Apartment House Strohviols Quartet

Gordon MacKay, Hilary Sturt stroh violins
Bridget Carey stroh viola
Anton Lukoszevieze stroh cello

The Strohviols String Quartet is the only available & working string quartet of its kind in existence,
performing a programme of specially composed music by individual composers, including a unique
electro-acoustic venture.
Characterised by their large aluminium horns, these historic instruments are from the collection of
Aleksander Kolkowski and bear the “stroviols” trademark from the workshop of Geo Evans & Co.
They were manufactured circa 1910-1927.

New music for strohviols by:

Aleksander Kolkowski
Caroline Wilkins
Boris Hegenbart
John Lely
Christopher Fox
Laurence Crane

Further new works are in preparation.
Additional repertoire is taken from works composed within the period 1900-1930,
including compositions by Anton Webern, Louis Durey, Charles Ives and Alexander Mosolov.

Anton Webern Langsamer Satz (1905)

Aleksander Kolkowski What have God wrought? (2006)

Aleksander Kolkowski with Stroh Violin ©Anja Fuchs

Additionally the quartet can be augmented to make a Strohviols Dectet:
comprising 3 Stroh violins; Tiebel Violin; Violinophone; 2 Stroh Violas;
Stroh Cello; 2-string Stroh Cello and a 1-string Stroh Japanese Fiddle.

Historical Background:
Invented by the brilliant mechanic JMA Stroh & patented in 1899, the ‘Stroh violin’ was the first musical
instrument specifically designed for recording.
Conventional stringed instruments recorded badly in the mechanical process because the sound was not
directional enough. Augustus Stroh’s solution was to replace the body and sounding parts of a violin with
a mechanical system similar to that of a gramophone. The vibrations of the violin bridge are transmitted to
an aluminium diaphragm and the resulting sound is amplified via a trumpet-like horn.
These new hybrid instruments could easily be pointed at the recording horns and were very widely used in
the early recording studios. Virtually all recordings of stringed instruments prior to 1925 used stroh violins.
The same principle was applied to all types of stringed instruments including the guitar, banjo, ukulele &
double-bass. Also popular in dance bands and for open-air music, they continued to be manufactured in London from
1904 until 1942, well after electrical sound recording had revolutionised the recording industry.

The stroh violin was rendered obsolete by the rise of electronic amplification. However it was an instrument
at the cutting edge of victorian science & technology and was to influence the design of electronic
solid- body instruments, the Dobro guitar, and even loudspeaker design. They inspired many copies
which continue to be made and played by folk musicians in Transylvania and by workshops in Burma.

stroh patent strohviolin Snapshot 2009-06-10 14-07-29
JMA Stroh’s patent of 1899

The essentially directional nature of these instruments means that in a sector of around 60º, they are
three times louder than their conventional counterparts. Their tone is flutey, breathy and very powerful
in the high registers, along with crystal clear harmonics. There is no trace of the metallic sound that
one would expect, rather it is the sweet nostalgic tone one recognises from a gramophone record.
They blend superbly with brass and wind instruments and their evenness of tone makes them ideal for
string quartet use. For the contemporary musician and composer the ‘stroviols’ offer extended techniques not possible on
conventional stringed instruments. These include bowing on the metal parts, percussive effects and the
use of the horn as a conduit for an external sound source.

Stroh instruments were to feature in Mauricio Kagel’s extraordinary piece 1898, but unable to find any
originals, he had copies made. These however, bear little resemblance to the true Stroh design.
While many of these instruments are to be found individually in museums and collections worldwide,
this is the only available & working string quartet of its kind in existence.
The strohviols quartet was first introduced in Kolkowski’s Mechanical Landscape with Bird a piece for 8 live
singing canaries, serinette (bird organ), rotating horned-string quartet & wax-cylinder phonographs.
(2004, MaerzMusik, Berlin). The UK premiere of the Apartment House Strohviols quartet took place at Kettle’s Yard Gallery, Cambridge, Spring, 2007.