonstrating differences in concertina sound is as follows.  This is a comparative method.  What you do is play a note on one of the concertinas and mimic its sound with your voice. While still singing the note, play the same note on the other concertina and adapt your voice to the new note.  You will find (if there was a difference) you need to change the shape of your mouth/throat to mimic the new note.  This change is mostly a matter of the size of the mouth/throat chamber.  I have surmised the need for a bigger mouth chamber means the lower harmonics dominate and a smaller chamber means the upper harmonics dominate. 

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Pretty hard to describe..

 

I would say that my Lachenal Crane, sounds very "reedy" and Oboe like.

The Wheatstone m22 I had with metal ends was very cutting, clear and nasal.

My wood Aeola, tends to be more clarinet like than my lachenal, and much less honky then the 22

 

 

In my very limited experience assessment...

Wood ends tend to have some of the highs rolled off in comparison to metal ends

Wood ends tend (imo) have more warmth in the lows and tend to sound more full, round and possibly muddier.

Metal ends to to sound clearer/ sharper

Metal ends tend to be louder.

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Trying to assign  a specific "Timbre" to any particular maker or type of concertina is useless because timbre is determined by the combined interactions of outside-end material, reed metal, frame metal, sound board wood, internal volume of bellows, volume of the reed pan, and pad chamber volume. I've had metal instruments that were screaming bright, but now have one that is soft and mellow. I once had a lovely Amboyna Aeola that would blast a bagpipe away (that's why I sold it) but also had one that was so soft and mellow that you could barely hear it when you played "quietly".

So "Timbre" can be objectively/subjectively assigned to individual instruments, but I'd be wary of any maker's claim that all their instruments were that way.

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13 minutes ago, Matthew Heumann said:

Trying to assign  a specific "Timbre" to any particular maker or type of concertina is useless because timbre is determined by the combined interactions of outside-end material, reed metal, frame metal, sound board wood, internal volume of bellows, volume of the reed pan, and pad chamber volume. I've had metal instruments that were screaming bright, but now have one that is soft and mellow. I once had a lovely Amboyna Aeola that would blast a bagpipe away (that's why I sold it) but also had one that was so soft and mellow that you could barely hear it when you played "quietly".

So "Timbre" can be objectively/subjectively assigned to individual instruments, but I'd be wary of any maker's claim that all their instruments were that way.

 

I agree that every individual specimen is going to vary.

  In the case of most concertinas, much of this is going to be affected by age and how it was kept or cared for.

 

 

That said. I would suspect that in the case of Edward Jay, where he is using composite materials through out, will be vitually identical in terms of tone and volume.

 

Edited by seanc
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1 hour ago, seanc said:

I would say that my Lachenal Crane, sounds very "reedy" and Oboe like.

 

Haha! And I said my Wheatstone bass sounds like a bassoon - until I played it sitting next to one!

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Two separate questions are being conflated to one in some of the answers above: „what is the useful language to describe the timbre” and „how and by what the actual timbre is created”.

 

The second one is quite „easy”, with the answer being „by everything”:D

 

The first one is a trickier one, because we don’t really perceive the timbre objectively. Not only from person to person, but also between pitches, even within a single instrument. I don’t have absolute pitch hearing. Feed me pure sines and I can only tell you a general octave. Give me some time with a specific instrument, and I’ll tell you the notes, because with enough practice I can recognise the individual character of each note. 

 

So, when describing the timbre, IMHO the best way is not to try to take the timbre apart into small pieces like bright, mellow, muddy, round etc… because those are useful only in a relative context: this specific concertina has a mellower tone, than that specific concertina, etc, because you’re merely labeling some audibly different qualities to another person who can also clearly hear them. You might as well say „this concertina’s timbre is more red and the other one has a colder tone” and you will be understood. A better approach is the same, that is used to describe accordion registers: by invoking the general impression of another instrument. I’m currently restoring a 70 years old accordion. It has three voices, two of which have reeds in brass frames, one has aluminum frames. The differences are clearly audible between them - one invokes memory of an organ flute stop in the upper range and leans toward a bassoon in the lower range, and the second one clearly sounds trumpet-like. That is until my wife takes out her trumpet, then it sounds nothing like a trumpet. Same goes for the other voice. I have a virtual organ set up around Organteq software. Flute and bassoon stops are not even the same family of stops and both sound completely different than my accordion.

 

One last example: as with any accordion, I can also mix voices. A mix of the basoon one with a third one, also a „trumpet-like brass” but detuned by 20 cents, commonly named „sax”, has a timbre that can be best described as a creepy circus, and I can bet most of you have now a very adequate impression of this timbre in your heads :D 

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2 hours ago, Łukasz Martynowicz said:

Two separate questions are being conflated to one in some of the answers above: „what is the useful language to describe the timbre” and „how and by what the actual timbre is created”.

 

The second one is quite „easy”, with the answer being „by everything”:D

 

The first one is a trickier one, because we don’t really perceive the timbre objectively. Not only from person to person, but also between pitches, even within a single instrument. I don’t have absolute pitch hearing. Feed me pure sines and I can only tell you a general octave. Give me some time with a specific instrument, and I’ll tell you the notes, because with enough practice I can recognise the individual character of each note. 

 

So, when describing the timbre, IMHO the best way is not to try to take the timbre apart into small pieces like bright, mellow, muddy, round etc… because those are useful only in a relative context: this specific concertina has a mellower tone, than that specific concertina, etc, because you’re merely labeling some audibly different qualities to another person who can also clearly hear them. You might as well say „this concertina’s timbre is more red and the other one has a colder tone” and you will be understood. A better approach is the same, that is used to describe accordion registers: by invoking the general impression of another instrument. I’m currently restoring a 70 years old accordion. It has three voices, two of which have reeds in brass frames, one has aluminum frames. The differences are clearly audible between them - one invokes memory of an organ flute stop in the upper range and leans toward a bassoon in the lower range, and the second one clearly sounds trumpet-like. That is until my wife takes out her trumpet, then it sounds nothing like a trumpet. Same goes for the other voice. I have a virtual organ set up around Organteq software. Flute and bassoon stops are not even the same family of stops and both sound completely different than my accordion.

 

One last example: as with any accordion, I can also mix voices. A mix of the basoon one with a third one, also a „trumpet-like brass” but detuned by 20 cents, commonly named „sax”, has a timbre that can be best described as a creepy circus, and I can bet most of you have now a very adequate impression of this timbre in your heads :D 

 

This analysis kind of reminds me of the old days when I was growing up. Many friends had big organs in their houses. I especially remember a friend that had a Conn organ with tons of little tabs/ buttons. They would be labeled, clarinet, violin, oboe, piccolo etc..

 

You'd hit one then instantly say.. How does THAT sound anything even remote like a whatever it was on the tab... What were they thinking?.
 

But I do agree that describing this is very difficult. And everyone's perception is different..  Clear vs Muddy, dark vs  bright, round vs nasal,  Great! vs Awful!, are all different for each person doing the hearing.

 

 

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On 2/6/2024 at 7:53 PM, seanc said:

 

This analysis kind of reminds me of the old days when I was growing up. Many friends had big organs in their houses. I especially remember a friend that had a Conn organ with tons of little tabs/ buttons. They would be labeled, clarinet, violin, oboe, piccolo etc..

 

You'd hit one then instantly say.. How does THAT sound anything even remote like a whatever it was on the tab... What were they thinking?.
 

But I do agree that describing this is very difficult. And everyone's perception is different..  Clear vs Muddy, dark vs  bright, round vs nasal,  Great! vs Awful!, are all different for each person doing the hearing.

 

 

Hi seanc I am so pleased that you have said this. I find it difficult to tell some of those organ stops (?) apart. They rarely sound like the instrument on the label. And sometimes the organist pulls several of them out - it rarely sounds much different, rarely better.
I thought it was just me.

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On 2/7/2024 at 7:58 PM, SIMON GABRIELOW said:

Breathy and sometimes windy😊😊😊may be description!


I propose we just quantify all of these nebulous perceptions in wine terms to just make it completely ridiculous and more unfathomable.

 

wheatsone metal ended… “earthy and fragrant”

wheatstone wood ends.. placid.. yet absurd…

jeffries.. astringent, complex  notes of purple

Lachenal strong marshmallow with notes of flannel and an orthodox finish..

 

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