Civic Pride

May 31, 2011

After having been dubbed one of America’s 10 “dying cities”, the good citizens of Grand Rapids, Missouri put together a wonderful video made by a collection of Grand Rapidians lip syncing to Don Mclean’s American Pie. It was paid for by local sponsors and produced by local volunteers.

I admire it both as a demonstration of civic pride and as a fabulous piece of filming logistics.

 

see also http://www.indiewire.com/article/michigan_lip_dub/#

Mixed media

April 19, 2011

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Sometime back in the last century (1972 actually), a friend and I made a computer generated film where the image was created by the soundtrack.

For the technical minded, that is a EMS Synthi A synthesiser running via an analog-to-digital converter to a PDP8. A 16mm film camera with servo controlled coloured filters recorded the output on the large circular cathode ray tube.

Unfortunately, I don’t know where the film is now but my memory is that it somewhat resembled the coloured patterns that media players show when playing music files. Unremarkable now, but at the time it was novel. I think the doing of it was worthier than the result.

I was prompted to recall this by seeing this music machine shown at the design academy Eindhoven’s exhibition at Milan design week 2011.

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It consists of a scale model of the city of Eindhoven wrapped around a cylinder which when rotated plays a piano keyboard.

How successful this mixed-media work is is open to question as the accompanying video is so poor that you can’t really hear the sound.

Still, like my 1972 film, I applaud the effort.

April Fool?

March 26, 2009

We lived in the UK for a long time and were regular readers of the Guardian newspaper. I still remember their wonderfully elaborate April Fools joke in 1977 when they published an entire lift-out supplement on the fictional islands of San Serif.  

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This hoax was so successful, it has been reused a number of time over for other April Fool’s jokes. See the Museum of Hoaxes article for details,

I (like many others) assume that the IKEA car, the Leko which is due for unveiling on the 1st of April is also an April Fool’s hoax.  Let’s hope it is memorable.

 

In passing, I have been introduced to an extraordinary man – Donald Knuth. Knuth is clearly a brilliant mathematician and computer scientist. I had vaguely heard of him in connection with computer publishing and typesetting but hadn’t realised the full extent of his interests. Relevant to the San Serif hoax, Knuth is responsible for the Bank of San Serif which lists the fictional credits made to people who spot typographical errors in his books. He used to pay a finders fee of a hexadecimal dollar (256 cents) but has stopped doing so to protect his bank account details.

Aside from books and papers on serious computer topics,  Knuth has also written an article on the complexity of song. Deriving mathematical formulae for the degree of repetition of words and refrains in popular song. He writes “It is known that almost all songs of length n require a text of length ~ n. But this puts a considerable space requirement on one’s memory if many songs are to be learned; hence, our ancient ancestors invented the concept of a refrain. When the song has a refrain, its space complexity can be reduced to cn, where c < 1”. He then goes on to derive formula for songs with repetition such as Old Macdonald Had a Farm and  The Twelve Days of Christmas.

The full article can be found at The Complexity of Song

This is a slightly more academic approach to the subject of mathematics and music than my previous post and probably worthy of Tom Lehrer.

Graphing song titles

March 4, 2009

These graphed song titles appeal to the mathematician and musician in me.  Inevitably, some are cleverer than others. (Mostly from Graphic Jam.)

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Graph Jam also has a wonderful set of other funny graphs. Such as –

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and my personal favourite

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Her Morning Elegance

January 29, 2009

Just because I like it.  Lovely animation.

From the album ‘The Opposite Side of the Sea” by Israeli born Oren Lavie who seems to be living in Berlin.

Jazz in B&W

February 22, 2008

Watching, and more importantly listening, to the wonderful jazz short Jammin’ The Blues I was struck by how beautifully jazz and black and white photography go together. This1944 film is particularly stylish to look at on top of the sensational jam session it records. It turns out that the film was directed by the Albanian born American photographer Gjon Mili. Mili spent most of his career as a photographer for Life magazine, including taking many cover shots.

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Mili was an innovator and had a great ability to capture movement, sometimes enhanced by multiple exposures – a technique he also used in Jammin’ The Blues. The film, which features Lester Young, begins on a top view of Young’s hat. A similar image to one used a few years later by Herman Leonard in his 1948 photograph of Lester Young’s hat.

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I have a number of Herman Leonard’s photographs on my living room wall. Deep blacks, stark shadows, whips of smoke. They fill the room with music – complex , moody jazz.

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To me, Herman Leonard is the great jazz photographer. His pictures are all atmosphere and music and of course could only be seen in black and white.

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Compare those photographs of Dizzy, Duke and Billie with the better-known but more formal photographs by William Gottlieb.

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No contest.

Incidentally, although many thousands of Leonard’s photographs were lost in Hurricane Katrina, fortunately for fans of these wonderful photographs, the negatives were saved. setstats

Tom Lehrer

August 23, 2007

I have always been a huge fan of mathematician and musical satirist Tom Lehrer. In fact I had a precious autograph, dating back to the late 50’s, on a scrap of paper taped to my piano until it got lost in one of many house moves only a few years ago. His irreverent, clever and somewhat anarchic songs appealed to my particular sense of humour and I learned many of them. My mother laughingly regarded allowing letting her children listen to Tom Lehrer and read Mad Magazine as amongst her greatest failures as a parent.

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I was delighted to have stumbled upon a site which features some new (to me) Tom Lehrer songs. It seems that young Harvard physics professor and later Nobel Prize winner, Norman Ramsey recorded (for those technically minded – on a wire recorder) a 1951/2 physics department review written by Tom Lehrer called The Physical Review.   

Some familiar songs such as ‘The Elements’ and ‘Fight Fiercely Harvard’ originate with that show but a number of them never made it to record. Fortunately the recording of most of those unreleased songs are available on the website.

It is worth noting the CVs of Lehrer’s fellow performers. These were not young students in an undergraduate review. These were already a very distinguished bunch of post doctoral physicists.

I hope that even though these are tight times for universities, there are still groups of high-flying PhD’s treading the boards.