Scientist reveals how the light gets in

Guadagnini violin
A Guadagnini violin

I couldn’t let this pass unremarked.  The title of this blog was inspired, of course, by Leonard Cohen’s ‘Anthem’ with its chorus:

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

An editorial in today’s Guardian notes that scientists in Trieste have discovered that the reason why Guadagnini violins produce such exceptional sound is because:

the tiny irregularities introduced in its construction that give it an edge over symmetrical instruments. In other words, its perfection comes from its imperfection.

The explanation comes in a report in the Telegraph two days ago in which Dr Franco Zanini, a physicist and amateur violinist who examined the violin at a laboratory in Trieste, explained:

We noticed there were a lot of asymmetries in the instruments. In principle they have no reason to be there, but it is possible these imperfections were made to remove the unpleasant harmonics that you get in symmetrical instruments.

The Telegraph account continued:

In the Guadagnini violin [Zanini] studied, he found two patches on the top plate of the violin while part of the bass bar had been removed and glued onto another patch. Two small insect holes was also seen on the top plate while a crack was visible on the underside.  He believes that produces imbalances in the construction and thickness of the wood helped to produce an effect known as harmonic rejection – where harsh unwanted harmonics that can make note sound unpleasant are removed by the resonance of the wood.

So now the truth revealed in Leonard Cohen’s lyric of hope is scientifically proven: things may be crap, systems and structures broken, but the crack is how the light gets in. We may be battered, ripped off and exploited; war and corruption may turn beliefs to dust, but each new day the birds will sing and love will come, if as a refugee. In the teeth of adversity and ugliness, there is still beauty.

The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will

be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.

We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
The widowhood
of every government –
signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more
with that lawless crowd
while the killers in high places
say their prayers out loud.
But they’ve summoned up
a thundercloud
and they’re going to hear from me.

You can add up the parts
but you won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march,
there is no drum
Every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Here’s a version by Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla: