When we listen to an mp3—or a CD track, a mix tape, a record, even a wax cylinder—we’re conjuring up the sound of a past performance. Now there’s a new computer program that does the reverse, sort of: It takes an audio file and creates a piano-playing cartoon, using sound (or related bits of information) to animate a performance anew.
The fingers of an expert pianist look relaxed as they tickle the ivories, never seeming overexerted or out of place. The computer program is designed to work on the same principle: It “listens to” a midi file and decides how the cartoon should finger each chord in order to put out the least possible effort. In addition to telling the active fingers which keys to press down, it also decides what to do with the idle fingers so that they are optimally relaxed and poised to play their next notes. Looking this at ease is a lot of work.
An album of songs inspired by animals doesn’t sound immediately promising. It brings to mind certain cassette tapes from my youth, featuring bearded men singing earnest ballads about the banana slug (not a joke; I actually had that tape).
But Songs for Unusual Creatures, by composer Michael Hearst, is a beast of a different color. If you popped it into your player without any context at all, you’d hear a catchy, rhythmic cross between classical music and jazz, threaded with eerie theremin solos and digeridoo bass lines. It’s the kind of music you might play on endless loop while you study, work out, or write (ahem). Lots of syncopation and kooky instruments, as well as clear melodies, keep the sonic landscape interesting. (You can see Hearst perform one of the songs above.)
But it’s not just pretty sounds. Each track on the CD draws its inspiration from one of 15 unusual creatures, the kind of evolution-honed weirdoes that readers of this blog and science writers like myself enjoy so much, like the blue-footed booby, the Chinese giant salamander, the honey badger, and the humpback anglerfish. Each of these animals is profoundly odd—the tardigrade (track 11), for example, is one of the few creatures that can survive the vacuum of space—and their eponymous songs are also distinctively strange. “Dugong,” about the cigar-shaped, seagrass-grazing marine mammals, is a spacey, blue little tune. “Tardigrade” sounds like the love child of a Gypsy circus band and a jazz quartet.
The intersection of art and science can be a bit on the weird side (tiny jackets made of stem cells, anyone?). But if this new art project works as advertised, it’s pretty neat.
This piece of retainer-like jewelry is the creation of Aisen Chacin, a student at Parsons School of Design in New York. It differs in one very important way from the standard rapper’s grill: it includes a motor hooked up to the headphone jack of an iPod that lies flush against the wearer’s palate. To play your tunes, you manipulate the iPod’s controls with your tongue, and, thanks to the pulsing of the motor against your teeth, you can hear the music.
That’s thanks to a phenomenon called bone conduction, which allows sound to be transmitted to your hearing apparatus by the vibration of bones rather than the vibration of air hitting your ear drum. It’s why your voice on a recording sounds different than the voice you hear when you speak, and it’s the basis of certain hearing aids, as well as some headsets worn by divers so they can receive messages from people out of the water. In fact, it was Hugo Gernsback, renowned editor of pulp science fiction magazines and namesake of the Hugo Awards, who, in 1923, came up with the idea of a bone-conducting hearing aid. You can see drawings of it here.
Some song-lovers may say that music’s in their genes. One young British boffin goes a step further by putting music in his jeans: he wears the world’s first pants-borne, playable electronic drum kit, complete with eight different drum sounds. And just so those pants aren’t lonely, another group of engineers has figured out a way to print sensors onto plastic, possibly making way for commercialized yoga mat drums (did somebody order that?) and more drums made out of things that aren’t drums.
The bloke inside the drummable jeans is Aseem Mishra, a 17-year-old British student who nabbed this year’s Young Engineer Of Great Britain award. His invention allows people to perform drum solos on their legs (video) by tapping eight paper-thin sensors sewn into the back of the fabric. The prototype must be plugged into a loudspeaker-toting backpack to make noise; Mishra says future models won’t be tied down like that.
Imagine flipping through pictures on your iPod as you listen to the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, but instead of hearing the Fab Four’s familiar tune, something slightly different tickles your eardrums—and it changes with each snapshot. The tempo slows when you view a Rembrandt still life, the volume goes up with the blurred image of a headbanger, and creepy laughter resounds as you look upon a dark, moonlit landscape. This is more or less what a new iPod and iPhone software application aims to do, filtering and slightly modifying songs depending on what’s showing on your screen.
As Apple explained in a patent it published last week, they’ve developed an algorithm that looks at image data and determines “one or more characteristics,” such as “sharpness, brightness, motion, magnification, zoom setting,” and others. Next, an audio processor translates these photo observations into variations in tempo, volume, and pitch—adding its own sound effects to boot. The end result is a music experience that’s fully integrated with your photo album (and some would argue, as gratuitous, stupid, and insanely fun as Apple’s Photo Booth software). And it doesn’t stop there. Read More
Need to teach 13-year-old Ke$ha fans about the quest for extraterrestrial life, but worried you won’t capture their attention? Fret no more. Fresh off of YouTube comes a parody of Ke$ha’s song “We R Who We R,” refashioned into an informative and utterly dorky song about astrobiology.
The video credits Jank for the lyrics and video and mrskimful for the music. We applaud the creators for their shout-outs to moons like Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus–all promising destinations in the search for microbial life in our solar system. But we have to take exception to the quick, unqualified mention of bacteria that can thrive on arsenic, and the video’s implication that this recent finding stretches scientists’ notions about what kinds of life can exist. Have they not been following the roiling controversy over whether that finding is valid?
Discoblog: Science Sing-Alongs: Higg Boson vs Google Periodic Table
Discoblog: The OK Go Video: Playing With the Speed of Time
Discoblog: Evolution, With Dope Rhymes and a Funky Hip-Hop Beat
Discoblog: Carl Sagan Sings Again: Symphony of Science, Part 4
Discoblog: For Honey Bee Awareness Day, Music Video Asks, “Where My Bees At?”
There are oodles of instruments and websites out there to help you make funky sounds, but for some reason, artist/performer/DJ/composer Daito Manabe feels the need to torture his friends instead. He uses a combination of electric shock pads and muscle electricity sensors to both conduct a drum show and contort his friend’s facial expressions.
When the drummer touches the drum he sets up myoeletcric currents in his fingers. The sensors attached to his fingers pick up this charge and use it to beat a virtual drum machine.
The shock pads on the drum’s face respond to the specific sounds of the drum, giving him a shock in specific places and causing his facial contraction and crazy expressions. This half of the video was performed by Manabe himself in an earlier video.
The warbling robot, with the Star Wars-esque designation HRP-4C, stands at about five feet, two inches (1.58 meters) tall. It has the appearance of a young Japanese girl, although one admittedly wearing a RoboCop suit minus the helmet.
If the 2008 Large Hadron Collider rap didn’t appeal to your musical sensibilities, you might try two science songs now making the internets rounds.
The first isn’t really new at all: Joe Sabia has employed Google Instant for a pastiche based on Tom Lehrer’s 1959 Elements Song, which in turn parodied Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1879 Major General’s Song.
[via Boing Boing]
How do we say goodbye? As the Space Shuttle program comes to a 2011 close, NASA has announced two shuttle-related music competitions. Also museums are already lining up like Black Friday shoppers to get their hands on one of those soon-to-be retired vehicles.
In a contest dubbed the “American Idol for space,” NASA invites musicians to create an original song to compliment the STS-134 mission, and asks them to submit their musical stylings online by January 10, 2011. After a NASA panel picks a set of finalists, website visitors can vote for the winner. The top two songs will play during the final shuttle flight in February 2011.
Another ongoing competition asks the public to choose from a top 40 list of previous “wake-up songs”–music used to help astronauts rise from their orbiting slumbers. Selections include the theme from Star Trek (old school version), Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’,” and U2′s “Beautiful Day.” The top two will play during the STS-133 mission scheduled for this November.