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November 2014: Rosetta Mission Comet Probe

Back in 2010 I had the privilege of writing the film score for a movie about the Rosetta mission to land a probe on a comet. To make this film, Lego contributed what looks like a dump-truck worth of Legos to simulate the comet, build a model of the lander, etc. My favorite moment in the film is when an astrophysicist lady — someone whom you wouldn’t normally associate with displays of passion — has a Lego model of the lander in hand, and explains/shows how it will land on a Lego comet landscape, but it is so clear that in her imagination she is landing the real lander on the real comet.

You can see the movie here.

September 21, 2014: Mechanical Organs

Andante (K616) for Mechanical Organ W.A. Mozart (1756–1791)

Fugue in Gm J.A. Reinken (1643–1722)

An ‘automaton’ is a mechanical device (no electronics!) that generally does something humans would normally do. The word first appears in Homer in the 5th century B.C.E. (referring to automatically opening doors), and the ancient Greeks were quite adept at designing and building machines, including siphons, a fire engine, a rudimentary pipe organ, the ‘aeolipile’ — a simple steam turbine, and the ‘Antikythera mechanism’ — a mechanical analog computer used to predict eclipses and other astronomical phenomena.

During the Dark Ages in the West when everyone was struggling just to survive, the Arabic world kept interest in automata alive (and so much other learning in general). With the Renaissance interest in them revived — ferinstance, da Vinci. But they remained occasional curiosities until Frederick the Great in the 18th century, who had a real passion for them. (That, and the ever improving technology in machining made them increasingly easier to construct.) With the King’s interest, automata went viral: We have ‘The Flute Player’, invented by the French engineer Jacques de Vaucanson in 1737. He also constructed the ‘Digesting Duck’, a mechanical duck that gave the false illusion of eating and then, well, um… And in 1769, a chess-playing machine called ‘the Turk’, created by Wolfgang von Kempelen, made the rounds of the courts of Europe purporting to be an automaton — a fraud however, as it concealed a human player inside. Other 18th century automaton makers include the prolific Frenchman Pierre Jaquet-Droz, a Swiss mechanic, who created an automaton capable of drawing four pictures and writing three poems, and Belgian-born John Joseph Merlin who created the ‘Silver Swan’ automaton.

And of course inventors automated musical instruments, and composers of the day availed themselves of the opportunity for an easy buck (or gulden as the case may be) — even Beethoven wrote an eminently forgettable piece for mechanical orchestra. The organ, however, already being mechanical, was a natural for adding a player mechanism. Handel, Haydn, W.F. Bach (J.S.’s eldest) all wrote for the mechanical organ. As did Mozart — the composer of this morning’s prelude.

New Book: Musical Gematria

I’ve just completed a book on ‘musical gematria’ — near as I can tell, the first on the topic. And what might ‘musical gematria’ be, you ask? My blurb from the back cover explains:

Musical Gematria In modern times we are accustomed to one set of characters for writing words (the alphabet ‘A’ through ‘Z’) and another for writing numbers (the digits ‘0’ through ‘9’). The ancient Greeks and Hebrews, however, used the alphabet for both words and numbers. So their numbers looked like strange words, and their words looked like strange numbers. And every word naturally had a numeric value. The study of these numeric values of words is called ‘gematria’ (”geh-MAY-tree-uh”).

The ancients put gematria to use: they apparently used numeric values of the names of Greek gods as dimensions in the Parthenon. And Jewish mystics in the Middle Ages studied the meanings of the numeric values of the Hebrew names of God.

This book presents a way of doing ‘musical gematria’ that takes words or phrases in general and names in particular, and generates graceful and musically useful themes. It uses an elegant method that honors the ancient traditions of gematria while incorporating modern insights.

ISBN: 978-1-940630-02-1
40 pages. $US 9.95.

You can order it from Amazon (Click here)

Or, if you order it directly from me I can autograph it for you. (Click here).

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