Audition

https://pixabay.com/en/animal-avian-bird-feathers-nature-1851604/

Mozart’s expense book for May 27, 1784, contains a curious entry:

Starling bird. 34 kreutzer.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MozartStarlingTune.PNG

Das war schön!

He had bought a starling on that date, apparently after asking it to repeat the opening theme of the third movement of his Piano Concerto No. 17 in G, K. 453, which he’d completed a few weeks earlier. The bird had held the first G rather long, and then sharped two Gs in the following measure, but Mozart’s exclamation (“That was beautiful!”) shows that he approved.

He kept the bird for three years, until its death on June 4, 1787, when he buried it in his backyard. Then he arranged a funeral for it in which his friends marched in a procession, sang hymns, and listened to the composer recite a poem. No other written records of the bird appear in his surviving writings, but maybe the two had become collaborators.

Equilibrium

Michael Grab balances rocks. He regards it as a combination of art, engineering, and contemplative spiritual practice combining patience, critical thinking, and problem solving. But the only “ingredients” in his sculptures are rocks and gravity — there’s no mortar, cement, or artificial support holding them together; any one of them can be toppled with a finger.

“The most fundamental element of balancing in a physical sense is finding some kind of ‘tripod’ for the rock to stand on. Every rock is covered in a variety of tiny to large indentations that can act as a tripod for the rock to stand upright, or in most orientations you can think of with other rocks. By paying close attention to the feeling of the rocks, you will start to feel even the smallest clicks as the notches of the rocks in contact are moving over one another.”

“There is nothing easy about it. It can frustrate me to my limits, and then I learn. Or it can reveal magic beyond words, and I learn. Sometimes the rock wins, but most of the time I win.”

The Swimming Reindeer

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GLAM_Ice_Age_235.jpg

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1866 French engineer Peccadeau de l’Isle discovered the sculptures of two swimming reindeer on the banks of the River Aveyron. Each had been carved from a mammoth tusk about 13,000 years ago. The carvings had historic as well as artistic value: They showed that humans, mammoths, and reindeer had coexisted in France during the ice age, when the climate of France resembled that of modern Siberia.

Amazingly, it wasn’t until 1904 that anyone thought to try fitting the two pieces together — it was discovered that they were two parts of a single sculpture. Today they form the oldest piece of art in the British Museum.

Day by Day

http://www.oscar-diaz.net/work/ink-calendar

Spanish artist Oscar Diaz found a literal way to mark time: He designed a calendar that writes itself. The dates of each month are embossed as a connected series of numbers on a sheet of paper; when the first digit is inserted into a bottle of ink, capillary action draws up the fluid and informs each date in succession over the course of the month.

Diaz writes, “The ink colors are based on a spectrum, which relate to a ‘color temperature scale,’ each month having a color related to our perception of the weather on that month. The colors range from dark blue in December to three shades of green in spring or orange and red in the summer.

More at his website.

That Good Night

https://www.flickr.com/photos/shemp65/7907130676
Image: Flickr

There’s a statue of Lenin in Seattle. Originally sculpted by Bulgarian artist Emil Venkov, it was installed in Poprad, Czechoslovakia, in 1988, just a year before the Velvet Revolution. Visiting American English teacher Lewis Carpenter found it lying in a scrapyard waiting to be melted down; he offered $13,000 for it and shipped it home to Issaquah, Washington.

When Carpenter died in an auto accident, the statue found its way to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, where the local chamber of commerce has agreed to hold it in trust until a buyer can be found. The current asking price is $250,000.

For now the founder of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class stands at the intersection of Fremont Place North, North 36th Street, and Evanston Avenue North, where he is regularly decorated with Christmas lights. Six-year-old Colin Sackett told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “It just makes me remember Christmas is coming. And it makes me remember Hanukkah, too.”

The Disintegration Loops

In 2001 avant-garde composer William Basinski was trying to transfer some old tape loops to digital format, but he found that the original recordings had deteriorated so badly that the ferrite simply fell off the plastic backing as it passed the tape head. Intrigued, Basinski let the loops continue to cycle: the sounds grew more and more indistinct with each pass as the tape literally fell apart.

As it happened, the 9/11 attacks occurred on the morning he finished the project, and the devastation he videotaped from his rooftop seemed to sync with the new recordings. “I felt, with my experience being in New York at that time, and what I went through and what I saw my friends go through, I wanted to create an elegy,” he told NPR. “Yes, there’s that tie to 9/11. But the thing that moved me so profoundly in my studio right after this music happened was the redemptive quality. The music isn’t just decaying — it does, it dies — but the entire life and death of each of these unique melodies was recorded to another medium for eternity.”

Related: In 1969 composer Alvin Lucier recorded a paragraph of speech, then repeatedly played it back and re-recorded it, so that his voice merged gradually into a portrait of the room’s resonant frequencies.

Here’s a modern homage to Lucier using YouTube, showing the effects of ripping and uploading the same file 1,000 times:

A photo reposted to Instagram 90 times in succession:

https://petapixel.com/2015/02/11/experiment-shows-happens-repost-photo-instagram-90-times/

A video fragment transferred through 20 generations of VHS tape:

(Thanks, Matthew.)

The Most Unwanted Song

In 1996, Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid set out to determine the “most unwanted” possible song, using an opinion poll of about 500 people.

Here it is — 22 minutes of cowboy music, bagpipes, accordions, opera, rap, children’s voices, tubas, drum machines, and advertising jingles.

Details are on their website. Columbia neuroscientist David Sulzer says that, if his analysis is right, “fewer than 200 individuals of the world’s total population would enjoy this piece.”

On Foot

On May 20, 2005, to convey its size, Italian artist Gianni Motti walked the length of the nascent Large Hadron Collider, followed by a cameraman.

At an average speed of 5 kph, it took him 5 hours 50 minutes to walk all 27 kilometers of the underground ring. Today a proton covers the same distance 11,000 times in 1 second.

Motti dubbed his effort “Higgs: In Search of Anti-Motti.” I don’t think he found it.

The Greatest Show

Before making his name with mobile sculpture, Alexander Calder was captivated by the circus. On a visit to Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in New York City at age 27, Calder traveled about the big top with a sketchpad, drawing tightrope walkers, horseback riders, and acrobats. Using a free pass, he returned to the circus every day for two weeks, and then set out to make a toy circus of his own.

He assembled it from wire, cloth, leather, corks, pipe cleaners, string, and wood. He worked on it for six years, until he had 55 performers, and then put on circus parties for friends, playing music and introducing a ringmaster who would direct each of the acts. When it became too fragile to handle, he gave the circus to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, where it remains today.

“Sandy is evidently always happy, or perhaps up to some joke, for his face is always wrapped up in that same mischievous, juvenile grin,” his school yearbook description had read. “This is certainly the index to the man’s character in this case, for he is one of the best natured fellows there is.”