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 Post subject: Flute timber collection
PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2018 1:59 am 
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Anyone remember Felix Skowronek?

Felix Skowronek, a native of Seattle, was a graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music and performed as a principle flute with the Seattle, Puerto Rico, and St. Louis Symphonies. A co-founder of the Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet, with which he recorded and toured widely, he has through extended research become an authority on the use of foreign and domestic hardwoods for flute and woodwind-instrument manufacture. Professor Skowronek was Founding President of the Seattle Flute Society (1979 - 1982), President of the National Flute Association (1986) and in July of 1994 was named Associate Director for Performance and Public Affairs of the University of Washington School of Music.

I met Felix here in Australia in I believe 1988. I think our Forestry people probably put him in touch with me. He was collecting wood samples particularly from the goldfields areas of Western Australia, where the dry arid conditions were right for producing dense timbers. From memory, his surname was pronounced with a v, rather than the written w.

Felix died about 10 years ago, but his collection of timber samples and his "meticulous notes" about them are still extent, and I understand are now stored in Missouri. I've been contacted by a specialist timber merchant in regard to what should/could happen to them. I've asked them to come back with an estimate how many species are in the collection, and how much timber all up, in order to get some sense of scale to the operation. And to see if they have any prefixed notions of what would be an acceptable fate for them. They have undertaken to get back to me sometime in the month or so ahead, when they get back from travelling.

Purpose of this note is to alert those potentially interested (if you haven't already heard through other approaches). Given the location, a US maker would seem to be in a better position to deal with it than others. I'll update this thread when I hear more. If you have any questions you'd like me to pose to the dealer, let me know either via this thread or at terry@mcgee-flutes.com


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2018 8:16 am 
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I knew Felix and had some great conversations for years. He was big into Mountain Mahogany.

I am very interested in the wood samples - these could be very useful for the CITES inspectors I and other makers have to work with. They asked if I could help get some wood samples for ID purposes, and have a good sample library.

Have sent an email to you regarding this.

Casey

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2018 9:41 pm 
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Thanks Casey, I'll keep you in touch.

It will be interesting to see if they can supply a species list, as that might help identify the best use for it. For example, if the timbers are all pretty weird, then it might not help your CITES people. But if it contains lots of the more typical timbers, that's quite a different thing. Also will be interesting to see the amounts. CITES or say a forestry school would probably only need small samples, whereas we would need enough to build at least one flute. If not that much, perhaps a maker of heads for Boehm flutes could be interested. And if there are timbers that fit the technical requirements but look boring, then beginner makers might find them useful to practice on. Time will tell.

It would be a nice outcome if Felix's work researching and collecting them yielded something of lasting value.


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2018 10:10 pm 
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They could use all species so they don't mistake one that isn't for a CITES protected species.

Casey\

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 1:40 am 
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Any idea of how they plan to identify timbers? Back in the 80's, I had a fair bit to do with ANU Forestry, as I learned about timbers and identification. From memory at the time, they relied on taking an ultra-thin slice of end grain and examining it under the microscope with through-lighting. Can't see that really being practical with flutes!

"Excuse me madam, while I take a small slice off the end of your flute. Oh, she's fainted!"

Frequent flying flutes would end up sharper! (No, only kidding!)

But I wonder how they would prove a disputed flute is blackwood and not a similarly dark wood like ebony? Just comparing my blackwood flute to an original Nicholson and an original Potter (both presumably in Ebony), there's not much in it!


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 4:43 am 
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If I may jump in.

Last time I asked Casey that question he said, and I quote, "I don't have a clue and don't really want to know this!"

So, I present to you, what I've found.

Here is the Canadian guide to identifying timbers, I will summarize what I've read of it below: https://cites.unia.es/file.php/1/files/ ... _Guide.pdf.
(Preface: I have nothing to do with CITES, I am only interested in this because I am ordering a Mopane flute from a certain Austrailian flutemaker and hoping he will ship it soon with proper identification so doesn't get mistaken for something else. :) )

I believe each country has probably developed their own material for CITES as the Identification Manual provided by the CITES International Body is too broad and undeveloped (https://www.cites.org/eng/resources/wiki_id.php).

The Canadian Guide:
The Canadian guide is intended for use by non-experts. In the event that the user suspects the wood to be in CITES violation, or if it is hard to distinguish from other woods, an Expert is required to confirm the species. I should also mention that the guide seems long, but part of that is because it is in 3 languages... so if someone prints it indiscriminately, you'll have it in English, French, and Spanish.

There are several flow-charts for different scenarios:
1) Tropical Wood with a permit
2) How to Verify a Cites Permit
3) How to identify wood without a permit (identifying whether or not it requires a permit)... In this instance, they check the bill of lading and/or invoice with the wood and compare it with the wood to verify that the specimen matches the photos.

There is also an identification process, but the guide states: "You should also be aware that the identification technique can be used to identify logs and lumber but not veneer, plywood and most products (e.g., guitars) or derivatives."

In the identification process you:
1: "Find the transverse section."
2: "Trim a small surface on the transverse section."
3: "Study the trimmed surface with a hand lens."
4: "Verify the presence or absence of pores (holes) and compare to photos in the simplified key."
5: "Consult the descriptive page for the species and verify that your specimen matches the features described."
6: "Consult one of the following pages [the flow-charts mentioned above]"
[Then images of some tropical woods at 14x magnification are displayed.]

So yes there is still a practice of trimming wood in Canada, but I suspect that is primarily done with logs and lumber, and not flutes and guitars. Unfortunately, the guide doesn't talk more about identifying finished products.

But at least for me, it was helpful to read that when a violation is suspected, the product is then passed on to a professional to confirm or deny.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 5:47 am 
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Thanks, Aaron

OK, so the same process used way back when. A "transverse section" being what we woodies call "end-grain".

Heh heh, "study the trimmed surface with a hand lens" and compare to the 14X reference images. A typical hand lens has a magnification around 2 or 3! A loupe (x10, x20) would be better, but even so...

Hmmm, I examined the end of my (blackwood) flute with the ends of the Potter and Nicholson flutes (I'm assuming ebony given the period) (just using reflected light as I didn't want to take a slice!). I used the stereo zoom microscope at full magnification (x45). Pretty hard to see any differences, and the two ebony flutes look as different from each other as either of them to the blackwood. I guess I'm seeing differences in the growing conditions of the two examples, and perhaps differences in the manufacture (tooling) and treatment (polishing, subsequent oiling, etc) of the instruments. I think the process they describe is only going to be relevant to raw, untreated timbers. And hand lenses would only be adequate for coarse timbers like pines and maybe as far as the softer furniture timbers, none of which would make a good flute.

I wonder what the "expert" or "professional" is going to make of this?

I reckon we're talking something like CAT scanners, not hand lenses. (Trying to think of other technologies. NMR? Mass Spectrometry? Gas Chromatography?)

"Sorry Madam. We pulverised your flute and ran it through the gas chromatograph. You were right, it was ebony...."

Now we shouldn't translate my doubts about methodology into meaning I don't agree with attempts to conserve the species. I think an important part of any process is to question it. But, and it's a big but, what alternative identification process could we recommend?

My feeling is that they should be looking to regulate fresh supplies of timber leaving Africa, not worrying about the trees that are already long dead. Discuss.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 11:18 am 
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Terry McGee wrote:
My feeling is that they should be looking to regulate fresh supplies of timber leaving Africa, not worrying about the trees that are already long dead. Discuss.
Fresh supplies of timber leaving Africa might only be recently dead. Still dead.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 1:04 pm 
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Hmm. One of these new stereoscopic eyepieceless inspection 'scopes might help. Polarized light, LED light sources, flourescing light, sidelighting, all might help, as well. I am sure the microscope nerds will have a field day.
Bob

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 2:34 pm 
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Terry,

If you need an ambassador at any point, let me know. I live in Missouri (St. Louis) and would be happy to help should the need arise.

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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 5:03 pm 
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kkrell wrote:
Terry McGee wrote:
My feeling is that they should be looking to regulate fresh supplies of timber leaving Africa, not worrying about the trees that are already long dead. Discuss.
Fresh supplies of timber leaving Africa might only be recently dead. Still dead.


Heh heh, true. But at least at that point you should be able to trace the stuff back to the harvesters if not presented with appropriate documentation. And talk quite sternly to them.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 5:05 pm 
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Hack with a Flute wrote:
Terry,

If you need an ambassador at any point, let me know. I live in Missouri (St. Louis) and would be happy to help should the need arise.


Great, thanks Hack. We may need to put boots on the ground.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2018 7:34 pm 
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Hack with a Flute wrote:
Terry,

If you need an ambassador at any point, let me know. I live in Missouri (St. Louis) and would be happy to help should the need arise.

Well, it IS the Show Me State.

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 29, 2018 5:44 am 
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Terry, I've been thinking about what you've said and trying to think through why CITES is regulated like it is.

For reference, I did graduate work in Anthropology with a focus on Sub-saharan Africa, first Cultural Anthropology, then Ethno-arts-ology, and then some graduate readings on political and social structures. I was looking at working in the Democratic Republic of Congo, so it was also important to know about the history and current political going-ons including but not limited to illegal trade/resource exploitation going on right now.

First, a lot of places don't have the infrastructure to prevent the illegal logging themselves. Second, it can't be assumed that the national or local governments of said nations have the same goals or means as "Western nations" (for the lack of better term), especially as it comes to conservation. (For an example of both points, here is an article from Scientific American about the government of Namibia auctioning a Rhino hunting Permit to raise money for their conservation project https://www.scientificamerican.com/arti ... rhino-sel/ ; for the record, I don't side with either side, I think both sides of the argument have valid points.)

As a result, the West feels like they have to do something. Yes, they are checking to make sure raw material is being imported/exported with a license. But how do they know if they have been successful in stopping illegal exports? One option is to monitor the transportation of finished goods. By monitoring the transportation of finished goods they can prove or disprove that their efforts to prevent illegal logging has been successful. So I think that is where we come in. By having the certificates that say "This is Pre-CITES II wood" or "This isn't even CITES II wood", we can help identify whether or not efforts have been successful.

Identifying non-CITES II wood flutes is important because the CITES officials are watching for so many species of so many genus that having documentation helps identification go that much easier. As a wild guess, I imagine that our flutes are probably 0.01% or less of the things that they actually look at, and perhaps they find the need to identify finished products just as frustrating, but our providing identification makes their job easier.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2018 4:35 am 
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A good answer, there, Aaron, thanks. So arguably a "less than perfect" strategy, but the best they can do under the circumstances.

It may well be that that fear is the secret and significant ingredient. Up to now, the bad guys (and their customers) have had nothing to fear. Nobody was watching. But now that they know the end-products are being monitored, that situation changes. Interesting game play.

(What would a 70 year old know of game play? Three teenage children is what....)


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