Monday, April 30, 2012

Distorted By The Classical Mess

Bruce Lee did not stress the memorization of solo training forms or "Kata", as most traditional styles do in their beginning-level training. He often compared doing forms without an opponent to attempting to learn to swim on dry land. Lee believed that real combat was alive and dynamic. Circumstances in a fight change from millisecond to millisecond, and thus pre-arranged patterns and techniques are not adequate in dealing with such a changing situation. As an anecdote to this thinking, Lee once wrote an epitaph which read: ‘In memory of a once fluid man, crammed and distorted by the classical mess

The plight of child prodigies in particular was revealed in a provocative autobiographical memoir called ‘Forbidden Childhood’ by pianist Ruth Slenczynska (b. 1925). Slenczynska’s account stands as a warning against “stage mothers and fathers” in the music world. It’s worth noting, for those addicted to the spectacle of young, emotionally undeveloped virtuosos tackling the deepest works of the piano literature, that in its archaic meaning, “prodigy” derives from ‘prodigium,’ the Latin word for “omen” and “monster” (rather than “artist”).

I disliked “A Natural History
of the Piano”
but I read the book
because the book is full of history
but like many books in the modern world
the author doesn’t try to distinguish
between all the different histories—
the boring ones, the bad ones, the good ones.

So maybe Franz Liszt hired women to faint
when he played some passage very quickly,
and the rest of the women at the show
believed it was the dramatic playing.

Some writers write the way some women faint.

But it was worth struggling through the snake oil
to get the bit about ‘prodigium’
not meaning ‘artist’ but rather ‘monster.’

Up to a point Chopin was friends with Liszt.

Now that point’s just another history.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Librarian Not In The Drawing

She asked, “Did you ever write that story?
You told me you would. What was the title?
I still remember the day when you told
me, ‘The Woman Who Was Never Alone’
That was it, wasn’t it? I remember
you said you’d start it in a library.
A guy drawing the reading area.
And when he draws the information desk
he includes two of the librarians
but not the third, not the young, pretty one.
She was going to talk to the artist,
tell him she saw him sketching, ask him why
he didn’t include her in the drawing.
Am I remembering the details right?
He was going to say he didn’t know
why he didn’t include her in the scene.
He was going to be very puzzled.
They were going to talk more. Go to lunch.
He was going to try to figure out
why he left the woman out of his sketch.
And then strange things were going to happen.
And eventually it would turn out
that she, the young, pretty librarian,
wasn’t human, right? She was a monster?
Eventually he would realize
that’s why he left her out of his drawing.
Because his subconscious brain in some way,
some way that transcends rationality,
recognized that the young, pretty woman—
as a young, pretty woman—wasn’t there.
Did you ever buckle down and write that?”

The man shook his head. He said, “No. Not yet.”

She said, “You should write that. That would be good.”
She look at him and smiled and then she laughed.
She was still laughing when she walked away.

The man watched until she turned a corner,
then he looked down. Both his hands were pressed flat
against the table. He was pressing hard,
but he saw that it wasn’t hard enough
to disguise how both his hands were shaking.
He exhaled and his whole body trembled.
He tried to remember if his voice shook
with fear when he had told her, ‘No. Not yet.’
But the memory was gone from his mind.
All he heard, in his mind, was her laughing.

He looked down. Both his hands were still shaking.

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

Two Women And Someday

The Beautiful Parking Lot Without Mercy

The Girl Who Talks To Dinosaurs

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Moon Miranda (A Note)

(I’ve wanted to do this post for a few days, but I’ve been trying to come up with more to say. I haven’t really been successful at coming up with a lot, so I’m just going to do a short post.)

I’ve been interested in amateur astronomy for a long time. I mean, a long time. Normally, when some astronomy question occurs to me, I can almost always make a reasonable guess at what the answer probably will be. Every now and then, however, some question will pop up that I realize I can’t even guess at.

Last week that happened right here at the blog.

When I wrote the post, “Miranda And Miranda And Miranda,” I included a line saying that maybe someday I’ll own a larger telescope, and I meant that maybe someday I’ll be able to see Miranda.

But to be absolutely honest I wasn’t exactly sure when I wrote that line if Miranda even could be seen by amateur equipment. Amateur equipment is so extraordinarily powerful these days that I just took it for granted that Miranda would be visible with a suitably large telescope.

But when I thought about it I wasn’t sure.

So I’ve been looking around on the net. And it turns out that the moons of Uranus are intriguing targets for amateurs, and Miranda is the most difficult of the five large moons of Uranus.

First of all, it is possible for amateurs to photograph Miranda. It’s difficult, but as far back as 2002 amateurs were getting photos of Miranda. Here is one from an amateur named Ed Grafton:

In that photo, Miranda is the dimmest moon visible, just below Uranus. The details of the photo, and discussion of the difficulties involved are here: Sky and Telescope: The Elusive Moons of Uranus

But that photo raises some interesting issues on this topic.

First of all, that photograph was heavily processed. Miranda is so dim and comparatively so close to Uranus that the planet’s brightness can “wash-out” the image of Miranda in a normal astrophotograph.

However, astrophotography has progressed a lot in the last decade. Instead of depending on very long exposures where a bright object can wash-out nearby dim objects, nowadays most amateur astrophotographs are created by taking a great many medium-length photographs and using software to “stack” the images together. So Miranda might be easier to photograph with current equipment.

Second, that photograph was captured with a 14 inch telescope. Although that is a reasonably large telescope, nowadays amateurs have access to telescopes much larger. Meade Instruments has a sixteen inch model available off-the-shelf, and their top-of-the-line ‘semi-pro’ scope is twenty inches.

More to the point, however, there are Dobsonian scopes available now that get up into the mid-twenties. I did a post about Dobsonian scopes, because one amateur even built a thirty-six inch [!] telescope: Dobsonian

Obsession Telescopes has three models of twenty inches or more.

And optics are very well made these days. A twenty inch telescope gathers much more light than a fourteen inch telescope.

So it’s a really interesting question: Can an amateur astronomer see Miranda?

Certainly an amateur astronomer can photograph Miranda.

I strongly suspect that with high-quality modern optics and a twenty-something inch Dobsonian telescope an amateur could see Miranda.

But I don’t know for sure.

If I ever have a backyard again I will return to this question.

The technical issues of photographing Miranda don’t really seem all that interesting to me. I wrote about astrophotography a little in Dumbbell And Gobbledygook. I’m sure that is possible and with modern equipment I bet it isn’t even really all that hard.

I love photography, but I’ve never been too drawn to astrophotography.

But the very cool thing about Dobsonian telescopes is that they put an unbelievable amount of light-gathering power in front of a visual observer. Things that seem unthinkable become possible. I love those kinds of things. If I ever have a backyard again, I will return to this question with a Dobsonian telescope and find out for sure.

That will be fun.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Process Of Passages

I saw a scrap of manuscript paper
where I sketched four bars of a melody
many months ago. I had forgotten
both the melody and writing it down.

I looked at the notation. In my mind
I played through the melody and listened.

And I remembered, then, everything.

When the melody first occurred to me.

What I was doing, thinking and feeling.

For an instant as the melody played
in my mind, it was as if I was there,
in that other place, in that other time,
it was as if a passage between worlds
had opened and allowed me through and back.

And there were no electronics involved.

There was no computer dissecting space.

Was it the paper with lines and scribbles?

Was it the thought of an old melody?

Or was it a process that once started
continued endlessly around someone
who created the start of the process?

A process of passages between worlds.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the differences between an acquired personal skill, and a gadget. And the consequences of those differences.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking a lot about the French composer Olivier Messiaen and his almost life-long hobby of listening to birdsongs and notating the songs in his musical journals.

Now I’m not personally that captivated by birdsong, although I do like birds and I do enjoy listening to them sing. But I am very interested in a lot of other things, and many of the issues that come up in the context of a composer interested in birdsong seem very relevant, even gripping, to me in an abstract sort of way.

These days high-resolution digital stereo recorders are reasonably inexpensive and can fit in a person’s pocket. And computer programs called digital audio workstations (DAWs) can analyze an audio file and isolate the frequencies and durations of notes. Files like that can be quantized, where note lengths are “rounded-off” to some arbitrarily set unit. And then that digital file can be represented in many different graphically-informative styles. I’ve never seen it, but I believe there are utilities that can convert an audio file all the way over to standard music notation.

So a person interested in birdsong these days can gather a lot more information with a handy pocket recorder than they can by listening carefully and analyzing what they hear and converting their audio experience to music notation manually.

But I wonder if the end result is the same, or even similar.

I mean that in two ways.

First of all, any serious musician has to learn to read music well enough to perform a score that might be generated by software that converts an audio file to music notation. So any serious musician has to develop an engagement with notation anyway, even if pocket recorders and DAWs are wildly powerful. And once you develop a skill like that it becomes something like fun to use the skill to notate sounds that are important to you. So in this first sense it is nice that technology provides the capability, I guess, but a serious musician is still going to develop the personal skill regardless of technology being available.

Secondly, suppose a musician doesn’t develop the engagement with standard notation. Suppose a musician just uses technology to capture sounds or birdsongs and analyze those sounds and study those sounds using the tools and displays a DAW provides. That musician still is going to learn a lot about birdsong, or any other sound. And what that musician learns can still be used to shape his own playing and compositions. Only instead of composing onto manuscript paper, such a musician would compose onto digital audio tracks of one kind or another.

I always wonder: When a musician chooses to go through the process of analyzing a sound and then synthesizing a translation of that sound into standard music notation, does that musician “own” the sound in some kind of mental or emotional way that another musician doesn’t? Is that musician more deeply engaged with the sound, more deeply knowledgeable in some way than the musician who studies audio files and their sound profiles?

Is the analysis and synthesis process something that, once performed, becomes a part of a person in a very dynamic way?

Of course this question applies to so many modern activities.

Just one for instance: There was a time when a photographer—to use Ansel Adams’ phrase—would try to “pre-visualize” an exposure of a scene and understand where the darkest dark would be and the lightest light and the distribution of grays in between within the composition and manually adjust the settings on the camera to capture the scene in an image that recreated that mental pre-visualization. Nowadays almost all cameras adjust their own exposures using a variety of artificial intelligence algorithms that take into account different light contexts. And computer programs can evaluate the light/dark areas of a photo file and adjust the histogram, the balance of grays throughout the image, to create an appropriate (if that’s the right word) image of the scene. Photographers can still do things manually, or in part manually, but many photographers in the modern world trust their camera to capture a scene in a useful way, a technically correct way, and then they trust processing software to create a useful image, a technically correct image.

When a photographer chooses to go through the process of analyzing a scene and then synthesizing a translation of that scene by understanding the capabilities of his camera and setting them accordingly, does that photographer create an image that is, somehow, more meaningful than a photographer who just snaps a picture and trusts technology?

I don’t know. But this seems like an important question.

It seems to me that the mental and emotional process of analyzing something and then synthesizing a translation of that something into another medium is really what art is all about. But I couldn’t really put into words, right now, what the difference is between acquiring the skills to do something manually and acquiring the skills to operate technology and doing something, to use a word, robotically.

If there is a difference, then it seems like this is an issue worth taking the time to codify into words because we are very quickly moving into a world where almost nobody will have personal skills anymore and almost everybody will depend on one or another kind of robot to do almost everything.

Soon there will be no passages between worlds, because there won’t be different worlds, there only will be this world, and there only will be the here and now.

(And even more interesting is that of the people who still will have the skills and still will be in a position to practice them, in the contemporary world many of these people are prodigies, rather than people who have devoted the time and resources to acquire and develop skills. And my experiences have been that prodigies have a vastly different emotional reaction to their skills and a vastly different emotional commitment to their skills than non-prodigies who acquire and develop the same or similar abilities.)

I’m going to end today with an interesting quote that doesn’t directly touch on this business, but does illustrate an interesting example of these issues.

One time Olivier Messiaen and his wife recorded some birdsongs. His wife identified a bird more quickly than Messiaen did. But how did she identify the bird faster than her husband? She had been practicing a piano piece Messiaen had composed based on birdsong, and here is the wonderful little story:

By now Loriod accompanied birdsong expeditions with a tape recorder. On one occasion she heard a ‘whistling’ cry which she recognized as a curlew. Messiaen was at first skeptical but when he heard the tape conceded that she was right. She attributed her new-found ornithological expertise to his music: ‘If you hadn’t notated it so clearly in the piano piece I’ve just learned, I wouldn’t have recognized it!’

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

Passages Between Worlds

Pamela At The Doorway To Atlantis

Songs A Husband Heard

Song As Eternal Monster Inside Sound

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Prospero I Know At The End

Until I’m living on a boat
I don’t want to read “The Tempest.”
There are stars here but there’s no rest
under them. The breath in my throat

can exhale in song but each note
is not like birdsong from a nest,
more like a lost gull on a quest
in a poem a lonely man wrote.

Prospero I know at the end
is alone, without Ariel
or his Miranda or magic,

but a magician can pretend
still, without a magical spell
and breathe words, bare thoughts with no trick.

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

A Place To Read Books I’ve Never Read

Limits Of A Gadget: A Love Story

I Can’t Sleep In My Kitchen

Miranda And Miranda And Miranda

Monday, April 23, 2012

Sweet Talking Rocks

A couple of years ago I mentioned a very interesting real-life project going on, where some scientists are attempting to bring back dinosaurs by discovering un-used genes within a contemporary bird species. I briefly described the project and had a link to a book here:

Paleontologist John “Jack” Horner – the scientist who acted as a technical advisor on the “Jurassic Park” movies — is trying to prove chickens evolved from dinosaurs by reactivating dormant genes in chickens that would produce a long tail, no feathers and teeth. In other words, a “dino-chicken.”

Recently I was looking around the internet and I found a brief—a very brief—update on the project. The project is still in progress, and it is international in scope. Around the start of this year a French writer (I believe she is an amateur writer) interviewed the paleontologist who is directing the project. It was a casual interview apparently just for her blog, but she did get in one question about the genetic project:

VÉRONIQUE: How is your Chickenosaurus project going?

JACK HORNER: “It is coming along. A post-graduate from France from the University of Paris 6th arrondissement will come and look for the genes. She will stay 4 to 5 years. Once she gets here it will go pretty quickly.”

If there’s anything sexier
than a post-grad doing research
about dinosaur genetics
it’s a French post-grad researcher
working away in the Rockies
to bring dinosaurs back to life.

If I were extinct in a rock
and I heard a French voice call me
I think I would pay attention.

If I were extinct in a rock
and a French voice welcomed me out
I think I’d stay out. And eat well.

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

Aberrant Forms

The Mad Scientist And The Dawn Chorus

Merica Uns On Unkin

Parsimony And Aberrant Forms

Puddle Monsters: Puddles In The Sky

Friday, April 20, 2012

Songs A Husband Heard

When in 1952 Messiaen was asked to provide a test piece for flautists wishing to enter the Paris Conservatoire, he composed the piece Le merle noir for flute and piano. While he had long been fascinated by birdsong, and birds had made appearances in several of his earlier works (for example La Nativité, Quatuor and Vingt regards), the flute piece was based entirely on the song of the blackbird. ... [I]n 1961 he married pianist Yvonne Loriod. He began to travel widely, to attend musical events and to seek out and transcribe the songs of more exotic birds in the wild. Loriod frequently assisted her husband's detailed studies of birdsong while walking with him, by making tape recordings for later reference.

Birds sing for a mate—
The wife of the composer
With a microphone.

A wife and husband
Listening to the birds sing
To birds listening.

Birds are still singing
And now musicians can play
Songs a husband heard.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

To Make A Song To Sing About Walls

Is this the wall, the very wall, where Beowulf
smashed the monster’s head, forcing the creature Grendel
to create, to make a song, to sing about walls?

I don’t know if this is where Grendel sang the words:

“The wall will fall to the wind as the windy hill
will fall, and all things thought in former times:
Nothing made remains, nor man remembers.
And these towns shall be called the shining towns!”

I can’t say it’s not. There are some dark shadows here.

If this is the wall where a monster sang a song
would anything of the singing or song remain?

In the way the bricks crumble or rust forms on pipes?

In the way the wild flowers reach from shadow to sun?

In the way I stop, look twice, raise my camera?

Is this the wall, the very wall, where Beowulf
smashed the monster’s head, forcing the creature Grendel
to create, to make a song, to sing about walls?

There are some pretty flowers here. I can’t say it’s not.

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

First of all, please: Nobody sue me!

The lyrics of
Grendel’s Song
were written by John Gardner,
of course, from his great book
“Grendel” and all the links are in
the first link below,
‘Now Sing Of Walls! Sing!’

Second, I took this photo early
this morning when I went to
check on
the sparrow living in
the giant abandoned “S.”
this is the wall where Beowulf
fought Grendel, then that battle
happened just a block away from
where a sparrow, now, decided to
build a home in a big “S.” It makes
you wonder: What’s going
to happen next around here?


‘Now Sing Of Walls! Sing!’

Christmas Witches: Ogres And Showgirls

Is There A Shadow On My Bedroom Wall?

Song As Eternal Monster Inside Sound

Is This A Junkyard Church

“Sexy As The Dead Bridges”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Miranda And Miranda And Miranda

Miranda is a moon
of the seventh planet
Uranus. Miranda
in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”
is Prospero’s daughter.

I’ve seen Uranus through
simple binoculars
and larger telescopes
but never anything
capable of seeing
the moons of Uranus
so I have never seen
its smallest, Miranda.

And I have never read
Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” but
I know it’s his last play
or his last major play.

I have seen a painting
of Prospero’s daughter
as she was imagined
by a British painter:

The most famous exchange
in “The Tempest” between
the father and daughter
probably is this one
though I can’t say for sure:


O Wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here.
How beauteous mankind is. O brave new world
That has such people in’t!


’Tis new to thee.

Maybe someday I’ll buy
a larger telescope.

Maybe someday I’ll read
“The Tempest” by Shakespeare.

Or maybe Miranda
will be a character
always just out of sight
though I know where to look.

And if I never see
Miranda though I know
where to look, then I hope
Miranda won’t hate me.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Atlantis Blue: Afterward

The preparation process for stop-motion is immense. “Shooting is monumental,” says [Jonathan] Lucas. “As an editor you are a lot more patient.” He points out that an action film can have 14,000 feet of dailies per day––on Harry Potter 2 he had some days with 20,000 feet of dailies. That film, a shoot with children and animals, consumed over a million feet of film.

“Most features shoot in 12 to 14 weeks,” notes Lucas. “With Corpse Bride it’s 52 weeks! We only get two minutes of film a week with stop-motion. One shot can take three weeks.”

The preparation process for stop-motion is immense. Shooting is monumental.

Or not. [laughs]

Obviously if you attempt to recreate theatrical frame rates or theatrical resolutions then, yes, stop-motion is vastly time consuming.

If you approach it more as a kind of sketch or a poem, then stop-motion can be fun and can be comparatively quick.

I did “Sweet Judy Blue Dress” — Atlantis Blue in one day, from start to finish.

Forty-three seconds of content in about ten or twelve hours of work time.

I just can’t describe, can’t put into words, how much fun I have making something like “Sweet Judy Blue Dress” — Atlantis Blue.

Even though the software I use is so inexpensive it is full of bugs and couldn’t handle theatrical frame rates and resolutions if I wanted to (and it comes from a company that seems to test that fine line between business incompetence and criminality), if a stop-motion piece is kept to around a minute and the frame rate is kept low, then the software gets the job done. I’m not saying it works exactly, but it gets the job done.

Anyway I love doing a short piece like that because I can juggle cool images (it’s a woman and a lizard and a shark and the shark is swimming away and the woman and the lizard seem to be happy together—you don’t really see that stuff every day in the mainstream media with their high resolution images and their thirty frames-per-second!) and I can compose some music and I can make the beginning/middle/end sequence of story–telling any style I want, without having to please an editor or publisher or producer or anyone else.

I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Well, if I were a fully-funded supervillain I would be using a Canon DSLR ($9,000) to acquire images rather than a webcam and I’d be using stop-motion software ($300) that comes from a real software company. Maybe I’d even use Adobe’s Creative Suite to pull everything together ($1,500+). But, by and large, I’d be making the same kind of sequences. They would just look a little better. They wouldn’t look slick and professional, just a little better.

Anyway, “Sweet Judy Blue Dress” — Atlantis Blue took one day to make.

I got the idea Sunday morning. Rubber Lizard complimenting Little Plastic Doll on a blue dress. And Little Plastic Doll being happy with her dress, and happy that Rubber Lizard was happy. And I had the idea of using some video clip of the ocean in the background, because I wanted the clip to be as colorful as possible. That was how I started.

First I worked out the general size of the project. I figured I would make the music only four bars long, because then no matter what I came up with for specifics of the music or action it wouldn’t take too long to animate. Four bars, even at a slow metronome setting, is still a pretty quick bit of action. (Even allowing for an intro and outro which add a bar at the start and end.)

Then I sat down with a notebook and worked out the exact words Rubber Lizard and Little Plastic Doll would say or sing. (I still haven’t solved my notebook problem, but I bought an inexpensive 9 x 11 drawing tablet from a neighborhood store to use until I figure out what to do.) I like to start with words, to get from the general idea of a project to the specifics. Once a few words come to mind, for me almost always one thing will lead to another and the project will move along.

Once I had the four sentences I wrote them down and looked at them syllable-by-syllable to make sure each sentence reasonably could be spoken or sung in a four beat measure.

Then I sat down at my arranger workstation and experimented with various progressions until something seemed to suit the mood of the idea.

My first musical thought was to have a simple chord arrangement playing behind a more complex melody, where the melody for each bar would be based on the syllables of each sentence. That’s probably my favorite way to approach turning words into melody. But I had to be practical, too. I like to record music for these things in real-time, without using the multi-track, sound-on-sound tools I have available. I could make up melodies based on the syllables and I could play them, but I couldn’t play them in real-time while I played the chord settings, not all with only an hour or two to practice and rehearse.

So I settled for a simple progression with my left hand and an arpeggio pattern for my right hand. I used a generic synth sound for the chords, and a generic plucked-string sound mixed with synth percussion sticks for the right-hand part.

The hardest part for me on this project was working with the robot musicians inside my arranger workstation.

I used the workstation’s auto-accompaniment function to generate a drum track and a synth pad to go along with the chords I played with my left hand and arpeggio I played with my right hand. The workstation handles all that automatically, keeping time with my playing, sensing what chords I play and all that. However, while a synchronized start is very easy because I can press all the necessary buttons before I start playing, once I start playing, to create a synchronized ending between my playing and the auto-accompaniment on the drum part and synth pad, before I strike the final chord with my left hand I have to press a button just above the keyboard to alert the workstation to end everything when I lift up my fingers from that final chord. Sounds easy and for any real musician, for any real keyboard player who has two-hand independence, it is easy. For me, keeping time from chord to chord with my left hand, keeping time from arpeggio to arpeggio with my right hand, and doing a house-keeping chore like reaching up away from the keys for an instant with my left hand was pushing my coordination all the way to the limit. I practiced, practiced some more, then went to lunch and came home and practiced even more. Then I buckled down and started recording. Amazingly, I think I got an acceptable performance on just the second or third take. But I did have to do a bit of practicing, even for such a simple bit of music.

I’m getting better, but very, very slowly.

So then I had the music. At that point I had the music recorded as a set of sequencer tracks on my workstation.

To add vocals, I sometimes record the sequencer tracks onto my Tascam GT-R1. But this time, for fun, I did something a little different. I plugged my GT-R1 into my workstation and used the Tascam (it’s a very good gadget) as a microphone. Then I recorded the sequencer tracks along my vocals onto the arranger workstation’s digital audio recorder.

So then I had a complete audio track, with music and lyrics.

I transferred that on a USB drive over to my laptop and imported the audio into my stop-motion software so I could get a rough correspondence between the action and audio when I animated Little Plastic Doll and Rubber Lizard.

So then I did that, frame by frame, one frame at a time, an eighth of an inch movement at a time, sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more. That took a couple of hours. I wouldn’t describe it, exactly, as fun. But after a while it is kind of like a meditation drill. It’s something like kind of fun.

So then I had a video track to go along with the audio and I mixed the two together in a video time-line program, adding credits and adjusting the lengths and timing of both the audio and video so that they’d match up okay.

And then I had a new little stop-motion movie for my blog!

I was especially happy to have a new stop-motion piece for this week because today is April 17 and April 17 is the anniversary of starting Impossible Kisses. It’s been, now, six complete years from 2006 to 2012!

Feels like just yesterday, me sitting down and typing up: Impossible Kisses: The Empty Lot Behind My House

I’m getting better, but very, very slowly. But that’s okay—

Thunderbirds are still go for adventure!

Adventure’s waiting just ahead!

Monday, April 16, 2012

“Sweet Judy Blue Dress” — Atlantis Blue

As I posted last week, a lot has been going on around here lately and I’m trying to keep up, but in general I am just falling behind. And—I guess this always happens—when you start falling behind, new things start popping up so you get even farther behind.

Over the weekend for one reason or another I listened to a great old Stephen Stills song, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” He wrote it when he was breaking up with Judy Collins.

So, I heard that beautiful song, and—randomly, just as it happens!—Little Plastic Doll and Rubber Lizard came up with a romantic little video of their own. The music and words have nothing to do with Stephen Stills’ classic, but it does involve a blue dress, so I let Little Plastic Doll do a play on words.

Stephen Stills’ classic is a suite of four songs. The little performance piece Little Plastic Doll and Rubber Lizard came up with is four bars long.

Little Plastic Doll was very happy to have a change of wardrobe and she was very proud of her new blue dress. The lighting on stage wasn’t great, however, so she was a little angry at the cinematographer. But we don’t have a really big budget for these kinds of things. There’s always somebody unhappy with something.

I have some behind-the-scenes stories about the production and maybe I’ll talk about them tomorrow.

Here’s Little Plastic Doll and Rubber Lizard in “Sweet Judy Blue Dress.”

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Mad Scientist And The Dawn Chorus

How to Listen to a Song

When you first listen to a dawn chorus in full swing, the sheer onslaught of bird song can be overwhelming. How does anyone start to pick apart the chirps, whistles, and trills that are echoing out of the woods? The answer, of course, is to concentrate on one bird at a time – and that approach holds true when you're trying to learn individual songs, too.

Don't try to memorize each entire song you hear. Instead, focus on one quality of the sound at a time. Many birds have a characteristic rhythm, pitch, or tone to their song. Once you zero in on it, you'll have a better sense of the bird's identity. When you combine these characters, you can narrow things down even further. Here are a few examples:


Get used to a bird's characteristic tempo. Marsh Wrens sing in a hurry, while White-throated Sparrows are much more leisurely.


The tone of a bird's song is sometimes hard to describe, but it can be very distinctive. To begin with, pay attention to whether a bird's voice is a clear whistle, harsh or scratchy, liquid and flute-like, or a clear trill. If you can remember the quality of a bird's voice, it can give you a clue to the bird's identity even if the bird doesn't sing the same notes every time.


Most birds sing in a characteristic range, with smaller birds (like the Cedar Waxwing) typically having higher voices and larger birds (like the Common Raven) usually having deeper voices. Many bird songs change pitch, as in the Prairie Warbler's rising, buzzy song or the Canyon Wren's sweet descending whistles. Some birds are distinctive for having steady voices, like the Chipping Sparrow's trill.


Some birds characteristically repeat syllables or phrases before moving on to a new sound. Northern Mockingbirds do this many times in a row. Though Brown Thrashers sound similar, they typically repeat only twice before changing to a new syllable.

“But señor,” he protested, pointing to the view. “We are alone here.”

Levine shook his head, annoyed. He had gone over all this with Diego, during the boat ride over. Once on the island, no speaking. No hair pomade, no cologne, no cigarettes. All food sealed tightly in plastic bags. Everything packed with great care. Nothing to produce a smell, or make a sound. He had warned Diego, again and again, of the importance of all these precautions.

But now it was obvious that Diego had paid no attention. He didn’t understand. Levine poked Diego angrily, and shook his head again.

Diego smiled. “Señor, please. There are only birds here.”

At that moment, they heard a deep, rumbling sound, an unearthly cry that arose from somewhere in the forest below them. After a moment, the cry was answered, from another part of the forest.

Diego’s eyes widened.

Levine mouthed: Birds?

from The Lost World
by Michael Crichton

If birds are descendents of dinosaurs
and birds chirp and make bird calls and bird songs,
maybe dinosaurs made little noises
and created compound structured noises
and created, too, long beautiful songs.

Vocalizations of extinct creatures.

Can anything be more lost than lost songs
of animals that are lost, turned to stone?

If birds are descendents of dinosaurs
and calls are genetically encoded
then outside now a sparrow or robin
may be perched singing a similar call
that has been sung by millions of creatures
for millions of generations and years.

If birds are descendents of dinosaurs
and songs are learned but built on neural paths
genetically predisposed to some sounds
and not others, some rhythms not others,
then outside now a sparrow or robin
may hear a sound heard for millions of years—
thunder and an echo or rain on leaves
or a flowing stream splashing on a rock—
and be taught the same song, sing the same song,
that has been sung by millions of creatures
for millions of generations and years.

Wouldn’t a mad scientist be crazy
to think that he could analyze bird songs—
recordings made from all over the world
and digitized at high resolution—
using high technology software tools
that mine data and recognize patterns
and make decisions with fuzzy logic
and reconstruct the fractal heart and soul
somewhere inside the chirps and calls and songs
and play it—that lost but found heart and soul—
through speakers designed by computers, too,
that reproduce the whole spectrum of sound
and sing to the dinosaurs in the rocks,
dinosaurs that seem lost though they’re right here,
serenade their stone hearts and their stone souls,
make their stone hearts and their stone souls vibrate
and guide them note by note out of the rocks
and into our world that used to be theirs?

Can anything be more lost than lost songs
of animals that are lost, turned to stone?

Wouldn’t a mad scientist be crazy
to believe he could sing to dinosaurs
and bring the dinosaurs out of the rocks
and into our world? But what if he could?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Everything Is Out Of Order

But just a few months after WindyCon,
when Donna and I had broken up and
Derrick and Martha had broken up, too,
I took Martha to a midnight movie
up at Northwestern University.

I think it was “Heart of Glass,” by Herzog.

Holding a large frozen turkey from the store and the shotgun, Bruno returns to the garage where he works, loads the tow truck with beer, and drives along a highway into the mountains.

Upon entering a small town, the truck breaking down, Bruno pulls over to a restaurant, where he tells his story to a German-speaking businessman. He then starts the truck, leaves it circling in the parking lot with a fire taking hold in the engine compartment and goes into a tourist trap across the street, where he starts a ski-lift and rides it with his frozen turkey. After Bruno disappears from view a single shot rings out. The police arrive at the scene to find the truck is now fully ablaze. The film ends with a sequence showing a chicken dancing, a chicken playing a piano and a rabbit riding a toy fire truck, in coin operated attractions that Bruno activated on his way to the ski-lift.

from the plot synopsis
of Werner Herzog’s 1977 film
“Stroszek” at Wikipedia

One day last year in August, a Thursday,
I said the next day I would write about
a classic old science fiction movie
called, “Forbidden Planet.” But the next day
I wrote about the real star called “Altair”
instead of the “Altair” in the movie.

So today, on a Thursday afternoon,
I sat down to finally write something
about the great film, “Forbidden Planet.”

I saw that I had first mentioned the film
six years ago talking about Martha.

I talked about when Martha and I went
to see Werner Herzog’s film, “Heart of Glass.”

Somehow we’d seen “Stroszek” before that night
although “Heart of Glass” was made earlier.

We found out other people had, also.

During “Heart of Glass”—a dense, obscure film—
most of the midnight showing audience
had simply started openly talking
as if we were sitting in a film class.

There’s a quick close-up, during “Heart of Glass,”
of a chicken. There in the audience
a woman asked, “Is it going to dance?”

Everyone in the theater laughed.

The woman’s comment was a reference
to the very sad ending of “Stroszek”
and the whole audience had understood.

I loved the movie “Stroszek.” Herzog filmed
the story in Europe and Wisconsin.

At one point somebody says something like
‘In Europe they beat you up physically
but don’t wreck your mind. In America
they beat up your mind but not your body.’

In the movie “Stroszek” someone says that,
I mean, not someone from the midnight show.

Today I had wanted to write a post
about the movie, “Forbidden Planet.”

Everything is out of order here
but I haven’t given up and someday
I’ll manage to put together a post
about that classic science fiction film
where people battle monsters from the id.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Remembering A Loch Ness Photo

St. George and the Dragon is a small cabinet painting by the Italian High Renaissance master Raphael, 1504-1506.

The painting used to be a highlight of the Pierre Crozat collection which was acquired through Diderot's mediation by Catherine II of Russia in 1772. For a century and a half, the panel hung in the Imperial Hermitage Museum. It was one of the most popular paintings in the entire collection of the Tsars. In March 1931 the Bolsheviks sold the painting to Andrew Mellon, who ceded it to the National Gallery of Art.

A little keyboard that you can carry around
is a gadget that lets you make music sitting
in bed, or in a motel room on vacation,
or, I suppose, sitting on a motel room bed.

Possibly the Loch Ness monster is a dragon
bringing tourists and tourist dollars to Loch Ness.

That’s useful. And Loch Ness tourists enjoy themselves
even if they don’t see the monster, just the loch.

But, still, the Loch Ness monster isn’t a gadget.

The image above isn’t the Loch Ness photo the title of this post talks about remembering. The image above by Raphael is a painting, back from the days people didn’t get a choice between photographs and paintings, back from the days of that Renaissance sunshine.

Raphael’s “Saint George and the Dragon” is one of my favorite dragon images because the dragon is so contrary to what we in the modern world think of as a dragon. The beast is kind of small. It’s not too scary. And it doesn’t look like the knight on horseback really would have a lot of trouble dispatching the creature.

And look at the remarkable history of the painting. From Renaissance Europe the painting found its way to the ruling class of Russia. Then the commies took over there and made a quick buck selling the painting to America’s archetypal industrialist, Andrew Mellon.

Commies don’t like dragon paintings? Commies don’t mind taking money from a capitalist?

The history of the painting is almost as interesting as the painting itself.

The history of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon is very interesting, too. The legend includes a “pond” as large as a “lake.”

Anyway, I think it’s interesting to consider the contemporary Loch Ness monster mythos as a variant of ancient dragon stories so I wanted to start today’s post with a real dragon image before getting all modern and high-tech with a photographic image.

And that having been done, here’s the photographic image I’m going to be talking about today:

That photograph is usually referred to by Loch Ness buffs as the “Flipper Picture.”

There are always people looking for the Loch Ness monster, but every now and then real scientists go to Loch Ness and attempt to do real science. The Flipper Picture is the result of one of those expeditions of real scientists.

When the photo first appeared, it was very persuasive and many people who had been skeptical about a real live animal as a candidate for the Loch Ness monster became convinced there was really something alive in the loch after all.

Then more passionate skeptics began to deconstruct the image and, over the years, many skeptics have gone back to the traditional view that Loch Ness is too small to support a population of real living animals on such a scale, and the Flipper Picture is just a grotesquely over-enhanced and re-touched image of some random marks in the sandy bottom of the loch.

Here is a reasonably detailed example of the debunking of the image: The Flipper Pictures Re-examined, by Dick Raynor.

It’s all very strange. Certainly a lot of people fake photographs. Certainly a lot of people can’t be trusted. Certainly Loch Ness has seen its share of dubious people and dubious photographs.

But some people can be trusted. And some photographs can be trusted. And as anyone with an interest in astrophotography knows, sometimes extensive processing of an image is done to clarify an image rather than create a false image.

The expedition that captured the Flipper Picture was staffed by a lot of MIT types, and the images were processed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the whole endeavor was overseen by the president of the Academy of Applied Science in Boston. Here is MIT’s more or less ‘official’ look back at the expedition: Technology Review: The Nessie Quest

I’ve never met any of the particular people involved with that expedition, but my purely personal subjective experience with meeting academic people in general is that “MIT types” are people who are the least likely to get involved with a con game or publicity grab of any kind.

Recently, just a few days ago, one of the people directly involved with the Flipper Picture visited the International Cryptozoology Museum.

The museum is operated by Loren Coleman, who has a blog about cryptozoology matters. Now the blog itself—in my opinion—is dubious. It spends a lot of time huckstering bad, really bad, TV shows. But I’ve never seen anything there that casts doubt on the character of Loren Coleman himself.

Anyway, so Martin Klein visited the museum. Martin Klein is an MIT-trained engineer who developed a great deal of the modern technology now called “side-scan sonar.” Klein designed a lot of the hardware that was used to capture the Flipper Picture.

Loren Coleman has a long blog post about Klein and his visit to the cryptozoology museum: Loch Ness Expedition Member Marty Klein Visits Museum

What I thought was most interesting was what a few comments brought out after the post. People asked Loren Coleman if Klein had changed his mind about his findings at Loch Ness so many decades ago. Coleman said Klein still stands by his original reports, interpreting his sonar contacts as: “… real … large … moving … trace indicating that the creature has several segments, body sections or projections such as humps,” and “… there are at least TWO large things moving.”

I am by my nature distrustful of “authority” figures of almost all kinds. But I generally trust “MIT types.” But that’s just me.

I think it’s interesting to consider the contemporary Loch Ness monster mythos as a variant of ancient dragon stories. And the Flipper Picture is very interesting to me because although I understand and accept that everyone—even “MIT types”—may engage in dubious behavior, may grab for publicity if the publicity grab would be perceived as relatively harmless by their peers, I tend to believe that the Flipper Picture can be trusted to represent what it appears to represent: A body segment of a real live large animal of an unknown type living in Loch Ness.

After all these years, I don’t think it would have hurt Martin Klein’s reputation if he had dropped some kind of hint that those expeditions of forty years ago were not as scientific as they had been originally presented. He could have hinted that perhaps the data they published was more equivocal than they had first thought.

But Martin Klein appears to stand by his data and his interpretation of it.

And if the Flipper Picture can be trusted, then the creatures in Loch Ness are real things. And if the Loch Ness monster mythos is a variant of ancient dragon stories than maybe dragons are as real as the Loch Ness monster is.

But even if the Flipper Picture can be trusted, it still doesn’t exactly answer the question about how “real” the Loch Ness monster is. Loch Ness is something like twenty-five miles long and something like seventeen miles wide. By any reasonable assessment that I’ve seen, that’s a pretty small body of water to support a breeding population of large animals.

If something can be honestly photographed then that something is really there in front of the camera. But a breeding population of large animals requires a habitat with relatively well-defined, well-understood zoological characteristics.

So the Flipper Picture seems to present a paradox: It seems to depict the body segment of a large animal living in a habitat where a large animal cannot live.

One way to resolve the paradox is to say the Flipper Picture must be a fake of one kind or another.

The more interesting way to resolve the paradox is to say that the Flipper Picture is real but the body segment of a large animal is the body segment of a large something that is like an animal but is really something else.

Of course that raises a lot of other questions. And a lot of those other questions are difficult and involve other, new paradoxes.

But why would anyone be afraid of new questions and new paradoxes?

I’m going to end today with a quote from Michael Crichton’s autobiographical book, “Travels.” The book recounts Crichton’s traditional medical training, and then his gradual investigation of some new age phenomena which called into question some of the mechanistic interpretations of reality academia typically takes for granted. This quote describes Crichton’s reaction to an almost classically non-material experience, human auras:

Perhaps Judith was taking a visual cue from me, saying “there” when she saw my hand stop. So the next time I stopped my hand above the warmth.

“Come on,” Judith said. “It’s not out there.”

I lowered my hand until I felt the warmth.


And suddenly I was panicked. I thought, This can’t be happening. I have no explanation for this.

It was impossible, but it was happening anyway. I didn’t know what to do with my experience. I didn’t think I was crazy. I could feel this warm contour, just as distinctly as you can feel hot bathwater when you put your hand into it. You know when your hand is in bathwater and when it’s not. There’s no mistaking it. It’s a physical phenomenon. Your hand will get warm and wet, even if you don’t believe in bathwater.

What I felt now was every bit as clear and unambiguous.

But I had no idea what it was. I was frantic to explain it. Yet I knew I couldn’t explain it. So I just gave up. It was a reproducible phenomenon that I couldn’t explain; as far as I knew, nobody could explain it; but it was real, anyway. And if I had had a psychotic break sometime after dinner, did I believe that Judith had had one, too, so that we now agreed on phenomena that weren’t really there?

No, no. It was real, all right.

Something cracked in my way of looking at things. I had to accept this experience, so I did. I thought, Maybe I’ll figure it out later. Meantime, I just would have to live with it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Psychrophiles In Watermelon Snow

The first accounts of watermelon snow are in the writings of Aristotle. Watermelon snow has puzzled mountain climbers, explorers, and naturalists for thousands of years, some speculating that it was caused by mineral deposits or oxidation products that were leached from rocks.

In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.

Richard Brautigan
those are the opening sentences
of his short novel,
In Watermelon Sugar

Nature, so they say, abhors a vacuum.
I’ve always wondered why evolution
didn’t chance upon a mechanism
comfortable in the winter’s cold dark
as insects are on a summer’s warm night.

There’s a lot going on around here, and I am getting a little backed up. I don’t have as much prepared for today as I would like, but I’ve got this business about psychrophiles. I hope it’s better than nothing. At some point in the near future I hope to have some stuff that’s pretty interesting. But, like I said, I’m getting a little behind trying to keep up with the real world.

Anyway today is about psychrophiles.

They cause watermelon snow.

Up until a few days I had never heard of psychrophiles. And even though Wikipedia says Aristotle wrote about watermelon snow, I had never heard of that, either.

(I don’t know if Brautigan was making an allusion to watermelon snow with his phrase ‘watermelon sugar.’ Since references to watermelon snow date back to Aristotle, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that Brautigan was thinking about it. It never occurred to me for years that the title “Sombrero Fallout” could be a very cool allusion to a thing called a sombrero filter—because of the way violence spreads out, and the author’s sadness spreads out, in the novel—but once I learned that Brautigan spent time as poet-in-residence at MIT it occurred to me that his word-centric mind may very well have squirreled away all manner of cool science allusions. I don’t know, but it’s possible. Good writers do that kind of thing. Or try to.)

Anyway, again, as I wrote in my post “More Night Than Just The Stars,” it’s always seemed strange to me that when you set up a telescope on a summer night you are almost immediately a focus of insect interest and migration. Insects love amateur astronomers. But on winter nights there is nothing but cold air.

So far as we know.

It just seems strange. So I’m always noticing little things about life forms that like strange environments and a few days ago (in connection to some of the real background of “Waiting For Clouds”) I saw the word “psychrophiles.”

Psychrophiles or cryophiles (adj. cryophilic) are extremophilic organisms that are capable of growth and reproduction in cold temperatures, ranging from −15°C to +10°C. Temperatures as low as −15°C are found in pockets of very salty water (brine) surrounded by sea ice. They can be contrasted with thermophiles, which thrive at unusually hot temperatures. The environments they inhabit are ubiquitous on Earth, as a large fraction of our planetary surface experiences temperatures lower than 15°C. They are present in alpine and arctic soils, high-latitude and deep ocean waters, polar ice, glaciers, and snowfields. They are of particular interest to astrobiology, the field dedicated to the formulation of theory about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, and to geomicrobiology, the study of microbes active in geochemical processes. In experimental work at University of Alaska Fairbanks, a 1000 litre biogas digester using psychrophiles harvested from "mud from a frozen lake in Alaska" has produced 200–300 litres of methane per day, about 20–30 % of the output from digesters in warmer climates.

Psychrophiles use a wide variety of metabolic pathways, including photosynthesis, chemoautotrophy (also sometimes known as lithotrophy), and heterotrophy, and form robust, diverse communities. Most psychrophiles are bacteria or archaea, and psychrophily is present in widely diverse microbial lineages within those broad groups. Additionally, recent research has discovered novel groups of psychrophilic fungi living in oxygen-poor areas under alpine snowfields. A further group of eukaryotic cold-adapted organisms are snow algae, which can cause watermelon snow. Psychrophiles are characterized by lipid cell membranes chemically resistant to the stiffening caused by extreme cold, and often create protein 'antifreezes' to keep their internal space liquid and protect their DNA even in temperatures below water's freezing point.

I learned that there are organisms that thrive in the cold. And so it seems even more strange, then, that there are no insect-sized organisms with similar adaptations makings pests of themselves on winter nights.

So that’s one of the things that’s been going on around here. I’ve been learning about organisms that like the cold, metabolisms that work well in the cold, and wondering more about why astronomers out on cold winter nights are free from pests. It’s an old question for me, and it has gotten more interesting now that I’ve learned about psychrophiles.

And that’s all I’ve got for today. A lot is happening around here, and I’ll try to get more of it on the blog. If I can.

Monday, April 09, 2012

A Shattered Chessboard

Sitting on a piece of wreckage, the reporter
hunched forward over her thin notebook computer
so that her body put the screen into shadow
and she could read the words of her notes as she typed.

Under an awning the military put up,
Dr. Blake stood in front of three computer screens
that were displaying real-time satellite pictures
of the wreckage from scanners biased to receive
ultraviolet, visible and infrared light.

Dr. Blake stood in front of three computer screens
but he wasn’t looking at them or the wreckage.

Miss Stapleton sat staring at her computer,
typing quickly, her lips turned down in a slight frown
of concentration as she formed her thoughts in words.

“What’s Miss Stapleton typing?” Dr. Blake wondered,
as he looked out from the shade into the sunlight.

In the afternoon sun the wreckage on the ground
created patches of almost pure black shadow
contrasted by glare so bright colors were washed out.

Two of the three computer screens used false-colors
to render ultraviolet and infrared light.

All three screens displayed a mis-matched patchwork of squares
that made the wreckage look like a shattered chessboard,
broken, scattered—a pattern, but a pattern lost.

Miss Stapleton sat staring at her computer,
typing quickly, her lips turned down in a slight frown
of concentration as she formed her thoughts in words.

“What’s Miss Stapleton typing?” Dr. Blake wondered,
as he looked out from the shade into the sunlight.

Surrounded by wreckage, the scientist frowned, too,
then looked down, and then looked back to his computers.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Memory Studies As A Flourishing Field

I have almost nothing today, and it’s a Friday, so I feel like a worthless slacker. (I’m used to that feeling. I almost always feel that way. I just try to work around it.) But, nonetheless, today I still have almost nothing.

That having been said, however, I do have some stuff.


The little I have today is a kind of two part follow-up or afterward to yesterday’s post.

I really enjoyed writing my Thursday post. I certainly did have an interesting e-mail exchange with a reporter and I wanted to write something about what a modern villain might look like, and I liked the idea of a villain who just was going about his villainy and flat-out, bald-face lying to someone who confronts him. People who flat-out lie with a smile are very strange people. But such people really exist.

“Aren’t the clouds pretty? Are you waiting
for the clouds to play music and sing songs?”

The man looks up. He smiles and he says, “No,
I’m waiting for my date to pick me up.”

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene v

Remember thee?
Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat
In this distracted globe.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene v
(from just above the smile quote)

So when I wrote my Thursday post I had that quote from Hamlet in mind, “That one my smile, and smile, and be a villain.”

Late last night I flipped open a couple of copies of Hamlet to re-read the context around the quote and I saw that second wonderful quote, about the ghost. And I loved the phrase, “this distracted globe.”

In one of the pop editions of Hamlet around here, there is an annotation after the line reminding the reader that ‘globe’ means ‘head.’ [!]


I knew that ‘globe’ meant ‘head’ even before I read the annotation.

In fact, I figured ‘globe’ meant three things: It meant the globe of Hamlet’s head; and it meant the globe that is planet Earth; and it meant the globe that is the Globe Theater where the play would have been performed and, according to legend, rowdy theater goers distracted by their own fun in the audience often gave the actors a hard time.

If you Google the line, the search results are about all three meanings. In fact, one search result for the quote is a link to a book, and the sales pitch for the book is:

'Remember thee? Ay, thou poor ghost, while memory holds a seat In this distracted globe.' Hamlet's lines pun on the globe as both his skull and the Globe Theatre. But what does memory have to do with Shakespeare and performances past and present? This is the first collection of essays to provide a meeting between the flourishing fields of memory studies and Shakespeare performance studies. The chapters explore a wide range of topics, from the means by which editors of Shakespeare plays try to help their readers remember performance to the ways actors sometimes forget Shakespeare's lines, from the evocative memories instilled in the archives of costumes to the photographing of props that act as memories of performances past. The fifteen contributors are leaders in the field of Shakespeare performance studies and their considerations of the possibilities of the subject open up a rich new vein in Shakespeare studies.

The field of “memory studies” is flourishing these days, according to the sales pitch for the book about Shakespeare studies.

I didn’t know there was a field called “memory studies.” And it’s flourishing. Good for it.

I certainly like to remember things!


That gets me to the second part of today’s post.

I remember Suzanne Ciani.

One of my old posts I like a lot is “I Can’t Sleep In My Kitchen.” I link to it a lot, and I love to go back and re-read the passage about Suzanne Ciani.

What an extraordinary woman she must be!

To be honest, however, I find her as a person to be much more interesting than her music. I’ve listened to a lot of her pieces and to my ears—at least my ears now—I don’t hear them as very entertaining.

But I still find her, as a woman, to be beautiful and interesting and inspiring.

I recently read a new interview with Ciani that is very cool.

She sounds so honest. A kind of counter-point to the notion of someone who lies and engages in villainy.

So I’ve got a link to the whole interview, and then I’m going to end with two quotes from the interview. First a quote in which she explains that she’s no longer directly engaged with electronic music, then a quote where she describes her thoughts about possibly becoming again engaged with electronic music. And when you read the second quote, really, you get the feeling that her heart is still wrapped around her synthesizer, in a good kind of way.

The link to the whole interview is: Modular Love: Suzanne Ciani Interviewed

And here are the two excerpts:

QUIETUS: It has been a couple of decades since you last worked primarily in electronic music. Were you aware of the resurgence of interest in this field of music that’s happened over the last decade? Were you aware of people taking an increased interest in your music and that of the Radiophonic Workshop and people like Sam Spence?

SUZANNE CIANI: You know, I didn’t notice but that’s because I live at the top of a cliff by the side of the ocean in relative isolation. I’m in a different world now. I’m doing concerts on the piano. I was getting inklings of it though through younger folks who worked at my company (Ciani/Musica) in New York, because they were still working avidly in electronic music. Frankly I didn’t understand the interest that much. But what you’re talking about is more of a passion I think. Maybe the same passion that we had back then; this sense of aliveness in the area of electronic music - that there is something new and exciting happening in that field.

QUIETUS: For the last twenty years you’ve been working on piano pieces but you just said you’re in the process of getting a new Buchla.

SUZANNE CIANI: [laughs] You know, this surprises me more than anybody but after 20 years in New York I landed back in the Bay Area and over the years I’ve developed a new relationship with Don Buchla. It’s a different relationship as we’re mostly tennis buddies. We both love tennis and I’ve been out here for 20 years and I never thought about getting back into the Buchla. But he loaned me one for a while and I thought, ‘I don’t know...’ Because the first time round it took over my life completely and I don’t know if you can play it without having it take over your life. So I’m a little scared but also intrigued. I’m a little shy about trying to do it again because I care a lot about it. I’m not just going to go up to it and make some noise. I really want to get to know it. So, we’ll see what happens…