Monday, August 16, 2010

What's YOUR soundtrack?

Working title: “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?”

[In a sort of Andy Rooney whine] Do you ever wonder why anyone would waste their natural soundtrack by walking around with earbuds stuck in their head? For the most part I love my ambient sonic environment. Birds, of course. Conversations heard above the rhythm of the rails on the subway. I like the random bits of music you get in public spaces. (ASIDE: I stepped into the coffee shop on High Street during a morning stroll with Ribsy in Southampton to get a cup o’ joe, and while I was waiting for some passive/aggressive politeness and apology to play out – a young man ordered a small chocolate milk and after seemingly endless machinations, settles for a LARGE white milk…Sooorry! – I heard what I thought was an en français cover of Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane”. I leaned over the lad sucking discontentedly on his white milk to listen closely to a ceiling speaker and realized that it was Bob’s original version, but damn, he really does have a French-speaking cadence…think about that next time you listen to him. End ASIDE.) And I particularly like hearing Miles noodling away on his guitar at home.

Now, it seemed to often be the case that during our stay on Grosvenor Street my Uncle Mike would slip away from the scene of some discombobulated conversation, and just as I was asking “where did Mike get to?” the strange and mesmerizing sound of this instrument would waft into the room.



My Uncle calls his creation a BernouIli. (Another ASIDE: After Jacob Beroulli, not Daniel Bernoulli (his nephew), whose principle attempts to explain why planes fly, shower curtains attack, and your screw-top red wine tastes better after carburetion. Check out this over-achieving family – extra points for properly identifying his relationship to Hermann Hesse…)

Uncle Mike explains:

“Key change via a simple rotation of the instrument or the person(s) playing. All strings are the same and tuned the same. Geometry takes care of pitch changes. All vibrations go to a paraboloid and then to it's focal point to a tiny mic that is amplified. Outer and inner bridges are log spirals. Fret is a log spiral. 12 strings...with about 3 1/2 octaves. Every octave is a 360 degree rotation of the fret. Every string is the same length.”


[So I said, you need to compose something! But since a western musical scale is not particularly useful, I mentioned the apparent truism that scientific discovery is often preceded by new/improved mathematical notation. He was already ALL OVER that…]

“Every note is an integer triple (clock face number, rotation integer from the center, number of beats). For example (2,1,1) means two o'clock, first rotation of the fret from the outside, hold for one beat…It is best played by 4 people at once. I created the design electronically, transmitted it to a 3-axis mill and milled it…It's more like a sculpture than an instrument. The spiral fret morphs into a spiral bridge to a spiral finial to a spiral seashell. Very tidy!”



And, of course, further down the road (Traverse City), just to make sure I didn’t miss the point, I look up from shaving to see nature’s reminder hanging on the bathroom wall. My sister-in-law has a thing for nautilus shells. It’s ALL the same.



Have you ever tuned into Hearts of Space? (You should!)

OK, one last James Burke/“Connections”-type comment: When we approached the Lake Michigan shore on that last Sunday, the west wind on the back side of an overnight front was whipping up the surf, bending large tree branches, and that noise was gushing through this opening as we approached the shore. It was very loud…a Wall of Sound on the beach, and something I might once have described as White Noise. But it was no more White Noise (which has a fairly precise mathematical definition) than the cacophony of New York City. I realized that it’s unplanned/spontaneous sounds that I prefer. Random conversations. Car horns. Uncle Mike at the Bernoulli!



Which, I guess, is why I hate that calculated sonic barrage you get at the ballpark in the home half of the inning (Let’s hear some N O I S E!)...it’s not about the frequency at all.

[Perceived exception that proves the rule: A perfect segue (planned) is always a surprise!]

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