At the helm of Atelier Donat is Dimitri Donat. The workshop was set up by Dimitri’s grandfather in the French Alps in 1936, originally to manufacture parts for the Swiss watch industry. Now, generations of technical expertise are combined with a musical passion to create some of the most innovative mouthpiece designs today.
Here Dimitri outlines a little about the processes involved with his designs…
What got you started with mouthpiece design?
I started playing trumpet at 7. I used to play every night at my grandfather’s watchmaking factory near my house. By this way I could play loud without disturbing anyone.
In the Arve valley, bar-turning began in the 1800’s and then developed widely to form a real local industrial and economic fabric. The know-how of bar-turning is part of a tradition passed down through the generations. I myself inherited this knowledge by going to the workshop from a young age to help my father.
Anecdotally, at 6 years old when I told the teacher (called “Mrs Yellow”) that I wanted to be an astronaut she said in front of the whole class “no, you will be a bar-turner like your father”. When asked why I chose this job, I joke that I had no choice. In reality I was very lucky to inherit this know-how and to have been able over the years to choose my specialty – the mouthpiece. I made this choice out of a passion for the bar-turning profession but also and above all out of a passion for music. Two passions which meet, it is a real opportunity!
What has been the primary motivation behind your designs so far?
Above all, I want my mouthpieces to ring! Innovation is not an end in itself but simply a tool to achieve this goal, even if drawing a cup that has a good sound is a challenge. The most difficult and important thing is to work on each parameter, from the shapes to the material, and combine them together.
What challenges did you face along the way?
It was difficult to make my bar-turning family understand that I could choose to work on a single product. Indeed, usually bar turners prefer to work on large series and on a large number of parts.
How long was the process from initial conception of a design to the mouthpiece reaching the market?
I drew my first CNC mouthpieces in 2009. Then I wanted to have them tested by Eric Truffaz, the first try was not convincing; his first feedback “it cuts the lips”: (I had to make him try no less than 50 prototypes during 3 years to finally succeed in hearing him say that “It’s a master work!”.
What were your main methods of launching and marketing these products?
I have no business plan, my method is easy. I draw and turn about ten prototypes. I send it to musicians of all levels and all styles. And after a collaborative decision, I decide whether or not to put them in the catalogue.
Would you do anything differently have you had this process over again?
It is certainly a cliché to answer this, but I will not change anything. You have to make mistakes, be faced with difficulties to succeed in advancing and advancing your product. However, if I had to start again tomorrow, I would work directly on medium throat sizes and not on large ones as I did at the beginning.
And to bring a little poetry to my answers; ), I would say that I have discovered over time that the beauty of a cup shape meets – as if by magic – the beauty of sound. The more beautiful curves I make, the more beautiful sound they create.
What new things are you working on?
I’ve spent the last few months implementing an idea of Ko de Rooij, the Tone Ring concept. I will now focus on their production.
Any ambitions for this year?!
I would like to meet Wynton, the mouthpieces would just be an excuse to meet the one I was listening to as a teenager on tapes, thinking that his solos were written down!