Turn on/off the embedded sound - Some of the Violin's Relatives in this mix from the Rosenberg Museum, Alice Springs, 2022

the violin's relatives

bowed strings from around the world

It was Martin Davidson (Emanem Records) who, back in the 1980s on hearing about my Relative Violin project, sent me a cassette with the title The Violin’s Relatives. From his substantial collection of recorded music, he had created a mix tape of stunningly varied bowed string music from around the world - including a number of pieces played on ubiquitous two-string fiddles that seem to have a universal pedigree and appeal.

Prior to that, in 1975 while I was working in London, the Arab oil-rich states (in a time of oil crisis) had decided to show off to their former colonisers with a series of extravagant exhibitions featuring Islamic culture (a gold domed mosque in Hyde Park was also on the agenda). I attended an exhibition of Islamic music and musical instruments. A vast smorgasbord of bowed and plucked instruments were there to be enjoyed; these instruments had just been collected in the year prior and mainly originated from around the rim of the Mediterranean.

Amongst the classical instruments were many of dubious parentage with immaculately carved scrolls and necks stuck into gourds, petrol cans, coconut shells, lumps of chiselled out driftwood, packing cases, Coke bottles - in fact, almost anything that could act as a resonating chamber and was easily (freely) available.

From the Rosenberg Museum Bow Collection. The wide variety of materials, styles, and innovation mirrors the instruments themselves.

Design and material came with little in the way of specific rules - just practical and aesthetic application. To someone like me who had lived through a rigid violin education, this was a revelation. The violin had been offered to me as a given fixed artefact, immutable. With the historically informed movement in classical music, this tendency has lightened up somewhat, but compared to the Islamic tradition, not much.

The often confusing nomenclature of the violin’s relatives underlines the intercultural flexibility.

For example, in the Rosenberg Museum we have two one-string ‘Horse Head’ fiddles - one instrument being a half-size version of the other. Although they may well have arrived in Europe with Asian horsemen, these instruments are supposedly not related to the Morin Khuur, which is a Mongolian Horse Head bowed instrument usually fitted with two strings. However, our Horse Heads go by the name gusle and are claimed as Balkan instruments - and gusle is very close to husle which is the Slovakian name for a regular violin and a whole other ballgame. You can see the problem? Then there are a host of lyras, and lyres, let alone all the rebabs, rababs, rebecs, rubabs, rebebs, ribels, rebels, rababas, and rhubarbs (I made the last one up). These instruments may come from around the world but this is NOT world music, it is an investigation into how bowed strings and resonators from diverse traditions might talk to each other through the process of improvisation.

A Balkan Horse Head Fiddle or Gusle and a Moroccan Rebab

Is it a horse's head or a goat’s head? A Lahute is resident in the Rosenberg Museum and is claimed by the Kosovar Albanians as the oldest string instrument of Europe. Our exemplar is missing the goat’s head but has a unique string, consisting as it does of nylon threads and regular string joined in the middle with a large key ring. Regarding the goat, I suggest readers refer to Rosenberg 3.0 - not violin music, The Origin of the Wheeling Goat. There you’ll find useful musicological research as to 'playing the goat', 'on the goat', ‘splitting the goat’, and 'milking the goat' - something of a Greek 'tragedy' (the orignal meaning of which was goat song).

Regarding strings with interruptions in their physical continuity, I refer the reader to the traditional practice of Romany cello, double bass, and gardon players in tying knots in their strings - the latter being beaten with a heavy stick, not a bow. The bowed sound produced is akin to ring modulation. As to what kind of knot yielding what kind of modulation? This knowledge is yet to be researched.

A mix of some these Violin's Relatives is available at the top of the page, but I suggest you make your own mix, match or shuffle as they all talk to each other in various ways - the Lahute goes with almost anything. Warning...playing more than three tracks at a time could do your head in! All instruments were played by Jon Rose in The Rosenberg Museum.

© Jon Rose 2022


Turn audio on/off - Balkan Gusle or Horse Head Fiddle. The recording switches between major and minor modes.

Turn audio on/off - Egyptian Rabab or Spiked Fiddle. More tonal ambiguity.

Turn audio on/off - Albanian Lahute. This recording incorporates bowed rhythms and a modulated tone (caused by interrupted string with a key ring).

Turn audio on/off - Chinese Er-Hu. The only instrument in the collection where the bow hair is threaded between the strings - notable for speed and a very wide vibrato.

Turn audio on/off - The Australian Tinolin. This little number was more likely to have been seen and heard outback with renditions of 'Click go the Sheers' than the music I have produced with it!

Turn audio on/off - The Bulgarian Gadulka. With massed sympathetic strings.

Turn audio on/off - The Vietnamese Đàn Goong. The Rotating Bamboo Zither has been fitted with additional housing and crank (audible clonks). This comes Curtesy of Daran who placed the instrument hanging on the wall of his music shop in Alice Springs for years...before I turned up.

Turn audio on/off - The Cretan Lyra. The second half of the recording is played with a hand held motorised wheel bow.

Turn audio on/off - The Turkish Kabak.

Turn audio on/off - The Moroccan Guibri or Lotar. Bowed gut strings at their most exquisite.

What's New

April 2022
'Honey Ants' - New and Experimental Music Album from Alice Springs featuring Luiz Gubeissi and Jon Rose on Thödol Records.
Nîmes, France
May 2021
'State of Play' titles my double album featuring duo improvisations and recent projects with a cast of great collaborators...out now!
ReR Recommended Records, London
September 2021
'Corrugations' heralds a new music series starting in Alice Springs - we just moved into a new house here big enough to hold the Rosenberg Museum and performances.
Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia
May - October 2021
'Whistling in the Dark' embraces a set of duets between various pied butcherbirds (from field recordings in outback Australia) and virtuosic human musicians (in home lockdown) performing transcriptions of this extraordinary avian music.
On Line Project available September
November 2021 - Premiere
'Mendel's Mix' - A commission for Brno Contemporary Orchestra. Finally after many Covid-19 delays, the work is performed. Inspired by the 'father' of genetics, Johann Gregor Mendel, and based on the structure of DNA, you can mix your own version here.
Brno, Czech Republic
Latest Stuff
A Cretan Lyra and a Bulgarian Gadulka. Both featured sound files on this page.
The Albanian Lahute (with a Keyring joining the two-part string) and The Egyptian Rabab (Spiked Fiddle)
The Turkish Kabak and The Moroccan Guibri or Lotar. Depending on cultural and nationalistic claims, the Turkish Kabak can also be considered part of the Persian Kemancheh line
The Australian Tinolin. The tin has turned black with time, but the sound remains.
The Vietnamese Rotating Bamboo Zither (Đàn Goong). I've added housing and crank for higher speed rotation.
A Chinese Er-Hu and a Sanxian, plus another Balkan Horse Head Fiddle (all stringless)
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