Featured Maker Interview • Marcos Kaiser
In celebration of this weekend's National Guitar Day, we were delighted to speak to Marcos Kaiser in the first of our Featured Maker interviews. Marcos is a skilled maker of lutes, guitars, hurdy-gurdys and more, and he is a valued supplier of instruments to The Early Music Shop.
Read on to find out more about Marcos Kaiser's work, instruments and inspirations...
The Early Music Shop: You’ve had a very international career, living, studying and working in Brazil, Hungary, Spain and London. Where is your favourite place to visit, live and work?
Marcos Kaiser: Apart from the exciting cultural environment, all these places have very interesting ways when you are working with musical instrument making. Different approaches to woodworking, to running a workshop, even to separating what is work and what is life. My favourite environment is the one where these two are one, where working with historical instruments actually feels like living in the present. The UK is special in this regard.
EMS: How did your interest in Early Music and Historic Instruments begin?
MK: It when as a teenager, getting ready to go to school, listening to a 5am radio program dedicated to early music on the radio. It was somehow magic to listen to medieval and renaissance music in the stillness of the dark house. We even had fog before sunrise in the 90s. Later on, still a teenager, I had the chance to work as an apprentice in a harpsichord workshop. There the makers used to play after work, and again, the subtly lit environment, with half-finished instruments and baroque music, exotic wood scents and ornaments set my imagination on fire.
EMS: Tell us about the process of making an instrument. You favour the use of traditional methods. Why is this?
MK: I favour traditional methods in the belief that the use of historical techniques can inform a better understanding of the design, making, and practical choices that led to the development of stringed instruments over time. At the same time, the study of these techniques, either musical or practical, enriches the debate around what came first: the technical innovation or the artistic necessity. The exhaustion of an artistic model (and the subsequent quest for new means) or the invention of a new technique that made possible the use of these resources. This is one of the questions that the historical approach tries to address. I would definitely use modern technology to make something new, but to really make something out of what little information we have from the past, my research method is the recreation of the original working environment, with the right materials and tools.
EMS: We have in stock your Baroque Guitar after Belchior Dias. How long did it take you to make this instrument and what research did you have to undertake?
MK: This model has intrigued me since I was a student at the former London School of Furniture (LMU) around 2010. I even tried to find records of the maker in Portugal, but apart from his workshop address, there is very little about him. There is an extensive debate surrounding the instrument, whether it was an early baroque guitar or a vihuela. But enlarging it to accommodate five courses was a rewarding experience. The construction of the fluted-vaulted back is a fascinating process that, when mastered, generates negligible loss of material. There is no need to use bars on the back, and the lightness achieved through the use of this clever shape is noticeable on the resonance. The research, encouraged by Martin Bowers, who had extensive knowledge on the other guitar attributed to Belchior Dias was mainly focused on bending the ribs without waste. This would be the case when the instrument was made. Exquisite materials such as ebony and rosewood could not be more expensive, therefore any method with waste would not do. An early hypothesis promptly discarded was the use of chemicals to make the wood pliable. The use of hot beds, boiling was also discarded. I think I have a clean and easy method now.
EMS: Your instruments are always beautiful and highly decorative. Why is this important to you and does the decoration have any particular significance?
MK: I just enjoy going through all the processes that an instrument from the renaissance or baroque period would undergo. And since many decorative details actually have a purpose, such as hiding a hole for a locating pin, reinforcing the structure or removing weight, I count it as part of the construction. A few details have no purpose established, but if they appear on paintings, iconography, they are inherent to the age, fashion and state of the art regarding that period. These may be left out, but there is a thin line between stripping what we may see as useless things from an instrument and wasting the chance of finding out a reason for a feature that enlightens the research question cited above.
EMS: Do you favour any particular materials and how do you source them? What instruments are you currently working on?
MK: I favour the same materials that were used on the originals. It is a bit contradictory, since I have access to exotic timber. Replacing anything is a huge avenue of research, so I mainly keep with what has been proven to be available at a specific time and place. I source it from established distributors, except when recycling old furniture, pianos, etc.
Currently on my bench is a Vihuela based on the “Chambure” instrument, that I measured and traced at the Musée de La Musique in Paris.
I am also currently working on my red varnish, making a lake from rose madder roots ground and precipitated with alum and potash, to be ground on the oil varnish.