Dasha Karandasheva, bassist for ZEN-ZEN-ZEN (Moscow, Russia) wrote me a very kind email today:
I have visited your site — this is really 'something different'.
My name is Dasha. I'm from Russia, Moscow.
I wold like to translate some information from your site into russian language — about you and your project, and then put it into russian bassplayer community.
Don't you mind?
And please, say — what do you realise, think, feel after all these years of making such a project?
I would like to know — what is inspiring you to make all this work — making design and build every instrument by hand?"
Hers is actually a very interesting question. Deceptively simple. I thought about what she wrote, while out splashing around in the mud on my mountain bike this afternoon, and realized the answer is complex.
It begins with labels.
(I'll plug myself into the equation. Feel free to substitute yourself.)
Human social institutions seek to quantify us: "Rick Toone is American. Agnostic. Libertarian. Married." Science seeks to qualify us: "Homo sapiens. Male. Caucasian. 6' 2" 185 lbs. Auburn hair. Blue eyes." We seek to identify ourselves: "I'm a luthier. Philosopher. Conservationist." As you read, an image of me forms in your brain, based on these "statistics."
And while labels are useful abstractions for representing categories of people, they are poor substitutes for recognizing individual human experience. The sights, smells, sounds...thoughts...feelings...during my bike ride today were unique and unrepeatable. Non-transferable. Even if you had been with me today, your experience would have been different. I cannot share my consciousness with you.
Which brings us to art.
Art is the most sophisticated tool we have for attempting to communicate consciousness. Using art we can communicate across both space and time. We can communicate across cultures. And music — alone among the arts — is so adept we can communicate between species...
Although Ludwig van Beethoven wrote Symphony No. 5 almost two hundred years ago, on a different continent, speaking a different language from me, as I listened today to Leonard Bernstein conduct the New York Philharmonic in 1961, I could feel Beethoven's consciousness. His sense of life.
And when I later "meowed" the melodies to my one eyed cat, I had his unblinking attention. He was quite literally mesmerized. When I switched to Radiohead, he lost interest and rubbed against my legs. Beethoven communicated to him. Why?
So how does this relate to lutherie?
My premise is the musician's instrument directly translates your musical thought — feeling, emotion — into physical sound waves. This is where imagination meets communication. The tool should be an extension of the musician, of your body. Your lifetime of skills intersects with my lifetime of skills. A collaboration between us, as artists. As unique and unrepeatable as your experience, your life.
Distinctiveness and replication are antitheses.
A one-off hand built instrument is by definition non-replicable. Guernica stands alone.
Scarcity has value.