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PostPosted: Wed Aug 22, 2018 9:19 pm 
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Jim: You're welcome! (another clip I found interesting, and my two cents, to follow below)

Chas: I was using the word "flavor" metaphorically, as in the timbre or color of the sound. But interesting story about the aroma of rosewoods! To clarify about density, Mopane is 15% less dense than ABW on average, according to the wood-database (67lbs is 84.8% of 79lbs).

Peter: If a tree plays a flute in the woods, and the whole forest is around to hear it, is it good music?

For Jim, and anyone else who might be curious about differences between Mopane and African Blackwood, there's a deft player by the name of Brendan Mulholland who owns a Blackwood flute and what appears to me to be a Mopane flute (made of brick-red wood), and occasionally puts the red flute's head on the Blackwood body. Here's an occasion he did this: (this is one song from the concert, YT has others)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6oSyBHjP5KE
I chose this song because at the 2:19 mark he shifts to playing the tune in the low notes (you may notice that the audience cheers here). I don't think it would sound the same on an all-Blackwood flute. To my ears the Mopane sounds less dark and hard in the low notes than Blackwood typically does. So the notes sound more similar in timbre to the mids, making the flute more melodic, with smoother transitions. Blackwood can sound borderline percussive at the low end, with more contrast. The piece he plays is recognizable and familiar, but it might not be if the flute was honking out a hard low D, instead of a mellower note.

My two cents on Mopane compared to African Blackwood:
To me, Mopane sounds: warmer, more reedy, friendlier, simpler. More similar across it's tonal range. In a sense “louder" in the low to mid range, though softer and less focused.
The same generally holds true IMO for other less dense woods to varying degrees. (Cocuswood at 74lbs, Cocobolo 69lbs, and Boxwood at 61lbs.) This may be partly why Stephane Morvan mentions people using Mopane as a Cocus alternative.

While to me ABW sounds: firmer, crisper, colder, and richer. More dramatic, bigger contrast from low to high, with darker more focused punchy lows and more uplifting, clearer, glassy-yet-fluidly-dynamic highs. ABW lows can be so dark they're almost muffled. ( though of course this muffling is also affected by bore and wall dimensions) On the flip side, ABW has power and density in the lows.
I think a highly skillful player can push ABW further and get more dynamics out of it (to me this is demonstrated by Sylvain clip I linked to previously). However, it may be harder to play for the average player, as the low end offers more resistance to vibration, so is less responsive, but the effect is minor.

So I think it's up to the player, what they hear, like, and want to work with. Most globally known players choose Blackwood to perform with most of the time, but that doesn't mean it's best for every player, occasion or style of music. I myself love it, but I also love the warmer sound of Cocus, and other woods.


Last edited by BlueSalmon on Thu Aug 23, 2018 2:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2018 9:15 am 
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The first flute he plays is made of African olive, not boxwood.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2018 10:54 am 
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Whoops! Thanks Kmag for pointing that out! I've taken in a lot recently and got a bit turned around.
I apologize for not double checking my facts.

I think I got confused because it's is a very similar color, and after checking I see Olive is only 1lb heavier than Boxwood (62lbs vs 61), so it would have a similar innate range of potential frequencies to resonate at.

But other things affect and select the frequencies. I see it also has fairly close numbers for hardness, strength and flexibility, but other factors can include chemistry (tannins, oils, waxes, resins) and microstructure (pores, grain, homogeneity).

I realize the idea that flute bodies resonate isn't entirely accepted fact, but anyone who's felt a flute vibrate realizes that this does occur some of the time, and usually moreso with some notes than others.
Flute acoustics are more complicated than a simple column of vibrating air being contained in a tube.
I know this explaination has become widely accepted, but it simply doesn't take into account the physics of sound.
A container also acts, to varying degrees, as:
-Resonator (sympathetic vibration)
-Reflector (resistance to absorbtion)
-Filter (absorption and re-emission)


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2018 12:44 pm 
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I appreciate these observations, Blue Salmon, many of which were my own impressions about the sound of these woods.

As to the contribution of the container, the last theory I expressed on these pages is that the molecular structure of the container conditions to some extent the vibrating column of air within, and so affects the sound. It doesn't affect sound by radiating it outside the flute by vibrating, however. But heaven knows whether this is at all true.

Thanks to everybody! Will listen again to the clips. Very glad you'all are here.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2018 1:41 pm 
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BlueSalmon wrote:
I realize the idea that flute bodies resonate isn't entirely accepted fact, but anyone who's felt a flute vibrate realizes that this does occur some of the time, and usually moreso with some notes than others.

Feeling the flute seemingly come "alive" under my fingers with a little vibration is a wonderful thing. However, I'm fairly sure that almost all of what I'm feeling is the air column inside the flute, buzzing under my fingers when they're closing the open holes.

On a pre-Boehm flute design where you have at least one or two fingers closing a hole and "touching" the air column most of the time, it's very difficult to tease out what part of this subjective feeling of vibration is due to the actual container material. And then, consider that players differ in their ability to drive a flute to its full potential -- really getting that air column jumping -- and it gets even harder to tease out the difference.

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Flute acoustics are more complicated than a simple column of vibrating air being contained in a tube.
I know this explaination has become widely accepted, but it simply doesn't take into account the physics of sound.
A container also acts, to varying degrees, as:
-Resonator (sympathetic vibration)
-Reflector (resistance to absorbtion)
-Filter (absorption and re-emission)

I don't know enough about this stuff to rule out some kind of boundary interaction between the container and the air column, but as others have mentioned, smoothness and "reflectivity" of the bore is probably the dominant effect.

When it comes to choosing a wood species, I'm basically an aesthetics-first kinda guy. All other things like playability and tone being equal (which they never are, of course), I like having musical instruments that please my eye.

After playing a keyless blackwood flute for a while, I really got into the ultra-black and silver look. Very formal and distinguished-looking (might as well have something nice about it, because my playing sure wasn't doing it justice). I thought if I ever got a keyed flute it would have to be blackwood.

Then I lucked into a secondhand keyed flute in cocus. Wowzer! Very different look and feel, I love it. I'm not a good enough flute player to fully appreciate any tonal difference in the revered cocus wood myself, but I'm sure getting off on the looks of that wood. If I ever get another flute it will probably be a Bb, and given the un-availability of cocus, I might go for mopane on that one.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2018 3:14 pm 
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Jim: Glad it was interesting. Good to know Jim, I find it's rare that anyone can hear what I'm hearing, I realize these are very subtle distinctions, but I enjoy tuning into subtle details.

I agree that the vibration of the flute isn't significantly acting as a "speaker" and sending out sound waves of it's own. I think the resonance might affect the air column inside, however.
For instance, if it resonates too much, it turns too much of the sound energy into vibration, making it very loud and squawky, but not pleasant (say, a flute made of styrofoam, balsa, or paulownia). In a way like a banjo does, compared to a denser-top instrument like a guitar. On the other end, if it doesn't resonate at all, because it's dense and stiff, and only reflects the sound, then the air can't vibrate as freely, and is sort of stifled. I think this happens with flutes that have overly thick walls.
In the middle would be resonating somewhat, which allows the air to move more freely, but reflecting somewhat, to project the sound outward. Getting the right balance across the whole tonal range isn't possible, so every choice has compromises. The top flute makers seem to get more balance, so I think they fine tune the wall thickness, bore diameter, etc.
This is all assuming the material is stiff, like wood. Of course a mushy material like latex is going to dampen the sound and neither reflect nor vibrate, as much as wood does.

I do think the sound travels through the wood though. This has been studied in other wind instruments, where the soundwave actually extends out beyond the chamber, and returns back into it (bizzare, I know). This could mean the wood acts as a filter, coloring the sound as it moves through it. I'm not talking about sound that simply escapes through the wall of the flute, which would be minimal and almost imperceptible. It can be visualized as the peaks and troughs of the wave actually existing beyond the outer wall of the flute, rather than being contained within it. I don't understand how this works, but physics is weirder the more I learn about it.

Conical Bore: I agree completely that the reflectivity is the dominant effect, this is proved out by making a flute of a much lighter wood, or pvc, which still sounds pretty good. And smoothness or roughness of bore has a huge impact on the sound. But it doesn't mean the other aspects aren't coloring the sound to some degree. I love the look of Cocus too, one of the best, it's sad it's so depleted. But there are lots of beautiful woods.


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PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2018 3:38 pm 
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Conical bore wrote:
Feeling the flute seemingly come "alive" under my fingers with a little vibration is a wonderful thing. However, I'm fairly sure that almost all of what I'm feeling is the air column inside the flute, buzzing under my fingers when they're closing the open holes.

Check to see if you're feeling it in your thumbs, too. That'll tell you. :)

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 23, 2018 10:43 pm 
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over the years i have had quite a few mopane flutes (at the moment i have a keyed solen lesouef and keyless on order from Gallagher), being a woodworker and artist i love the way the wood looks and that's a big part in my choosing it (boxwood sounds too airy to me though i love the looks of it).....but i have never had a mopane flute sound as tight and reedy as blackwood.
to me, the player, i think i can very much hear the difference in wood and density....even if 10' away it sounds the same.....i play for myself and i have to like the tone.

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 12, 2018 2:40 pm 
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I used to have a mopane folk flute. The thing I remember most is that it smelled really nice and the wood was really pretty. I have a boxwood flute now and every time I play it people remark how pretty it sounds. I'm not even a very good flute player.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 16, 2018 8:14 am 
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I've sort of stayed out of this discussion but thought I would throw in a few comments. Mopane is one of my favorite woods to make flutes from. It has enough stability, oxidizes to a deep red color almost black, machines well (though it is somewhat harder than blackwood and boxwood to drill and ream, and dulls tools faster), and makes a superb instrument. I find the character of the tone initially to be slightly less distinct than blackwood, but slightly warmer and richer. After the flute has gone through its break-in period however, it seems to gain the distinctness and increase the warmth of the sound. I realize such terms as "distinctness" and "warmth" are subjective. Its just that I find that in the long run, I just like the sound of a Mopane flute better.

Alas! It used to be easier to get in the States - especially when my nearby wood supplier in Portland had lots of it. But he sold out his supply long ago and the mills in Africa no longer had it. He was just there last year and saw lots of it standing but its a long way to where it can be processed and the people who processed it in the past are retired or gone. There are a few places that sell it here - someone reportedly brought in several logs. Unfortunately, this person waxes the entire stick rather than just at the ends and so nothing starts drying until one scrapes or turns this wax off (except at the ends). I have to machine it and let it sit for a year or more before I can use it. Because of this and the fact that I don't have that much of it I stopped selling Folk Flutes from it, and only make 5-10 flutes a year from it with longer waiting times.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 16, 2018 9:46 am 
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I find the character of the tone initially to be slightly less distinct than blackwood, but slightly warmer and richer. After the flute has gone through its break-in period however, it seems to gain the distinctness and increase the warmth of the sound. I realize such terms as "distinctness" and "warmth" are subjective. Its just that I find that in the long run, I just like the sound of a Mopane flute better.'

Something like this expresses (especially the first sentence) the subjective
response of some of us. I don't know what to think, ultimately, but finally I am
guided by how things seem to me.


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PostPosted: Wed Oct 03, 2018 2:35 am 
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Hello Jim
... and others who are here discussing Mopane vs Blackwood. CITES has decided that brown is the new black and flute makers will eventually migrate to Mopane or other good tone wood as stocks of pre-CITES African Blackwood deplete and disappear.

Yesterday, I posted two raw un-edited and simply played recordings to let you hear, if you can, the difference in tone between a flute made from African Blackwood (panned right) and Mopane Flutewood (panned left). The flutes are identical. I made them myself. The recordings are made one after the other, same mic, same distance, same day, same player, same everything ....
Use headphones to listen and remove right earphone to hear the Mopane flute and left earphone to hear the Blackwood flute on its own.

You can hear the recordings here:
https://www.facebook.com/adams.flutemaker.9
You can see more pictures of both flutes here: https://www.adams.se/flutemaker

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 03, 2018 6:43 am 
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TimAdams wrote:
Use headphones to listen and remove right earphone to hear the Mopane flute and left earphone to hear the Blackwood flute on its own.

If only you'd not told us that, but instead asked us which was which...

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