Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Edma In Heaven Laughing

“I have entered into the positive life after having lived for a long time by chimeras.”

Berthe Morisot
writing to her brother after her marriage
quoted in
“The Private Lives of the Impressionists”

“I want you to give me a reason why I should wish to design Cortlandt. I want you to make me an offer.”

“...It’s a great public project, Howard. A humanitarian undertaking. Think of the poor people who live in slums. If you can give them decent comfort within their means, you’ll have the satisfaction of performing a noble deed.”

“Peter, you were more honest than that yesterday.”

His eyes dropped, his voice low, Keating said: “You will love designing it.”

“Yes, Peter. Now you’re speaking my language.”

If the most beautiful paintings
historically attributed
to Berthe Morisot really
were painted by Berthe’s sister
Edma who had respectably
married and put artistic life
behind her should anyone now
feel any desire to divide
the work of “Berthe Morisot”
into “impressionist pieces”
of brushwork and fields of color
and “delineative pieces”
of defined edges and clear shapes?

Is history outside of us?

Is history what we can see?

Is Edma in heaven laughing?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

This is a painting of Berthe Morisot, painted by Edma:

This is a painting reasonably well-attributed to Berthe Morisot:

This is a painting that is historically attributed to Berthe Morisot:

Later, Wynand showed the picture to Dominique and asked: “Who designed this?”

She looked at it. “Of course,” was all she answered.

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“The Garden’s Edge”


The Application Of Beyond Understanding

Monday, May 30, 2011

Thinking Of Mountains Redux

If there’s a volcano erupting under a glacier in Iceland (and there is) then there must be tennis being played on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris (and there is).

Last year it was the unpronounceable volcano—Eyjafjallajokull volcano—and this year it is Grímsvötn.

In the tennis world now I don’t really have a favorite player—On Being A (Very) Sad Tennis Fan—either on the men’s side or the women’s side. Everybody is pretty boring these days. But for the first time in open tennis history the number one and two women’s seeds lost before the third round. Even more women’s seeds have lost since then. So as we head toward the finals some interesting stories have appeared on the women’s side.

I don’t often talk about sports, but I’m going to talk about sports today because the French Open tennis tournament is my favorite sporting event of the year. And because Maria Sharapova has become a favorite topic of mine even though she was never, and isn’t, a player I like all that much. (I don’t know exactly why I’ve written so much about Sharapova. Maybe it’s just random. Maybe it’s because she’s so pretty. I vaguely suspect it’s a combination of her being so pretty and having, or appearing to have, such a tough character. I’m not a tough person myself and I admire people who are, especially women who can focus and just storm through adversity.)

So all the good women players are either out with injuries or out because they lost early.

Of the women players who remain, there are a few good stories to watch.

First, Na Li from China has a chance to become the first Chinese woman to win a grand slam. That would be a great achievement for China, and for Na Li. She is a very good, very determined player and she might do it.

Second, some unknown young player has a chance to become famous, to make a name for herself, by winning a grand slam. Most players go their whole career without winning a grand slam. It’s a big deal and Pavlyuchenkova and Petkovic have a reasonable chance to do it while they are young and really can enjoy the fame.

Third, some old players have a chance to relive earlier glories. Schiavone has a chance to repeat her victory from last year and Kuznetsova won the French in 2009.

And “old” Maria Sharapova—she’s 24!—has a chance to achieve real greatness in the tennis world.

Very few players will ever win a grand slam. Even fewer players will win all four of the grand slams. On the men’s side it is very rare. In recent years only Andre Agassi and Roger Federer have done it. On the women’s side it is more common, but still rare. Martina Hingis—who dominated the women’s game—never won the French Open and was so freaked out the year she almost beat Steffi Graf that she humiliated herself by running to Graf’s side of the court at one point to challenge a call. The French fans booed her every year after that.

Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006 and the Australian in 2008. She has never made it even to the finals of the French. Now she is older and has injury issues and her game is still one dimensional. But she has found ways to win this year, pulling out some tough matches. If she can find a way to pull out three more matches against less-than-first-rate opponents she can make history and become one of the women to win all four grand slams.

Of all the tennis players I’ve seen eating bananas—and for some strange reason I’ve seen, I think, more than my share—Maria Sharapova is by far the prettiest banana-eating tennis player I’ve ever seen.

This year I’m cheering her on. This year I hope she goes all the way. This year I’m rooting for her to make history.

Good luck, Maria!

Friday, May 27, 2011

“The Garden’s Edge”

Mallarme had been one of Edouard Manet’s closest friends, and after the painter’s death in 1883, he became an intimate friend both of Morisot and of Eugene Manet, visiting them regularly at their home on the Rue de Villejust. He admired Morisot’s work, and was instrumental in persuading the state to purchase Young Woman Dressed for the Ball at the sale of part of Theodore Duret’s collection in 1894. This was the first of Morisot’s paintings to enter a French national collection. Morisot discussed the possibility of illustrating one of Mallarme’s prose poems, Le Nenuphar blanc, for an edition involving the collaboration of several painters, including Renoir. She found his writing difficult to understand and wrote: “It would be kind of you to come to dinner on Thursday. Renoir and I are quite bewildered; we need explanations for the illustrations.” Mallarme replied: “I am disturbed by your bewilderment; fortunately, your smile appears in the background...” The project did not materialize.

from “Berthe Morisot”
by Kathleen Adler

Berthe Morisot, a painter, sometimes ventured
into the graphic arts with beautiful etchings.
She considered illustrating a poet’s work
with other painters but the book wasn’t published.

What if Berthe Morisot were alive today?

Graphic novels today mostly are about crime
or monsters or superheroes battling villains.

“The Garden’s Edge” (an excerpt)
  A Graphic Novel by Berthe Morisot

The young woman dressed for the ball
looked across the garden and saw
the tall man in a long black coat.
He stared back. His gaze frightened her.

Looking at each other they both
failed to hear the slithering sound
in the bush at the garden’s edge.

Something cast a curving shadow
on the cobblestone path. The shape
of a snake. But a giant snake.

I guess it’s for the best that Berthe Morisot
was a nineteenth century woman, a painter
in France. That century in the United States
we were inventing blue jeans. I’m wearing them now.

I guess it’s for the best that Berthe Morisot
was a nineteenth century woman, a painter
in France. But if Berthe Morisot were alive
in today’s world illustrating graphic novels
I’d being standing in line wearing my best blue jeans
to get an autographed, leather-bound edition
of her book, “The Garden’s Edge.” And I’d bet money
Hollywood would ruin the book as a movie.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Motion Beyond The Fox Point

This photo does not have a high dynamic range.

I selected a reasonably fast shutter
to capture sunset light on different cloud layers
and de-emphasize pointless clutter on the ground
without turning ground features into silhouettes.

Nowadays some cameras will automatically
take a sequence of photos with different settings
and also automatically select the most
information-rich area of each photo
and synthesize a high dynamic range image
without washed-out lights and without pure black shadows.

When I conceived this image holding my camera
I didn’t want either to obscure shadows or
eliminate shadows. I wanted to create
darks with enough information to be tempting—
tempting to look in to, to see the emptiness,
to see how much space is there when cars are not there.

When there are no parked cars and no cars driving through
there is a lot of empty space in parking lots.

One night I saw a fox run through this parking lot.

When there are no parked cars and no cars driving through
there’s enough room for even larger animals.

From light to dark there is a high dynamic range
and that range is there whether we see it or not.

One night I saw a fox run through this parking lot.

When there are no parked cars and no cars driving through
there’s enough room for even larger animals.

A fox is one point on a high dynamic range
of animals and I wonder what else runs through
parking lots outside the range of our camera eyes?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Style And Substance And Acoustic Terror

Wild dogs cry out, howling, barking, like song.
They are small things singing among large things.

Wild dogs unplugged. They’re acoustic holdouts.

Cinéma du look was a French film movement of the 1980s, analysed, for the first time, by French critic Raphaël Bassan in La Revue du Cinéma issue n° 448, May 1989, in which Besson was lumped with two other directors who shared "le look." These directors were said to favor style over substance, spectacle over narrative. It referred to films that had a slick visual style and a focus on young, alienated characters that were said to represent the marginalised youth of François Mitterrand's France. The three main directors of the Cinéma du look were Jean-Jacques Beineix, Luc Besson and Leos Carax. Themes that run through many of their films include doomed love affairs, young people with peer groups rather than families, a cynical view of the police and the use of the Paris Métro to symbolise an alternative, underground society. The mixture of 'high' culture, such as the opera music of Diva and Les Amants du Pont-Neuf and pop culture, for example the references to Batman in Subway, was another key feature. Unlike most film movements, the Cinéma du look had no clear political ideology.

The year I turned twenty-one, a French filmmaker
released a film about an acoustic holdout,
“Diva,” about an opera star who won’t allow
her singing to be recorded and a young man
who loves her and surreptitiously records her.

The young man’s friends help him defeat Asian gangsters
who want to release a commercial recording
based on the tapes he made of the opera star’s voice.

In the end, the opera star listens to her voice
for the first time on the tapes the young man has made.
She’s terrified to hear herself, but he holds her.
With him holding her, she is able to listen
to a recording of herself for the first time.

This film, that story, is sometimes characterized
as a movie where style rises above substance.

One time I described “Diva” to a young woman.
She laughed and didn’t believe it was a real film.
She thought I was teasing her. She asked, “What singer
wouldn’t want to put out a record and get paid?”

When I remember things like this I wish someone
was holding me to help me get through the terror.

(Music in “Diva” was composed by Vladimir Cosma. This is his piece, ‘Promenade Sentimentale’ )

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“Diva” at Wikipedia

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nancy Kominsky 1915-2011 RIP

In the modern world do women aspire
to be rock star wives and photographers?

I know they still want the rock star wife thing.

Today is a sad post, but I want to do it because it’s about someone who was important to me.

Last weekend I was looking around the web and I saw someone say that Nancy Kominsky had died earlier this year. So I looked around a bit and found out it was true. Her husband died at the start of this year and Nancy passed away a few months later. Maybe they were so in love she couldn’t stand going on without him.

I certainly loved Nancy. Nancy Kominsky used to be one of those “TV painters.” But she was my favorite TV painter. I talked about Nancy once before, when I put up a scan of a painting I made when I was seventeen, in A Thirty Year Old Mushroom.

Nancy was a TV painter, but unlike Bob Ross, although she simplified the process of painting she never dehumanized and mechanized the process. Bob Ross reduced painting to a set of trivial procedures and then taught people to draw the same handful of imaginary landscapes again and again. Nancy taught people painting—simplified, and without theory—but real painting. When a person became comfortable with the simple procedures, if a person wanted to learn, say, theory about light on form or about color space, that person didn’t have to abandon anything he or she learned with Nancy, rather they only had to elaborate or refine what they learned with Nancy.

She was a good teacher.

Here are some links about her:

Nancy Kominsky at Wikipedia

Nancy Kominsky and her approach to painting

The Telegraph’s story of Nancy passing away

A while back I wondered if, today, women wanted to be photographers like many women did back in the Sixties. The world is so different now. I wonder, even more, if today any women look in a mirror and see themselves the way young Nancy saw herself when she painted this self portrait:

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dragon Storm: Ammonia Snow

There is a giant storm raging on Saturn, one of the largest storms ever witnessed by human beings.

I posted about the storm before, in The Dragons Of Saturn.

This is a false color photograph taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn. The colors were selected to highlight the chemical composition of the storm.

The storm system is so large and the winds so intense that liquid ammonia from deep within the planet’s atmosphere is dredged up and lifted into the stratosphere where the cold temperatures create crystals of ammonia ice.

It seems like an obscure topic, but I’ve talked about exotic snows once before, in Pluto In Magic And Alchemy. Pluto is moving away from the Sun and much of that little planet’s atmosphere will be turning to snow and settling to the planet’s surface.

But the storm on Saturn is getting larger.

And amateur equipment is so good these days that amateur astronomers are getting extraordinary images of Saturn. Christopher Go in the Philippines captured this image. The storm on Saturn is so large and has been raging for so long that the disturbance in the clouds has now completely encircled the giant planet. Christopher Go observes: “Note that the head of the NED is interacting with material on the old tail! The region around the NED has become very complex.

This amazing image brings up an interesting point. This example of fluid dynamics, a storm so large that its effects create a circle around a planet and continue, creating chaos that then starts to engulf chaos, looks very much like one of the most ancient mystical symbols on earth—the image of a snake eating its own tail — Ouroboros.

There are some folklorists who believe this is not a coincidence.

Some folklorists believe that very ancient man either 1) had access to advanced technologies that allowed people to see events like this, and then pass along what they witnessed as powerful images; or 2) had access to a solar system that was very dynamic, with planets in a different arrangement than they are today, and just by looking up in the sky people were able to see events like this, and then pass along what they witnessed as powerful images.

There is almost no “hardcore” evidence for such a past. There is almost no “nuts and bolts” archeology which supports a belief that our ancient ancestors lived among such sights, or even that astrophysics makes such a past possible.

But many people today who engage with astronomy, who engage with plasma physics, see these images and the images kind of resonate at an emotional level.

This view of the past, for many people, feels real.

Not many people will look up at the night sky. That’s just the way the world is. Even fewer people know the sky well enough to point to Saturn. Again, that’s just the way the world is. But for the people who do look, and see, they see amazing things.

And I wonder: Are the things we see, today, the same things, the same kind of things, people saw, say, fifty thousand years ago, or a hundred thousand years ago?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Robot Above The Clouds Of Saturn

No Doubts About The Party

All The Sunlight Is For Laughing

There’s a storm coming. I’m going to sleep.

Before meeting Pam for lunch, I spent time
talking about music technology
with a recording studio owner.

He told me he’d be willing to sell me
his Yamaha Motif synthesizer.

“It’s in perfect shape,” he said. “Nobody
ever uses it. All of my clients
either just play real instruments and hate
the technology stuff, or they’re experts
at the virtual studio programs
running on computers so they don’t need
the fancy keyboard workstations at all.”

I’m reasonably good with computers
myself and I’m trying to get better
at playing what he called ‘real’ instruments.

So I didn’t buy his fancy keyboard.

When Pam got out of her car a strong wind
blew a visible cloud of dust at her
from off the asphalt of the parking lot.

Pam closed her eyes. She turned away briefly,
then opened her eyes, looked at me and smiled.

“Fucking wind,” she said. “Is a storm coming?”

“On radar,” I said, “it looks hours away.”

“Well,” Pam said, “the fucking wind is here now.”

It’s later and the storm is much closer.

In my room, there’s a guitar over there
and my keyboard doesn’t give me access
to oscillator-level sound shaping.

But I can still play songs, still sing to Pam.

There’s a storm coming and lightning will flash
like exciting waveforms against the sky.

I’m going to sleep. Somehow tomorrow
I’ll find a way to make music for Pam.

Friday, May 20, 2011

“Where Did The Cows Go?”

“Darling, where did
the cows go?”

“They’re out back.
But they don’t look
at all well.”

from “A Nuclear Opera”

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Radiactivity Taints Grass in Iwate, Fukushima,
Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Saitama prefectures

Linda Moulton Howe: When Hollywood
Wanted "A Strange Harvest"


Irving Berlin’s Piano

Real Estate Gothic


Behind-The-Scenes Bonus: A Rehearsal!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Irving Berlin’s Piano

Irving Berlin’s piano had a lever
and by shifting around the lever he changed
the key in which his piano produced sounds.

Irving Berlin wrote all his songs by playing
in the key G-flat—that’s all the black keys plus
two white keys—and he only learned fingerings
for chords in G-flat. When he wanted to play
in another key he’d use the same chord shapes
but reset the lever which physically changed
which strings inside the piano hammers struck.

I want to meet a woman who plays the flute.

I want to meet a woman who plays the flute
on a keyboard device and when the woman
wants to play a cello she pushes levers
that modify some oscillator waveforms,
change what other oscillators modulate,
reset which harmonics pass through what filters
and reshape an amplifier envelope.

Some dinosaurs like some sounds, some like others.

Through the parking lot you have to travel light.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nuclear Accidents, Beatles, Mean Snakes

Today is one of the worst cases of “I’ve got nothing” in the history of this blog.

I was actually doing a lot today, there were a lot of things I could have written about, but I just never got around to writing anything. Soon—I don’t know when—I think I will have some good stuff. But I don’t know when. Certainly not today.

So, like an old fashioned kind of blog post, from the early days of blogging, I’m just going to jot down a few things that I’ve been doing lately.


I’ve been paying a lot of attention, of course, to the strange goings-on in Japan’s nuclear reactors. Fukushima is the most obvious case, but many of Japan’s reactors seem to be having problems. It makes me wonder if their embedded systems have been infected with a computer virus.

At any rate, a lot of the coverage on the internet comes from bizarre websites that have almost a lunatic fringe kind of feel to them, with extreme left-wing views and extreme anti-nuclear views. As bad as the situation seems to be with Fukushima, it is very hard to trust information from many of the websites that spend a lot of time talking about it.

One good resource I’ve found is MIT. They certainly know their science and engineering there. Here is a quote from an MIT educational site, and a link:

What is criticality?

The words “criticality” and “re-criticality” have been used extensively in the media coverage. Criticality is a nuclear term that refers to the balance of neutrons in the system. “Subcritical” refers to a system where the loss rate of neutrons is greater than the production rate of neutrons and therefore the neutron population (or number of neutrons) decreases as time goes on. “Supercritical” refers to a system where the production rate of neutrons is greater than the loss rate of neutrons and therefore the neutron population increases. When the neutron population remains constant, this means there is a perfect balance between production rate and loss rate, and the nuclear system is said to be “critical.” The criticality of a system can be calculated by comparing the rate at which neutrons are produced, from fission and other sources, to the rate at which they are lost through absorption and leakage out of the reactor core. A nuclear reactor is a system that controls this criticality or balance of neutrons.


Right now I’m reading this book by George Martin. The trouble with reading about the Beatles is that almost every account provides some narrative that clashes with an earlier narrative. But I like George Martin. Out of all the characters connected with the group he seems the most level-headed.

Except, of course, for Jane Asher. She’s written three fiction books, but she’s never written directly about the Beatles. I strongly suspect she knows what might be called the Q-document about the Beatles. But I also strongly suspect she will never publish it.

Mean Snakes

Right now I’m watching this movie.

Last week when I was looking around for Benadryl—all the stores around my house were sold out—I finally found some at a store that also had DVDs on sale. One of the sale DVDs was this snake movie so I bought it.

I wouldn’t say I like Tara Reid, but she’s one of those bad actresses who always seems at least to put her heart into her bad performance. Her movies are usually awful, but kind of fun to watch.

And I like monster snake movies.

Although, to be exact, in my scheme of things this is not a monster snake movie, it’s just a killer snake movie. The snakes aren’t giant, just very poisonous and very mean. It’s pretty bad, but the characters are all kind of pleasant and I think a would-be writer like me can learn a lot from second-guessing efforts like this and thinking of ways to tell such a story with a more focused effect.

That’s about it for today.

Not much.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Best Reason To Study Astrophysics

The cinematograph was presented for the first time on 28 December 1895. Early research was carried out by an eccentric personality, the photographer Antoine Lumière, who, with the help of his two sons, Auguste and Louis, perfected a technique of breaking down movement into a series of instantaneous photographs. The idea took the form of countless trials, up to the birth of a rudimentary cine-camera. The first demonstrations took place in private meetings, but the real challenge was attracting a vast paying public. Its success was almost immediate: the first spectators were dumbfounded, finding themselves confronted not by a theatrical performance, but by real life! A journalist of the time wrote: “When the use of this apparatus spreads among people and everyone is able to photograph their loved ones, no longer in a state of immobility but in movement, in action, in familiar gestures, speaking, then death will no longer be absolute.”

Silvia Borghesi
writing in Art Book: Cezanne

What kind of images of Vicki are possible?

There are motion pictures of Vicki playing a part.

There are motion pictures of Vicki being herself.

There are still photos of Vicki herself and in roles.

I could draw or paint Vicki, make images of her
in pencil or pen, watercolor or acrylic.

I could describe Vicki in words—a poem or story
or song, or a cycle of many chapters of each.

And there is multimedia—Vicki from many
different angles in many different effects.

A sculptor could make little plastic dolls of Vicki.

Vicki frowned. “I’ve seen all of them,” she said. “Is that it?”

“I could rearrange the stars,” I said, “and make a new
constellation, put Vicki in the sky forever.”

“That would be something to see,” she said, and smiled, then laughed.

It would be the best constellation: Vicki Laughing

I know some astrophysics. But I’ve got to learn more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Click—It’s A New Week

It’s a new week and I’m feeling much better than last week.

Last week right around this time I was falling into a rabbit hole of pain because of allergic reactions I had to a restaurant meal where I ate wheat bread on a sandwich and had soup. I knew it was a dangerous meal when I ate it. Wheat products are often used as thickening agents in commercial foods like soups and stews and such. The sandwich and soup, together, were too much.

So for all last week I was making my own meals and eating very carefully. I quickly started to feel better, but I began having episodes where all the pain and discomfort would come back for a while. I was reasonably certain my food was okay so I was puzzled. Then I noticed the episodes seemed to be early and late in the day, and I realized the episodes seemed to be keyed to after the meals where I took a vitamin supplement.

When I bought the vitamins I checked the label—of course!—and I thought they were safe. Over the weekend I checked the label again. In big bold letters it says no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no sugar, no milk, no soy, no lactose, no yeast, no shellfish. It sounds safe. Then there’s a bit of text. Then there are little letters, plain text, not bold at all, that say: Contains wheat.

Those scumbags! I’d been poisoning myself twice a day! Those scumbags!

So I threw out that good-for-nothing junk. And I’ve been feeling better. Now with no episodes of allergies returning.

I’d bought those vitamins at a regular store. The only safe way to buy vitamins—and, really, I knew this—is to go to a health food store and tell them you have allergies and ask them to recommend a product that is allergen-free. I’ve read of stuff like this happening. You’ve got to be on guard all the time.


It’s a new week.

Here’s me at the very start of the new week. This is me before I even get up, before I even put on my glasses. This is me plugging in to a metronome and listening to the click and making up a little melody and trying to keep to the beat and trying to finish on time:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Beautiful Bugs, Annoying Clicks

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pedals, Patches And A Composer

I’ve got nothing for today. Nothing at all. Not a thing.


I know it’s Friday, but I’ve been so zonked out of my mind from allergies this week that I can’t believe I put up any posts at all. I remember doing everything, writing things, playing guitar, putting up images, all in a kind of haze.

But I’ve just sort of run out.

But for the last couple of days I’ve been feeling a little better. These kind of awful allergy attacks have hit me before and they usually clear up in about a week. So I believe next week will be better here at the blog.


I’m just going to do two other things today.

First, I’m going to talk about a topic that I’ll be getting into more next week or the week after.

For the last couple of months I’ve been focusing a lot on keyboard playing. And I’ve been talking to some people in real life and looking around at various forums on the net. I’ve noticed something that took me completely by surprise. That is, I noticed a strange similarity between contemporary keyboard players and contemporary guitarists that I never would have expected to see.

A long time ago I ridiculed a stupid trend among contemporary guitarists that is generally called, chasing tone. The chasing tone idea is that a guitarist should create a unique “sound” that is cool and is distinctly his or hers and that tone, that sound, will make the audience love the guitar player’s music.

And music corporations are happy because they sell endless “pedals,” little boxes that guitarists plug into that modify the signal between the guitar and amplifier. Some guitar players have a half dozen—or more—pedals at their feet to manipulate their sound, to chase particular tones.

A couple of generations ago musicians took it for granted that they had to develop a style of playing that was unique. They had to develop a level of musicianship that would let them play music that would make the audience love them. (In an interview once, Steve Vai even mentioned how as a young man he met Brian May and May tried out Vai’s guitar and Vai was intrigued to hear, suddenly, Brian May getting “Brian May music” from Vai’s own guitar.)

Obviously I’m a person who believes music is in the music itself, not the tone, not the sound of the music.

Anyway, as I’ve been looking around the keyboard world, I see the same kind of thing, but instead of “chasing tone” like guitarists, keyboard players run around “duplicating patches.” (A “patch” is a particular setting on a synthesizer.) And since every keyboard or synthesizer has its own arrangement of oscillators and effects, every device has to be set a little differently to get a particular sound. Some keyboard players spend days, or weeks, almost randomly changing parameters trying to match the sound of some YouTube performance.

And keyboard signals can be manipulated with effects similar to the pedals guitar players use. The new Korg Kronos in fact will display some effects on its screen using actual images of popular effects pedals. (The Kronos also will have a fan and run Linux like a computer, but that’s a whole different complaint.)

The whole music world has stopped being about music and now is about sound. Chasing tone.

I’ll have more to say about this when I’m feeling better.

The final thing for today is some good music.

As I’m typing this I’m listening to music—music, not just cool tones!—written by a film composer from a few decades ago named Bernard Herrmann.

Now some people think he was overly melodramatic and kind of simplistic. But his music is so cool—and almost instantly recognizable as Bernard Herrmann music regardless of what instruments you hear playing it—that I’ve read comments over at Amazon where people have said they heard his music as a kid and that’s what made them become professional musicians or composers themselves. I’ve wondered if that kind of thing happens today.

So, anyway, here’s what I’m listening to. Now I’m going to go take some Benadryl and fall asleep watching the movie this music was written for.

This YouTube clip is about eight minutes long. The “Prelude”—that is, the movie credit sequence—is only about a minute and a half long. But it’s so cool! It’s just a minute and a half of music and it’s better than a lot of movies are nowadays.

Okay. I’m done for the week. Listen at least to the first minute and a half of this. It’s great stuff. Here’s Bernard Herrmann:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Beautiful Bugs, Annoying Clicks

This is, for me, my Thursday post, but it is early Friday.

Blogger was down all day Thursday and I couldn’t put up my post. That’s the first time I remember that happening.

It is Friday morning as I’m typing this bit and my last post, Wednesday’s post, has been removed as part of Blogger’s attempt to fix itself. The tech people say my missing Wednesday post will be restored soon as their computers get back to normal. We’ll see. If they’ve lost it, I can recreate it.

So I’m just going to roll with it and do two posts today, one early and one later. This first post will be back-dated—if the date stamp is working—for Thursday. I wrote and prepared everything yesterday. I did my part. But I just wasn’t able to post it yesterday because Blogger wasn’t here.

It’s not my fault!

- Mark

I’ve just got two totally unrelated things today. [Thursday, that is! –Mark]

Beautiful Bugs

First of all, this has been a horrible week for me. Early Monday I had some kind of allergic reaction to something I ate (I think it was the combination of wheat bread on a sandwich and the food processing chemicals in some restaurant soup) and then, at the same time, my sinuses had some kind of allergic reaction to all the pollen and other plant matter in the air. So all week my head has felt like a monster has been crunching my skull between its teeth. Thanks to very careful meals and Benadryl I’ve slooooowly been getting better. But still right now the whole left-side of my head feels like someone whacked me with a sledge hammer.

I mention this because today I went out to buy some chicken and vegetables and as I was walking along, groaning to myself and getting all self-pitying about the aches in my head, I felt a bug land on my arm and I looked down and it was a black ladybug.

It was so beautiful I just stopped and stared. In my whole life, I’ve never seen a black ladybug before. It was small and black with two bright orange dots, one on each side of its back. I didn’t have my camera with me, but I found a picture on the net. It looked like this, but with smaller spots.

After looking around at the Bug Guide Site, I believe it was a type of ladybug called a ‘twice-stabbed’ ladybug. The guide says some species are primarily southern but sometimes northern farmers release them for pest-control purposes. We’ve had a lot of wind coming up from the south recently and I suspect it might have been carried north by the strange weather systems.

It was a very pleasant moment for me. I felt terrible, but here was nature taking a second to show me something wildly beautiful, something I’d never seen before.

So, for a second, I felt really good. For a second.

Playing With a Metronome

So a couple of weeks ago I bought a fancy metronome. Not only can it do a million metronome-type things, but it can also function as a little guitar practice amp.

I have a lot of trouble playing to a rigid time, so I am buckling down and practicing a little every day to some simple beat.

Just to prove it, here’s a clip I made today.

This is me practicing with the metronome. And I’m playing with a pick, to get better volume for the clip.

I don’t have much to go along with this. About the only thing interesting here—other than me struggling to keep time—is that this is just a random little melody I made up this morning and yet it resolves itself in twelve bars. I didn’t consciously target a twelve-bar structure or anything. But we all hear so many eight-bar and twelve-bar melodies in pop music that they become part of us, even when we’re just playing around.

This little melody is very interesting to me because I can play this progression—the exact same chords—on guitar or keyboard. It feels so natural and easy on guitar, and I really struggle on the keyboard. But it’s an interesting test for me to play the same chords (just different voicings—1573 on guitar and 5713 on keyboard) and to try and get it as casually on keyboard as I can on guitar. It feels like I’ll never get it and I want to give up. But I know sometimes you just have to struggle through something and things get easier. Sometimes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Perfect Pages

If I had a notebook shaped like her
I would never write on the pages,
I would never draw on the pages,
I would never paint on the pages,
because I would never want to think
of ever needing a new notebook.

If I had a notebook shaped like her
I would open it to a blank page
every day and play music to it,
I’d sing it a song that I practiced,
draw a picture with words I crafted,
paint feelings with melody and chords.

If I had a notebook shaped like her
I would look at the pages without
words or drawings or paintings on them
and they would be perfect memories
of me playing music and singing
to the perfect pages shaped like her.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Asteroid Scheila Is Not A Comet Update

Is Asteroid Scheila Really Comet Scheila?

Asteroid Scheila/Comet Scheila Update

Apparently asteroid Scheila is not a comet that somehow got trapped in the asteroid belt. Apparently asteroid Scheila is an asteroid and, by random chance, Earth cameras just happened to catch sight of Scheila only weeks after another asteroid or meteor impacted Scheila sending up dust and debris.

It looks like astronomers came to this conclusion by studying the spectrum of the light reflected back from the debris. Since that spectrum didn’t match the kind of light astronomers normally see reflected off comet out-gassing, astronomers concluded Scheila is a more-or-less normal asteroid that was the victim of a hit-and-run.

Here’s the story. There are videos at the link.

NASA uses a “Star Wars” clip [?!] to introduce their video explaining the collision. NASA did it.

It’s not my fault!

Hit and Run Asteroid Caused Scheila’s Comet-like Behavior

by Nancy Atkinson on May 3, 2011
Universe Today

Asteroid or comet? That was the question astronomers were asking after an asteroid named Scheila had unexpectedly brightened, and seemingly sprouted a tail and coma. But follow-up observations by the Swift satellite and the Hubble Space Telescope show that these changes likely occurred after Scheila was struck by a much smaller asteroid.

“Collisions between asteroids create rock fragments, from fine dust to huge boulders, that impact planets and their moons,” said Dennis Bodewits, an astronomer at the University of Maryland in College Park and lead author of the Swift study. “Yet this is the first time we’ve been able to catch one just weeks after the smash-up, long before the evidence fades away.”

Faint dust plumes bookend asteroid (596) Scheila, which is overexposed in this composite. Visible and ultraviolet images from Swift's UVOT (circled) are merged with a Digital Sky Survey image of the same region. The UVOT images were acquired on Dec. 15, 2010, when the asteroid was about 232 million miles from Earth. Credit: NASA/Swift/DSS/D. Bodewits (UMD)

On Dec. 11, 2010, images from the University of Arizona’s Catalina Sky Survey, a project of NASA’s Near Earth Object Observations Program, revealed the Scheila to be twice as bright as expected and immersed in a faint comet-like glow. Looking through the survey’s archived images, astronomers inferred the outburst began between Nov. 11 and Dec. 3.

Three days after the outburst was announced, Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) captured multiple images and a spectrum of the asteroid. Ultraviolet sunlight breaks up the gas molecules surrounding comets; water, for example, is transformed into hydroxyl (OH) and hydrogen (H). But none of the emissions most commonly identified in comets — such as hydroxyl or cyanogen (CN) — showed up in the UVOT spectrum. The absence of gas around Scheila led the Swift team to reject the idea that Scheila was actually a comet and that exposed ice accounted for the brightening.

Hubble observed the asteroid’s fading dust cloud on Dec. 27, 2010, and Jan. 4, 2011. Images show the asteroid was flanked in the north by a bright dust plume and in the south by a fainter one. The dual plumes formed as small dust particles excavated by the impact were pushed away from the asteroid by sunlight.

The science teams from the two space observatories found the observations were best explained by a collision with a small asteroid impacting Scheila’s surface at an angle of less than 30 degrees, leaving a crater 1,000 feet across. Laboratory experiments show a more direct strike probably wouldn’t have produced two distinct dust plumes. The researchers estimated the crash ejected more than 660,000 tons of dust–equivalent to nearly twice the mass of the Empire State Building.

The Hubble Space Telescope imaged (596) Scheila on Dec. 27, 2010, when the asteroid was about 218 million miles away. Scheila is overexposed in this image to reveal the faint dust features. The asteroid is surrounded by a C-shaped cloud of particles and displays a linear dust tail in this visible-light picture acquired by Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3. Because Hubble tracked the asteroid during the exposure, the star images are trailed. Credit: NASA/ESA/D. Jewitt (UCLA)

“The Hubble data are most simply explained by the impact, at 11,000 mph, of a previously unknown asteroid about 100 feet in diameter,” said Hubble team leader David Jewitt at the University of California in Los Angeles. Hubble did not see any discrete collision fragments, unlike its 2009 observations of P/2010 A2, the first identified asteroid collision.

Scheila is approximately 113 km (70 miles) across and orbits the sun every five years.

“The dust cloud around Scheila could be 10,000 times as massive as the one ejected from comet 9P/Tempel 1 during NASA’s UMD-led Deep Impact mission,” said co-author Michael Kelley, also at the University of Maryland. “Collisions allow us to peek inside comets and asteroids. Ejecta kicked up by Deep Impact contained lots of ice, and the absence of ice in Scheila’s interior shows that it’s entirely unlike comets.”

The studies will appear in the May 20 edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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“Yet Baghdad Is”

Imagine Space Cheerleaders

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Monster Thought Of The Waldensians

When the knight saw that she was truly beautiful and young, he joyfully clasped her in his arms, his heart filled with happiness. He kissed her a thousand times over, and she obeyed him in everything which might give him happiness or pleasure. Thus they lived all their lives in perfect joy.

“The Wife of Bath”
The Canterbury Tales

Supervillains must never let down their guard, and they always must give consideration to even seemingly unthinkable contingencies.

I’m writing, here, about the beginning and end
of a monster movie about a giant snake.

The beginning is a beautiful woman’s butt
in Russia where life is hard for everybody
and everybody has to be tough to survive.

The ending is a big explosion in a lab
where soldiers, scientists, business people and spies
hope to profit from a giant snake they’ve captured.

I guess it might look like Russia but the movie
was filmed in Bulgaria. And the beautiful
actress with the sexy butt and Russian accent
looks tough, but she’s a cutie from Australia.

In Europe the pages of the Reformation
turned on the monster thought of the Waldensians
that everybody, whenever they wanted to,
should be able to read and think about the words
of the gospels without having to contract out
those tasks to a James Bond-type from the Vatican.

In Britain the pages of the Reformation
turned on the desire of a king for a younger
and more beautiful wife and the children she might
deliver to him to carry on his business.

I like that monster film about the giant snake.
There’s nothing British in it. And the only thing
that’s kind of British—a James Bond-type U.S. spy—
gets eaten by the snake before the snake is killed.

I guess it’s good that books are dead now at the end
and we have movies. Or “good.” Everybody knows
everything in movies—every thing—is pretend.

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“Python 2” at Wikipedia


“The Clock Had All His Attention”

This Scary, Pumpkin Time Of Year, Part Two

A Beard Tangled With Headphones

I Understand, But Then There’s Joss Stone

Repurposing Vicki

‘Lost Horizon’ Versus ‘Camelot’ — #1

‘Lost Horizon’ Versus ‘Camelot’ — #2: It’s May!

‘Lost Horizon’ Versus ‘Camelot’ — #3: Two Different Worlds

‘Lost Horizon’ Versus ‘Camelot’ — #4: Fie On Goodness!

‘Lost Horizon’ Versus ‘Camelot’ — #5: Shangri-La

My Two Favorite Monster Snake Movies

The Year Winds Down #2: Buying Junk

Orbis Non Sufficit And The Status Cow

Monster Snakes And Sexy Tee Shirts

The Sexy Herpetologist Returns! (Sans Sexy)

Coming Attractions

“Organic Chemistry Is So Hard!”

Paul And The Damsel In Distress

Me And The Damsel Not In Distress

Friday, May 06, 2011

Don’t Paint Your Wagon: Off, Off Broadway

Messages of love from the deep, hot biosphere,
up-welling valentines of hydrogen sulfide
and methane and others, disperse, collect, confide
their affection to our fish, birds, smother their fear,

wrench their diffuse part from their mechanical gear,
bones, eyes, hearts, the dense stuff from around the outside,
and take the thinnest part, the real part from inside,
down through the rock sky to the molten atmosphere.

I hate being alone. I’ll miss the birds and fish,
and trees here don’t care if I sing in the morning.
But as this place becomes the surface of the Moon

the lonely trees will disappear, too. Then I’ll wish
I’d sung to their indifferent branches. Their warning,
that lonely indifference, is a cold blue jazz tune.

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Real Estate Gothic

What Is Love? 6—Broadway Diamond

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Book Of Love In The City Of The Dead

Drinking rum and Coca-Cola
Go to Point Cumana
Both mother and daughter
Working for the Yankee dollar

“Rum and Coca-Cola”
quoted in Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy! — 1945 Version
(I fixed the lost links)

Then one day things weren’t quite so fine
I fell in love with Lily
I asked my dad where Lily I could find
He said, “Son, now don't be silly
She's been dead since 1929”
Oh how I cried that night

“Pictures of Lily,” Pete Townshend
quoted in Pictures Of Lily As A Zombie

The cars, the cars— The cars want to enter
the parking lot because the parking lot
is the parking lot of the donut shop.

The sign says “Do Not Enter” but the cars
want to enter. The cars want to enter
the parking lot that way. Right past that sign.

The cars, the cars— There are people in them
and there is something in that parking lot
just like there are people driving those cars.

People get in cars and get out of them.
What is in the donut shop parking lot?
And I wonder, wonder— Does it get out?

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The Donut Shop Parking Lot Is Not Enough

The Donut Shop Parking Lot Necropolis

The Time Of The Dinosaurs

The Girl Who Talks To Dinosaurs


Chapter One says to love her
You love her with all your heart
Chapter Two you tell her you're
Never, never, never, never, never gonna part
In Chapter Three remember the meaning of romance
In Chapter Four you break up
But you give her just one more chance

The Monotones at Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Quick Robot Guitar Note

Hmmm. That girl is playing a robot guitar.

I’ve talked about keyboards and synthesizers so much lately that I’ve felt bad for my guitar. Here in real life, I actually practice and play my guitar more than my keyboard.

But since synthesizers, for the most part, use keyboard controllers and I’ve been thinking a lot about synthesizers, I’ve been posting more about keyboards than guitar.

But in terms of music I still, of course, think of myself as a guitarist.

Now that my fingers are getting more comfortable with seventh chords on my keyboard I’m hoping to start playing the keyboard more, but I don’t expect ever to put my guitar away in the closet.

I have (very tentative) plans to do a music post this Friday and although I plan on using my keyboard for the music, I’ve actually worked out what I’ll be playing on my guitar.

I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It seems like a good idea to learn cool new things and keyboards and synthesizers are cool things, and new for me. But I wonder if taking time away from the guitar is a good thing. I mean, heck, I’m still learning that!

I don’t know.

I got to thinking about this because there was a story in the news recently about that “robot guitar” Gibson makes. The newest version, the “Firebird X” has been delayed. This is the second delay.

Can’t be a good sign. And the comments at the Gibson site are almost unanimously negative. That can’t be a good sign, either. You’ve got to wonder if the robot guitar is just going to disappear.

Here are some current links about the robot guitar:

Gibson Firebird X home page

Gibson's Firebird X 'revolution' delayed again at MusicRadar

(Sometimes I think about trading in my keyboard for a new Ovation acoustic guitar and just reading about synthesizers. I don’t think I’m going to do that. But I think about it. I mean, music is about melody and harmony and rhythm. Not about oscillators, filters and amplifiers. And when you play guitar, your fingers touch the vibrating strings, not mechanical keys. And, of course, an acoustic guitar will still make music even if—for some reason—the power lines were to all fall down. I don’t know. It’s stuff that’s on my mind.)

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Gibson’s New Robot Guitar


A Nod To Guitars With Knobs

I Can’t Sleep In My Kitchen

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

“The Clock Had All His Attention”

What can you tell me about the Jesuits and the Dominicans?

Well, they were both founded by Spaniards, St. Ignatius of Loyola for the Jesuits and St. Dominic for the Dominicans.

Why were they created?

They were also both founded to combat heresy, the Jesuits to fight the Protestants, and the Dominicans to fight the Albigensians.

They’re both Catholic orders, of course, but are there notable differences between the Jesuits and the Dominicans?

Well, have you met any Albigensians lately?

Compositions change with the instrument you are writing with. No pianist, for example, could ever have written “I Feel Fine.” That opening riff, which is the cornerstone of the song, is a guitar lick if ever you heard one. It is pretty obvious that John, who was a guitarist and not really much of anything else, fooled around for hours until he stumbled upon this little phrase, which he thought was great. Generally, by listening to a song, you can work out whether it was written by a guitarist or a pianist—or any other type of ‘ist.’ “Fixing a Hole” is very recognizably a keyboard song. You can see the three-finger piano chords underpinning its structure. Those basic triads are the platform on which the lead voice, Paul’s voice, and the bass guitar, were overlaid.

Have I met any Albigensians lately?
Are they the people who use all of their fingers
when they play keyboards, and listen to the singer’s
phrasing, the pauses, the silences that stately

put shape around a melody, not as greatly
as the melody’s pitch and time structure-clingers
latch on to, but as a narrow gate that lingers
as if waiting, as if wanting you sedately?

Last night at my keyboard I practiced seventh chords
with a metronome keeping time by candlelight.
I was playing five-seven-one-three chord voicings

and although I was alert to hearing discords
from the middle half-step, the chords rang at midnight
pure to my ears, bent to what a witch’s choice brings.