Keyboard Variations

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_caricature_of_Louis-Bertrand_Castel%27s_%22ocular_organ%22.jpg

Inspired by Isaac Newton’s theory that the seven notes of the diatonic scale were related to the colors of the spectrum, French mathematician Louis Bertrand Castel in 1725 invented an “ocular harpsichord” outfitted with lanterns so that “the pressing of the keys would bring out the colours with their combinations and their chords; in one word, with all their harmony, which would correspond exactly to that of any kind of music.” Voltaire devoted Chapter 14 of his Eléments de la philosophie de Newton to the the theory and to Castel’s instrument, and Telemann composed several pieces for it.

The Great Stalacpipe Organ in Luray Caverns, Virginia, produces its tones by striking stalactites with rubber mallets. Leland W. Sprinkle spent three years in the 1950s identifying promising stalactites, shaving them to pitch, and wiring solenoids to trigger the mallets. The tones can be heard throughout the cavern even without amplification, but a loudspeaker system is normallly used.

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I think I’ve written elsewhere about the Katzenklavier, a thankfully imaginary instrument first described by Athanasius Kircher in 1650. In the words of one writer, “if a key was pressed on the keyboard, the corresponding tail would be pulled hard, and it would produce each time a lamentable meow.”

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

Allegedly Louis XI of France challenged Abbé de Baigne to do the same thing with pigs to produce a “piganino”:

That brutal monarch, Louis XI of France, is said to have constructed, with the assistance of the Abbé de Baigne, an instrument designated a ‘pig organ,’ for the production of natural sounds. The master of the royal music, having made a very large and varied assortment of swine, embracing specimens of all breeds and ages, these were carefully voiced, and placed in order, according to their several tones and semitones, and so arranged that a key-board communicated with them, severally and individually, by means of rods ending in sharp spikes. In this way a player, by touching any note, could instantly sound a corresponding note in nature, and was enabled to produce at will either natural melody or harmony!

“The result is said to have been striking, but not very grateful to human ears.”

After our civilization has destroyed itself, the Adriatic will still be playing harmonies on the “sea organ” in Zadar, Croatia. Wind and waves interact with a system of polyethylene tubes to produce sound in a resonating cavity. In 2006 architect Nikola Bašic received the European Prize for Urban Public Space for the project, voted the best among 207 candidate projects from across Europe.

12/17/2016 UPDATE: I completely forgot the mouse organ! (Thanks, Gavin.)

Small Business

https://www.sydsvenskan.se/2016-12-08/vem-ar-musen-som-oppnat-butik-pa-bergsgatan

From reader Magnus Ehinger: A mouse has apparently opened a restaurant and nut store in Malmö, Sweden, just outside the Kebab House at the intersection of Bergsgatan and Almbacksgatan. The restaurant is called Il Topolino (the Italian name for Mickey Mouse), and the nut store next door is Noix de Vie (“nuts of life”).

The restaurant offers a variety of cheese and crackers, according to the tiny menu posted outside, and the nut store offers pistachios, almonds, and hazelnuts. Also arranged outside are a tiny bicycle and posters for mouse-related films (including Night of the Were-Rat).

No one knows who’s behind this — a group called Anonymouse posted images on an Instagram account as this project took shape, and recently left an update reading “Without spoiling too much we can tell you that we’re working on a new scene, and in 2017 you’re going to be able to see plenty more.”

More information, and photos, are here. (That’s an English translation — here’s the article in the original Swedish. Thanks, Magnus.)

Memento Mori

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cornelius_Huyberts_Vanitas-Diorama_Frederik_Ruysch_1721.jpg

Dutch anatomist Frederik Ruysch had a curious sideline: He arranged fetal skeletons into allegorical dioramas on death and the transience of life. Set amid landscapes made of gallstones, kidney stones and preserved blood vessels, the skeletons are decorated with symbols of short life — one holds a mayfly, another weeps into a handkerchief made of brain meninges. Worms made of intestine wind through their rib cages. “Quotations and moral exhortations, emphasizing the brevity of life and the vanity of earthly riches, festooned the compositions,” notes Stephen Jay Gould in Finders, Keepers. “One fetal skeleton holding a string of pearls in its hand proclaims, ‘Why should I long for the things of this world?’ Another, playing a violin with a bow made of a dried artery, sings, ‘Ah fate, ah bitter fate.'”

Johannes Brandt, a Remonstrant teacher, wrote:

Oh, what are we? What remains of us when we are dead?
Behold, it is no living thing, but dry, bare bone instead.
Bladder stones you see in heaps, piled higher by the morrow:
Here one learns about life’s course through storms of pain and sorrow.
These wise lessons Ruysch presents with wit and erudition,
Amsterdam is fortunate to have this great physician.

Panorama

Diagnosed with autism at 3, Stephen Wiltshire quickly became fascinated with drawing London buildings, and by age 8 he was sketching Salisbury Cathedral for former Prime Minister Edward Heath. Known as “the living camera,” he can draw an accurate, detailed picture of a subject after seeing it once — including subjects as complex as major cities. He’s completed enormous canvases of Tokyo, Rome, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Madrid, Dubai, Jerusalem, and London, drawing each from memory after a helicopter ride.

Below is the full time-lapse of his portrait of Singapore, drawn from memory over five days in 2014. “That he has a gift makes no sense at all to Stephen,” his sister Annette told the New York Times. “He knows that he draws very well, but he picks that up from other people — he sees the warmth on their faces, they tell him how much they like his work, and that makes him very happy. He loves the attention.”

Light Exercise

Artist Akinori Goto created this 3D-printed zoetrope, a rotating design that produces an animation when illuminated with a slice of light.

It won both the Runner-up Grand Prix and the Audience Award at the 2016 Spiral Independent Creators Festival in Tokyo.

He followed it up with “Ballet”:

Still Life

john fulton

After each of his victories as a matador, John Fulton would paint a portrait of the bull he had slain using its own blood, after the manner of the hunter-painters who had decorated the cave walls of Altamira.

Fulton grew up in a Philadelphia rowhouse but became captivated by the bullring after seeing the 1941 Tyrone Power film Blood and Sand. “The movie so stirred his sense of gallantry and romance that he decided on the spot to become a bullfighter,” reported the New York Times. “If a Rita Hayworth was the reward, he told friends years later, it was worth the effort and the risk.”

He spent a year at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, won a scholarship to a Mexican art school, and began to study bullfighting. In 1956 he went to Spain, where he became the first American to qualify as a matador and spent 40 years fighting professionally in the ring.

The paintings were decidedly a sideline, as he regarded bullfighting itself as an art. “It is the most difficult art form in the world,” he once said. “You are required to create a work of art spontaneously with a semi-unknown medium, which can kill you, in front of one of the most critical audiences around. And it all leaves only a memory.”

The Lycurgus Cup

Roman craftsmen made a remarkable coup around 300 A.D. — they produced a cup that is red when lit from behind and green when lit from the front. The effect occurs because the glass contains tiny proportions of gold and silver nanoparticles that reflect light of certain wavelengths. The workers themselves may have discovered the technique by accident, and may not have understood it fully; only a few pieces of 4th-century Roman glass display this “dichroic” property. Art historian Donald Harden called it “the most spectacular glass of the period, fittingly decorated, which we know to have existed.” It now resides in the British Museum.

Emerging Artists

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Tourists traveling the Pan-American Highway can be startled to discover an enormous human hand emerging from the Atacama Desert in Chile. The 36-foot sculpture is Mano del Desierto, installed by artist Mario Irarrázabal in 1992.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

A thousand miles away, in the Uruguayan seaside town of Punta del Este, lies La Mano de Punta del Este, completed by Irarrázabal 10 years earlier. One is a left hand, the other a right.

American artist J. Seward Johnson Jr. finished The Awakening (below) at Hains Point near Washington, D.C., in 1980, and a copy near Chesterfield, Mo., in 2009. What’s next?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kubina/413181940
Image: Flickr

Smoothly

http://homes.soic.indiana.edu/donbyrd/InterestingMusicNotation.html

This is an excerpt from Kaikhosru Sorabji’s Opus Clavicembalisticum of 1930. The snaky line running through it is a slur (!) encompassing the whole complex passage.

Indiana University information scientist Donald Byrd observes, “It has a total of 10(!) inflection points; it spans three systems, repeatedly crosses three staves (this is also the most staves within a system for any slur I know of), and goes slightly backwards — i.e., from right to left — several times.”

More at Byrd’s Gallery of Interesting Music Notation.