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Michel Leiris


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Birthday fiddle

The unfamiliar world instruments story continues... For my birthday last week, Ellen and Sylvia gave me a dilruba, northern Indian fiddle with a neck similar to a sitar's neck (although the sound is pretty different from a sitar's).

An unusual thing about this instrument: Its bowl body is carved from a block of wood, not separate ribs bent and glued together. It is pretty heavy, but easy to hold since it rests on the floor. The bow ("gaz") is horsehair strung on bamboo, much tighter than the hair on a violin bow and without the mechanics -- the frog is just a piece of wood attached to the bow with twine, and does not tighten/loosen. The gaz is light as a feather and balanced perfectly. Bowing technique is very key; it is easy to just produce a dissonant scratching/buzzing tone if you are not holding the gaz just right. (Holding it right so the note rings, there is still a scratch/buzz element to the sound, but it does not overwhelm.)

The dilruba ("दिलरुबा‬" in Hindi means "heart-stealer") has in common with the erhu, that there is no fingerboard; strings are stopped with just the finger rather than pressed between the finger and something solid. Although the frets are exactly like a sitar's frets, you don't press the string against the fret. I've found the clearest and truest tone comes from fingering the side of the string -- this way you can touch the fret to keep your finger accurately positioned, and can stop the string without bending it.

Here is a recording of "Country Honk":

posted morning of Sunday, May 22nd, 2016
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(Started using the violin bow instead of the gaz -- I'm a bit split on this, the tone is quite different and not sure which tone is preferable. The hand position with the bow is more natural.)

posted afternoon of June 4th, 2016 by The Modesto Kid

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