A Not So Silent Night

I’m a sucker for music or rather background noise and music is my favorite thing to listen too.  Doing homework, folding laundry, walking to class, and occasionally even getting to sleep I have something sounding in my ear.

Once in awhile I like to listen to something other that Celtic reels or Daft Punk beats.  I go outside  and just listen.  I was thrilled last Monday when I actually woke up to birdsong!  Nature has it’s own melody going on, one that I usually drown out or simply ignore.  Taking the time to listen to it forces me to slow down and essentially recharge.  Who has just sat on the beach and listened to waves roll in?  It’s the same thing, I just sit under a tree near the CCRB and listen to waves of students instead of water.

I’ve heard lots of nature sounds, but the night sky has always been silent.  Sure, you can hear crickets in the night or a breeze through the trees but the stars themselves are silent.  I know satellites make noise, who hasn’t heard Sputnik’s electronic beeps?  But other sounds I’ve always loved to imagine.  Do stars crackle and pop like bonfires or do they produce a roar?  Yes yes, I know technically they can’t produce sound because space is a vacuum, but it’s fun to imagine.  Do you think the sound of methane rain on Titian is the same as water rain here on Earth?  Does the storm that is Jupiter’s Red Spot sound like ten thousand thunderstorms with crashing booms or more like ten thousand tornadoes with a whining wind?  Or perhaps it sound more like the upper registers of a canary.  Don’t you wonder at all what space sounds like?

Apparently yes, some one does have the same weird taste as I do. WhiteVinyl designs aka Luke Twyman has created SolarBeat, an ambient music box based on the motions of the planets (and one asteroid) around the Sun.

The planets move at the correct speed relevant to each other and every time they cross the line a chime sounds, a different pitch for each orbital body. You can speed up the tempo or slow it down and even pause it to compare the location to the planets to each other.  At the bottom of the page is the number of times each planet (well, Ceres is an asteroid in the Kuiper Belt) has crossed the line of music and produced a note.  Mercury is a speed demon, it went around 1031 times before Pluto even sounded once.

While the default speed of SolarBeat is in the middle of the tempo range, I wouldn’t recommend you adjust it too much to either side.  Too slow, there is a lot of empty sound space and it’s hard to discern a melody other than Mercury’s waily chime.  Too fast, and a lot of the notes sound together and the pattern of the piece is lost.  Either way, I can finally listen to space without needing a really big hearing aide or having to bundle up from cold weather. I wonder how long it’ll take for Pluto to cross chime 10 times…

Your planet-listening blogger,

Jenny

Kids think it’s pretty but it’s ugly

That’s what one of my housemates said about Easter eggs painted by little children.  Hahaha.  I mean… it’s probably going to be true for a lot of eggs decorated by kids, but in their case, they think it’s beautiful so it’s the thought and effort on their part that counts,  I guess.

We were just joking around but it made me think– what is the story behind the Easter egg?  Why do we do it at all?  For the Russians, the Easter egg was a huge deal and the Tsars were known for commissioning elaborate eggs created of precious metals and expensive jewels to give as presents to their family members during this Christian holiday (see picture below).

Russian easter eggs
Russian easter eggs

Given Russia’s predominantly orthodox Christian tradition, I should have presumed that there was a historical, religious reasoning behind the existence of Easter eggs, but I never actually processed this line of thought to go that far.  It was only when I looked it up on Wikipedia that I learned of the religious background to this timeless tradition.

In short, the egg itself was always seen as a symbol of life (given that chicks hatch from them).  Zoroastrians used to paint eggs for one of their gods, and the egg was used in several other religions ceremonies as well, in Judaim, Paganism, etc.  When Christianity became the dominant religion in Europe, many of the cultural traditions of different people groups were combined, and hence forth existed the Easter egg.

In Christianity, the Easter egg represents the rebirth of Christ and the shape of the egg itself resembles a grave.  Especially in Eastern European and Russian customs, the Easter egg was always a constant symbol for new life and was widely decorated and given out as gestures of love and friendship.

Now, the act has become, especially in America, a popular fun-time activity for children during this spring season, so that children can enjoy not only painting the eggs in beautiful (or hideous) manners, but also finding them in egg hunts.

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Gabby Park is a triple concentrator in Communication Studies, French, and History of Art, who particularly relishes reading up on the history of mundane practices in daily social life.

On a melodic memory

Hippocampus: Classical Mythology or Anatomy
Hippocampus: Classical Mythology or Anatomy

Scent may have the closest tie to memory because of the logistics – the olfactory bulb is a part of the brain’s limbic system; they have the advantage of proximity – but speaking from personal experience, I have found my memories bound more faithfully to sound than any other sensory modality.

At times while chipping away at my daily assignments, my iTunes player shuffles and slyly pulls out a song that has been buried under gigabyte after gigabyte of music collected over the years. A distinct trail of melody, a certain maneuvering of fingers across the strings of guitar to produce a particularly telling riff, might draw forth memories of my freshman year in high school at precisely 6:45 am when my bus would pull up to the corner, and like an ominous yellow portal, beckon me within. Upon hearing this song five years later, I still recall looking out the window at the array of houses, twins, triplets, and quadruplets, all virtually the same, and the feel of the crackly brown upholstery of the seats beneath me. All the while, my playlist circled through and I’d rest my eyes for moments and look at the back of the bus driver and anticipate the sun the break the chilly sky and the rest of the day to fall into place. Although I sit in my dormitory at a utterly different segment of my life staring at abstract concepts lectured to me hours before, songs on that playlist still are able to awaken dusty pathways where impulses once traversed habitually. In turn, they roused visual memories to awaken, fibers containing tactile information that they had secretly stored without my conscious permission reignite and I feel the tips of my fingers remembering.

Other playlists jog other memories – songs that I associate with writing my term paper senior year, songs that relate to driving around, cradled in the warmth of the sun in the summer of 2007, songs connected with my trip to Costa Rica, songs attributed to my first boyfriend – and the list grows.

Sometimes I organize my iTunes library by ‘Date Added’ and steadily scroll through its entirety, amusing myself with some of the older songs that I would be embarrassed to have others see. But I find fine lines that divide my life into chapters, the music I listen to now is even different from the music I had indulged in my previous year in college. My current playlist consists of a lot of Yeasayer, Ratatat, and Beach House, their patterns of air compressions and decompressions causing movements in my brain to thread them to the image of this room, this blue plastic chair that it came furnished with, the brisk and bold coldness of our Michigan weather. The beat, the bass, all intermingled, consolidated in the hippocampus (which, incidentally has the shape in cross section of a sea horse) and dispersed to the various cortexes of the brain to one day, perhaps be fished out by the whimsical shuffle feature on my music player.

Sue majors in Neuroscience & English and tends to lurk in bookstores.

The British Invasion (part 2)

In the 60s it was all about the Brits – the Beatles, Rolling Stones and the Zombies were some of U.K’s finest musical exports that found tremendous success stateside. Now, another crop of talented musicians from the other side of the pond have once again invaded our airwaves. Here is a brief overview of the artists that are leading the British offensive:

  1. V V Brown: Those of you who read Perez Hilton religiously (like me) might have heard about this Northampton native a few months ago. Recently featured in the SXSW festival, Brown promises to definitely be a top charter soon enough. Part Estelle and part Amy Winehouse (the part that isn’t a crazy crack addict…), VV has a style and soul that is very retro (think Dita Von Teese, but less sass and more class). To get your feet wet, be sure to check out “Shark in the Water” and “Game Over.”
  2. Tinchy Styder: The best way I can describe this rapper from East London is that he is the British version of Akon. Though his rhymes (yes, I said rhymes!) might not be as intellectual as Lupe Fiasco, he is pure pop/hip-hop perfection. I dare you guys to listen to his collaboration with Amelle Berrabah (“Never Leave You”) and not get it stuck in your heads! Most of his music has definite traces of dance music (ex. “Number 1” with N-Dubz) in it, so be sure to keep this guy in mind when you are doing those all nighters near finals time.
  3. Cheryl Cole: Though one-fifth of the mega girl group Girls Aloud, Cheryl Cole has unfortunately made international headlines recently for her husband’s extramarital activities. However, regardless of her husband’s affinity for the Tiger Woods’ way of life, Cole is set to put out her first solo album sometime this year. Like Justin Timberlake and Beyonce, Cole is the first from Girls Aloud to go solo, and judging from her first single “Fight For this Love,” she will definitely be successful. Most of the album is produced by Will.I.Am/ Taio Cruz and has a pop and hip-hop vibe. For a first time listener I would definitely recommend listening to “Parachute” or “Boys.”
  4. Taio Cruz: Most of you have heard Cruz’s collaboration with Ludacris (“Break Your Heart”), but he has a ton of other musical gems worth listening to. My personal favorite has to be his collaboration with Sugababes (think Destiny’s Child combined with the Spice Girls) and Busta Rhymes on the track “Like a Star.” Like Pharell and Ne-Yo, Taio Cruz is a singer-songwriter/rapper/producer and has worked with artists like Cheryl Cole, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears. A lot of his own tracks have a heavy bass line that is perfect for the clubs (ex. “Come on Girl”). So, when you are in need of taking a dance break from your life, be sure to put on a Taio Cruz track and proceed to shake your groove thang!

This list is by no means a definitive collection of the newest and best in British pop/hip-hop, but I hope that it piques your interest. Happy listening and let me know what you think in the comments section below 🙂

Thinking in 3D

Paper has been a part of my life since I can remember.  It filled the pages of the books by parents read for me and later the coloring books I scribbled all over.  And even in today computer driven world it fills my textbooks, houses my notes, and displays my assignments.  It has become such a part of my life that now I really only pay attention to it when I get a paper cut or realize my printing allocation is not going to last the semester.

Peter Callesen is a true artist, able to see the unique and beautiful in the ordinary.  Those who can breath new life into objects, can step back not only see things in a different light but share that view with others are extraordinary. Callesen breaths new life into paper.

All of his work are made from A4 paper, the common variety that is usually used in printers, and not a single bit of it is wasted.  Callesen usually limits himself to using just the paper and sometimes uses glue stick things together when creating these works of art and I am amazed at the detail he can create at such a small scale.  I suggest checking out In the Shadow of an Orchid (detail), he even managed to show the hair on a spider’s legs.

Callesen doesn’t limit himself to the small detailed work however, some of it is quite large. This paper castle is over seven meters tall and was constructed from a single piece of paper. Big Paper Castle is the tallest piece in Callesen’s portfolio, but not his most detailed.   Even so, I’m impressed.  He didn’t even use glue for this piece of art, everything is folded into place.  I would never have the time to create something like this, nor the patience.

Callesen was born in Denmark and while he has worked with other medium that paper, it is by far his most favorite.  He gives the following reason on his website:

Lately I have worked almost exclusively with white paper in different objects, paper cuts, installations and performances. A large part of my work is made from A4 sheets of paper. It is probably the most common and consumed media used for carrying information today. This is why we rarely notice the actual materiality of the A4 paper. By taking away all the information and starting from scratch using the blank white A4 paper sheet for my creations, I feel I have found a material that we are all able to relate to, and at the same time the A4 paper sheet is neutral and open to fill with different meaning. The thin white paper gives the paper sculptures a frailty that underlines the tragic and romantic theme of my works.

The paper cut sculptures explore the probable and magical transformation of the flat sheet of paper into figures that expand into the space surrounding them. The negative and absent 2 dimensional space left by the cut, points out the contrast to the 3 dimensional reality it creates, even though the figures still stick to their origin without the possibility of escaping. In that sense there is also an aspect of something tragic in many of the cuts.

Sadly, at the moment Callesen does not have an exhibits here in the United States, but that doesn’t mean you can’t check out more of his work at his homepage. I recommend taking a look at the floating castle that was large enough for Calleson to walk around it.

Your paper loving blogger,

Jenny

You are what you wear.

You are what you eat.  You are who you hang out with.  You are what you do.  You are what you wear.

Which one of these are true?

Well, I’m sure most of them are relatively true.  But recently, I’ve been wondering about the last one: You are what you wear.  How true is this?

If we look to society, there are arguments both for and against this expression.  For instance, there are so many “poseurs” out there who attempt to mimic others’ style of dress when that isn’t even their preference at all (think back to middle school when A&F was all the rage).  However, in many cases, what we wear does define who we are– to a certain extent.

At masquerade balls, during Halloween, our costumes give us the advantage to be whomever we choose.  We can be that silvery masked beauty who smiles mysteriously or that frolicking, bubbly princess who grins widely.  Under this disguise, we are made more free to become someone we normally are not, and to do things we may not do regularly.  Even in regular daywear, certain things render us more or less confident in ourselves, thus shaping our personalities for the day.  Wearing a spiffy new sports jacket or a pair of sexy heels can make us more outgoing or willing to put ourselves out there.  When we perhaps would not want to be noticed, that day, we do.  Should we have a bad hair day or wear ill-fitting pants, we feel self-conscious and fidgety, wishing to be overlooked so as to avoid embarrassment.

With this notion in mind, then to some degree, our outward appearance does influence our own inward personality.  Many times it can be a reflection of our personal traits, characteristics, or preferences.  At others, it can be a reflection of society’s.  Or both.  For example, in the case of the hijab for Muslims, it is both a personal choice and a socio-cultural value.  It is quite possible that one could wear it because of societal pressures although she may not wish to or that one would wear it in spite of cultural norms to pursue her own personal convictions.

What, then, becomes of a law that restricts the right to wear “ostentatious symbols of religion”, as such exists in France?  After reading several articles and a book on this subject, I couldn’t help but wonder, who is right?  Which belief holds precedence over the other?  Is the desire to unify a secular country greater than the desire to express one’s religious affiliations?  If an individual’s choice in clothes represents her choice in self-expression, her visible manifestation of her invisible qualities, is that a right to be protected or a privilege to be lost?

If we are what wear, then is such a law that restricts our ability to wear what we choose a law that denies our own intrinsic qualities as unique human beings?

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Gabby Park is a both a rationalist and an idealist, who occasionally wrestles with the understanding of deeper questions of human nature.