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To Save the Sound of a Stradivarius, a Whole City Must Keep Quiet


CREMONA, Italy — Florencia Rastelli was mortified. As an expert barista, she had never spilled a single cup of coffee, she said. But last Monday, as she wiped the counter at Chiave di Bacco, the cafe where she works, she knocked over a glass and it shattered loudly on the floor.

The customers all stood still, petrified, Ms. Rastelli recalled. “I was like: Of all days, this one,” she said. “Even a police officer popped in and asked me to keep it down. I was so embarrassed.”

The people of Cremona are unusually sensitive to noise right now. The police have cordoned off streets in the usually bustling city center and traffic has been diverted. During a recent news conference, the city’s mayor, Gianluca Galimberti, implored Cremona’s citizens to avoid any sudden and unnecessary sounds.

Cremona is home to the workshops of some of the world’s finest instrument makers, including Antonio Stradivari, who in the 17th and 18th centuries produced some of the finest violins and cellos ever made. The city is getting behind an ambitious project to digitally record the sounds of the Stradivarius instruments for posterity, as well as others by Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, two other famous Cremona craftsmen. And that means being quiet.

A Stradivarius violin, viola or cello represents the pinnacle of sound engineering, and nobody has been able to replicate their unique tones.

Fausto Cacciatori, the curator of Cremona’s Museo del Violino, a museum devoted to musical instruments that is assisting with the project, said that each Stradivarius had “its own personality.” But, he added, their distinctive sounds “will inevitably change,” and could even be lost within just a few decades.

“It’s part of their life cycle,” Mr. Cacciatori said. “We preserve and restore them, but after they reach a certain age, they become too fragile to be played and they ‘go to sleep,’ so to speak.”

So that future generations won’t miss out on hearing the instruments, three sound engineers are producing the “Stradivarius Sound Bank” — a database storing all the possible tones that four instruments selected from the Museo del Violino’s collection can produce.

One of the engineers, Mattia Bersani, said that the sounds in the database could be manipulated with software to produce new recordings when the tone of the original instruments degraded. Musicians of the future would be able to “record a sonata with an instrument that will no longer function,” he said.

“This will allow my grandchildren to hear what a Strad sounded like,” said Leonardo Tedeschi, a former D.J. who came up with the idea for the project. “We are making immortal the finest instrument ever crafted.”

Throughout January, four musicians playing two violins, a viola and a cello will work through hundreds of scales and arpeggios, using different techniques with their bows, or plucking the strings. Thirty-two ultrasensitive microphones set up in the museum’s auditorium will capture the sounds.

“It’ll be physically and mentally challenging for them,” said Thomas Koritke, a sound engineer from Hamburg, Germany, who is leading the project. “They’ll have to play hundreds of thousands of individual notes and transitions for eight hours a day, six days a week, for more than a month.”

Organizing the project had also taken a long time, Mr. Koritke added. “It took us a few years to convince the museum to let us use 500-year-old stringed instruments,” he said. Then they had to find top musicians who knew the instruments inside out. Then the acoustics of the auditorium, which was designed around the sound of the instruments, had to be studied, as well.

In 2017, the engineers thought their project was finally ready to get underway. But a soundcheck revealed a major flaw.

“The streets around the auditorium are all made of cobblestone, an auditory nightmare,” Mr. Tedeschi said. The sound of a car engine, or a woman walking in high heels, produces vibrations that run underground and reverberate in the microphones, making the recording worthless, he explained. “It was either shutting down the entire area or having the project not seeing the light of day,” Mr. Tedeschi said.

Luckily for the engineers, Cremona’s mayor is also the president of the Stradivarius Foundation, the municipal body that owns the Museo del Violino. He allowed the streets around the museum to be closed for five weeks, and appealed to people in the city to keep it down.

“We are the only city in the world that preserves both the instruments and their voices,” Mr. Galimberti said. “This is an extraordinary project that looks at the future, and I’m sure people from Cremona will understand that closing the area was inevitable.”

On Jan. 7, the police cordoned off the streets. The auditorium’s ventilation and elevators were turned off. Every light bulb in the concert hall was unscrewed to eliminate a faint buzzing sound.

Upstairs in the museum, Mr. Cacciatori put on a pair of velvet gloves and took a 1615 Stradivarius viola from its glass display case. He inspected it thoroughly, and then a security guard escorted him and the instrument down two flight of stairs to the auditorium.

The curator handed the Stradivarius to Wim Janssen, a Dutch viola player, who walked to the center of the stage.

He sat on a chair in the semidarkness under a cluster of microphones. The three engineers left the hall, and took their seats in a soundproofed room beneath the hall filled with speakers and computer screens, servers and cables.

Mr. Janssen wore an earpiece, through which Mr. Koritke relayed instructions.

“Go,” Mr. Koritke whispered.

The violist played a C-major scale as the recording team watched graphs on their screens responding to the crisp sound of the instrument. Mr. Tedeschi grinned in satisfaction.

Then it happened, and they froze. “Stop for a moment, please,” Mr. Koritke said, and the violist held his position.

The engineers rewound the recording, and played it again.

Mr. Koritke heard the problem, loud and clear: “Who dropped a glass on the floor?”



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Music

Lady Gaga Apologizes for R. Kelly Collaboration: ‘I Stand Behind These Women 1000 Percent’


Lady Gaga, the pop singer and Academy Award hopeful for her role in “A Star Is Born,” became the latest musician to apologize for collaborating with R. Kelly, the R&B singer who has long been accused of sexual misconduct and preying on teenagers, after the broadcast of an explosive investigative documentary detailing the allegations against him.

In a post across her social media channels just after midnight on Thursday, Lady Gaga said she was sorry for making the song “Do What U Want” with Kelly in 2013 and pledged to remove the track from iTunes and other streaming platforms.

“I’m sorry, both for my poor judgment when I was young and for not speaking out sooner,” she wrote, citing her own trauma from being sexually assaulted. “My intention was to create something extremely defiant and provocative because I was angry and still hadn’t processed the trauma that had occurred in my own life.”

Lady Gaga, along with artists like Jay-Z and Chance the Rapper, has for years faced criticism for collaborating with Kelly, with scrutiny intensifying again as a result of the documentary, “Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired on Lifetime. (Kelly has continuously denied the allegations against him.)

[Read more about the decades of sexual abuse allegations detailed in the documentary.]

“Do What U Want” was controversial when it debuted, with many fans rejecting the collaboration based on much earlier reports about Kelly’s behavior with women. The single’s music video, which was never released, was shot and directed by the photographer Terry Richardson, who has also faced repeated accusations of sexual misconduct.

Lady Gaga previously defended the song, calling it a “natural collaboration.” At a 2013 news conference, she said, “R. Kelly and I have sometimes very untrue things written about us, so in a way this was a bond between us.”

Following the airing of the Lifetime series, Chance the Rapper apologized “to all of his survivors for working with him and for taking this long to speak out.” He added: “The truth is any of us who ever ignored the R. Kelly stories, or ever believed he was being setup/attacked by the system (as black men often are) were doing so at the detriment of black women and girls.”

[Never miss a pop music story: Get our weekly newsletter, Louder.]

Representatives for Jay-Z, who released collaborative albums with Kelly in 2002 and 2004, have declined to comment. Sony Music, which oversees Kelly’s record label, RCA, has also declined to comment on the allegations.

In her post, Lady Gaga wrote: “I stand behind these women 1000 percent, believe them, know they are suffering and in pain, and feel strongly that their voices should be heard and taken seriously.” The singer has previously spoken out about her own sexual assault at age 19. In 2015, she released “Til It Happens to You,” a ballad about sexual assault for the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which examined the issue of campus rape.

“If I could go back and have a talk with my younger self,” Lady Gaga added in her apology, “I’d tell her to go through the therapy I have since then, so that I could understand the confused post-traumatic state that I was in.”

Surviving R. Kelly,” which aired in six parts last week, covered the long history of allegations against Kelly and featured women who described being controlled or abused by him, often when they were teenagers.

“I wish that he would experience a kind of social death, and that people who still vociferously declare him innocent — or their favorite artist, or worthy of having his work separated from who he is — that they are denied that,” said dream hampton, an executive producer of the documentary.

Prosecutors in Chicago and Atlanta are now looking into the allegations against him, and have called for potential witnesses and victims to come forward.

[Laughing at R. Kelly helped us ignore the charges against him. No longer, a Times culture critic writes.]

In 1994, when Kelly was 27, he married the singer Aaliyah Haughton, who was 15 but was listed as 18 on a wedding certificate, according to Vibe Magazine. The marriage was annulled in 1995. Ms. Haughton died in a plane crash in 2001.

Kelly was also accused of having sex with a teenager in a lawsuit in 1996, and again in 2001. Both lawsuits were settled, but the journalist Jim DeRogatis, who reported on them, continued to investigate the accusations against Kelly.

In 2002, a video that appeared to show Kelly having sex with a teenage girl and urinating in her mouth was sent to Mr. DeRogatis at The Chicago Sun-Times, which reported that the footage was being investigated by the Chicago police.

Later that year, Kelly was indicted by a grand jury in Chicago for child pornography. In the more than five years it took for his case to go to trial, he continued to release popular music, including the chart-topping song “Ignition (Remix).” He was found not guilty.





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