My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Sat, 01 Nov, 2014

Music for the Winter Solstice

I haven't posted a music-themed entry for quite a while, so here's one that's timely. I received a review copy of this CD some time ago but only now have I paid serious attention to it. The CD is PRINCIPLE OF SILENCE: LIVE, by multi-instrumentalist "Vidna Obmana" (Dirk Serries), and Joris De Backer on string bass. It is a record of a concert that took place on the Winter Solstice of December 21, 2002, held in the Theobaldus Chapel in Brecht, Belgium.

You may remember early on in this Weblog, I posted a number of articles about experimental ambient/electronic music. This is one of my specialties and over the years I have written numerous reviews of this kind of music. "Vidna Obmana" is one of the masters of the genre. If you wish, you may read my earlier entry about him here.

Vidna Obmana combines forces with a fellow Belgian, bass player Joris De Backer, calling their ensemble PRINCIPLE OF SILENCE. While Obmana is mainly self-taught, with a strong influence from "world" and aboriginal music, De Backer is classically trained as well as experienced in jazz and avant-garde bass playing. He is equally at home with the bowed bass of classical music and the plucked bass of jazz.

The live recording is unedited and unmixed, recorded, as the album notes say, "real-time onto CD without overdubs." So basically what you hear is what went forth into that chapel in December 2002. The set is divided into five sections, though the transitions are unmarked except for the CD divisions and there is no gap between them. Obmana brings with him a variety of instruments, including an electric guitar which is not only played by hand but bowed, and his signature Hungarian "fujara" flutes, which play overtones and microtones. He also has an array of synthesizers, looping machines, and digital reverb which melts his notes together in true "ambient" fashion. De Backer has only his bass, but he plays with bow, plucked, bowed harmonics, and even at one point uses the body of the bass as a percussion instrument.

The opening section is called "Solstice," and is a drifting introduction into the dissonant soundworld of Obmana's surrealistic vision, where he plays his overtone flute against sustained, slow notes by DeBacker. Everything goes slowly, mysteriously, like floating grey clouds over the Low Countries' wet fields. The second section, "The underneath," brings in a slow, regular rhythm, marked by the bass, marching steadily along accompanied by soft, looped wails from Obmana's flute. It has a ritualistic quality that mixes the influence of shamanistic sound from aboriginal sources and later religious music from Europe.

The third section, "Choral," is a drone piece, where both DeBacker's bass and Obmana's synthesizers stay on sustained notes that play subtly against each other, sometimes in fifths and sometimes in microtones. This is the only piece with a clear vocal element, as one or both of the musicians chant over the intensifying drones. "Choral" ends as the drones subside into the next piece, "Netherworld." The bass again sets the ritualistic rhythm as Obmana casts eerie loops of sound into the mix. As the piece progresses, Obmana returns to his fujara flute, soloing with a subterranean, dissonant virtuosity.

The last piece, "The Fall," is presented both as an audio track and as a video, playable on the computer. The last 12 minutes or so of the concert have been documented in a sophisticated short film by Patrick Ceuppens, shot in soft sepia monochrome tones. The film shows the two players, wearing their headphones to hear the electronic effects, standing beside the altar like cyber-angels. They look rather alike, at least in the dim light of the chapel, which is lit only by many candles and by a pale light seeping through the high windows. As the music unfolds, Ceuppens shows us the old wooden carvings of the chapel, as well as the architecture, the furniture, and the windows, giving us as much of the visual experience as can be recorded onto a CD. The chapel is small, filled with perhaps thirty listeners, though it is hard to count them given the perspective of Ceuppens' camera. Ceuppens at one point focuses on the figure of Jesus on the crucifix, and the whole effect is very much religious, even though there is no specific religious content to the music.

Usually, Obmana's music is in the "dark ambient" category, and this concert would qualify, but I won't categorize it so easily this time. It may be slow, droning, and dissonant, but here in this religious environment, on the day of the year's turning in Advent just before Christmas, it is neither dark nor despairing, but reverent. In this last piece of the concert, about two-thirds of the way through, DeBacker returns to conventional tonality, setting down a three-note row, descending slowly down a minor scale, which brings the experimental work back into the realm of European concert and religious music. Even so, as the bass repeats the three note row, Obmana still plays his eccentric flute harmonies until the very end. There is well-deserved applause when they finish, something which I have not heard in other "live" ambient performance records.

This is a contemplative, even soothing meditation on winter and the sleeping world just at the turning of the year. It is a darkness which is not scary or chilly, but the darkness of a world at rest, of empty fields and bare trees and the beauty of a minimal, austere landscape.

You can find this album, with information about it, at the Principle of Silence website which will direct you to the Vidna Obmana website where you can, if you are interested, purchase this PRINCIPLE OF SILENCE recording.

Decorating the avant-garde christmas tree

I have a miniature, artificial Christmas tree which I decorate most years according to the Year Color (see previous entry of December 9). Usually I choose Tschaikowsky's "WINTER DREAMS" symphony #1 as the background music. But this year I used this compelling solstice vision of Obmana and DeBacker as my tree-decorating music. Thus emerged the Electric Green Christmas Tree, which can be viewed here, photographed in its place in my studio. The green free-form decorations are cut from craft foam and hung on the tiny branches with ordinary metal ornament-hangers. The silvery humanoid figure near the top of the tree is my Vampire Elvis Christ the Redeemer trinket, a unique treasure acquired many years ago in Cambridge, Mass. Underneath the tree can be seen my 1986 Red Sox American League Champions Christmas ornament. Give thanks to Reality and the new universe, for it was finally our year in 2004. The tree is topped by a green and silver flame. I have never seen any Christmas tree topped by a flame, but this is my winter invocation of the auroral energies of charged divine matter.

Posted at 12:01 am | link

Cactus Flower Math

Those (few) who have been following ELECTRON BLUE from its beginnings know that I keep cacti. In March I lamented the death of one of my cacti, "Spinoza." But this time I have much better cactus news to report. One of my cacti, out on my terrace for the summer, has bloomed. Cactus flowers are often rare, brief events, and so was this one. I was glad to catch it. During the day, I saw the buds appear on the top of the plant, where I had noticed activity some weeks earlier. When I came home from work in the evening and looked at the plant, I was thrilled to see that the buds were in bloom. Knowing that these glorious white flowers would only last one night, I quickly grabbed my new digital camera and snapped some shots. I took some by the light of a fluorescent camping lantern, but they were slightly blurred so the shot you see here was illuminated by the flash.

By the next morning, the flowers were folded up, and would not bloom again. I don't know what kind of cactus this is; I'd love to know its Latin name. I suspect it is of the Mammillaria or Echinopsis genus. For all I know, it may put up more blossoms. But most likely, that is its big moment for this year.

To get this entry back onto the topic of math, take a look at the body of the cactus in the bud photo. The areoles, or the points where the spines emerge, are arranged in a regular interlocking hexagonal pattern, which if joined would cover the hypothetical surface of the round plant, rather like the famous geodesic dome associated with Buckminster Fuller.

But this plant isn't really spherical, it is an oblate spheroid, a sphere flattened at top and bottom. Its green surface is not smooth, but actually made of cones which support the spiny areoles. The spines of this cactus are curved inward and crisscross to form a tesselated pattern that is not quite regular, but subdivides the basic triangular planes which the areoles define. The spines form a three-dimensional network of curved lines. Other spines have the same inward curve, but are set at a higher angle, to make the outward-facing points which protect the plant. So this little cactus, if you look at it closely, is a marvel of geometry.

Posted at 12:00 am | link

Another Hole In the Wall

Some of you may remember the portrait I did of the comic book and used book shop "Hole in the Wall." This was in March of last year, when I was creating pictures for the art show I had in June of 2007. The picture went up in the gallery and was sold to a person who was moving away from Falls Church and wanted something to help her remember the place. I had promised the picture to the owners of "Hole in the Wall," though, assuming that it would not be sold in the show.

Since it was now in someone else's hands, the Hole folks commissioned me to do another picture of their shop. This time I put more color and detail in. In order to get the shot I wanted, when the light shone onto the front of the shop rather than the back, I had to visit the place at 6:30 in the morning, just after dawn. I photographed it on a brilliant but very cold October morning, with golden sunlight and fall leaves. Now I've finally done the re-make of my Hole portrait. I've made that little blue bungalow look like an autumn palace. I'll be presenting the picture to its owners in a few days.

"Hole in the Wall 2," watercolor and gouache on board, 12" x 16"

Posted at 12:00 am | link

Losing the Electron in a three-dimensional grid

I briefly lost the Electron Car in a large three-dimensional space yesterday. That is, I forgot where I parked in a great big four-story garage. Maybe you haven't had this experience, but probably you have. I emerged from the mall as a thunderstorm was brewing and went towards where I usually park in that garage. The lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled, and I saw, in my usual parking space, a Honda CRV that was just like mine, except it was black, not Electron Blue.

My first thought on seeing this was that I had entered into one of Max Tegmark's parallel universes (see my posting from February 9) and that this was my car, but in that universe I had chosen a black one, not a blue one. What, doesn't everyone think about parallel universes in a parking garage? What about parallel parking? Well, after realizing that I was probably still in this universe, I was faced with finding the true Electron.

I traced a path back and forth along the usual directions I go when looking for parking spaces. Of course, I conceived of it in trigonometric and geometric terms. You mean you don't think about parking spaces as trigonometry? I do all the time. I turned 180 degrees from the black car and traversed the perimeter of a large rectangle inscribed on the plane of the second floor of the parking garage. No Electron.

I set my visual scanner (that is, eyes and color memory) to pick out the color of Electron Blue, since my car has such an unusual color that it usually stands out among the duller cars. Instead, I found two bright blue Volkswagen New Beetles and one Toyota RAV4: similar colors, but not the true vehicle.

Then I tried looking for Hondas, that is, car structure, rear-mounted spare tire, and/or logo recognition. But Hondas were everywhere, including CRV's. I passed by and inspected a Honda Positron, that is, a bronze-orange "Element." This car is a Positron because it is a Honda which is the complementary (opposite) color to my blue Electron, thus made of auto-anti-matter. Thank goodness I hadn't parked next to this one. If I had somehow bumped it during entry or exit from the parking space, they would have annihilated each other, along with the entire mall, and myself with it.

I needed to think three-dimensionally. After all, it worked for Mr. Spock in three-dimensional chess and space warfare. I trudged up the stairs (the rain wetting me as I went through the open stairway) to Level Three, hoping to find the car. No joy. The usual spot where I park was empty. Had my car been towed? Stolen? If so, why? No, it was still in this garage somewhere. Now I needed to think historically and do some more trigonometry. Had my car been at an incline at any point during my drive through the garage?

The passageways through the garage from floor to floor, for cars, are at about, say, a 7 degree incline, maybe even more, and I remembered that I had driven downhill. Ahah. Declination, not inclination. I went down the stairs again, watching the lightning flashes illuminate the featureless brick walls of the mall. I had entered the garage on level 2, street level. Take the sine of the angle of declination, and that will bring me to level 1. Down into the dungeon of level 1 went I, as the thunder rumbled. Now things were becoming clearer. I had found no parking spaces on level 2, close to the mall entrance, and had driven down the incline to level 1, where there were plenty of available spaces.

There in the dimness, my blue Electron shone forth. Trigonometry saves the day. And I now know what it is like to solve a math problem not on paper or by calculator, but just by walking through it.

Posted at 12:00 am | link

Fri, 31 Oct, 2014

Calculus Mind

With all the disruptions in my recent life, including the good disruption of the new PyraCar, I haven't had time to do much art or math. But a meeting with someone from Falls Church's downtown gallery (while he was shopping at the gourmet store) reminded me that I have a prospective show to prepare for, and that I need to make an appointment to show my architectural and landscape work to the gallery-owner.

As for math, I haven't read much text or solved any problems recently. "Doing math" is mostly made up of those formal activities, I guess. But I have been thinking aabout calculus all along. Even the little amount of calculus that I have learned has been an influence on me. Learning calculus changes the way you think. For instance, at work there are two ladies named "Carol" who work in the same department. One has been working there for years, but the other just joined in the last couple of months. How could I distinguish them? Well, the "senior" one is Carol, and the "junior" one is Carol Prime. And how do I stop my new Honda Element? By reaching the limit at the red light or the parking lot. The road is full of limits which are not just speed limits. And my car, like any other vehicle with front and rear wheels, sits at a tangent to the slope of the road. If it didn't, I'd be off balance and skid off the track.

I have not forgotten physics, either. My new car is heavier (has more mass) than the older one, so it has more momentum while I drive at the same velocity that I used to. That means that it takes more braking power to stop it. Fortunately, the new brakes are much smoother and easier to use than the previous car's. I am still getting used to the new geometric configurations of the Element, as well as its turning radius, which is surprisingly small, (at low speed of course) due to its somewhat shorter length than the old Electron.

Some time ago in one of these Electron essays from May 2004 I speculated that the orange Element might be the anti-particle of the Electron Blue CRV. Am I now driving a Positron? If so, how can I navigate on roads made of matter, without causing a matter-anti-matter explosion? Experiment and Honda specifications have proven that the Orange Element is not a positron, because it has more mass than the older Electron Blue CRV, and electrons and positrons have the same mass. This then opens the question as to what Element-ary particle my Element is. Perhaps some car-loving physicist might know the answer. Anyway, it's time for me to get back to learning more math. And I'm glad that I won't have to be called "Auntie Matter."

Posted at 11:59 pm | link

Switching to Winter

My year, like that of most people, is marked by rituals and transitions. For the last twenty-one years, my entry into winter has been celebrated at Darkovercon, from where I have just returned. The weather here in MidAtlantica isn't very wintry, though. Even though it is still mild, I put aside my colorful autumn garb and don the black and purple of December, and Advent. It doesn't matter if the religious ceremonial Advent isn't quite here yet, I still count it as such, as does the commercial world. After all, "Commercial Advent" and the appearance of holiday items and decorations has already been around for more than a month.

This was quite a successful DarkoverCon. Not only did I happily host my Salon on Friday and Saturday nights, with much pouring of wine and cheer, but I also sold a major painting to a collector. Longtime readers of the Electron may remember a picture that I did early in 2005, dedicated to the memory of the September 11, 2001 attacks, called "The Geometry of Remembrance." It can be viewed at this Electron entry. I included it in my DarkoverCon art show because I wanted to show it, but I put it "not for sale" as it was not really a "science fiction" or fantasy painting. It got a lot of attention from viewers, but one of my good friends, who has loved my art for a long time, was deeply moved by it and begged me to sell it to her. I told her that, since this picture was not for sale in the convention art show, it would have to be sold directly, outside the show, and I would have to charge her full "gallery" price for the piece. To my amazement, she agreed to that price and said she would write the check right away. She explained that she had recently come into some family money and now had enough to spend on things she loved. Naturally, I wasn't going to stand in her way, so "The Geometry of Remembrance" went home with her.

There have been some questions about whether an artist should sell work to friends at "public" or "gallery" prices. Should I have cut the price because I was selling it to a collector who was a friend, rather than just any collector? I did ponder this during the convention, but when she explained about her legacy and that she was now "financially comfortable" and could afford it, I went ahead and charged the full price. Had she wanted the picture intensely but was poor, I would have found a way for her to get it. I have traded pictures for craft work, massages, food, dental work, vacations, and collectibles, so I know how to negotiate these things. She felt that by paying the full price she was also supporting the art work of a friend.

I sold a few other pieces, including "Postcards from the Multiverse," as well as "Orange Cosmic Rays" from the previous entry. These went through the convention art show and their prices were much less than the "gallery" range. Friends bought these, too. Attendance at DarkoverCon, after all these years, has become something like a "family reunion," so there are few people there who are not friends or at least acquaintances.

Now I'm back at work in the gourmet store, surrounded by sweet holiday goodies. I have new co-workers, who are so far working very well. Despite the mild temperatures, the low sun and early darkness tell me that it is that season known as "Brumalia," the weeks before the Winter Solstice.

Posted at 11:59 pm | link

Getting Used to Delta

I ran out of review problems in Anton's book, at least those concerning finding the equations for tangents at any point on a function's graph. So I went back to my collection of calculus books and retrieved Allyn Washington's "Basic Technical Mathematics with Calculus," which I described in this earlier entry. (The Electron reserves the right to be self-referential.) This is the Fourth Edition, dated 1985, and one of my Friendly Scientists actually worked as a co-writer on a later edition. I have more recent calculus books, but they demand the use of complicated, expensive calculator equipment which I don't have. I have a 15-dollar calculator which has been sufficient for anything I've done so far. My Macintosh has a graphing program which I sometimes use to check my work. I prefer to use the books which expected the student to work things out with pencil and paper.

And there in the instructions for finding equations of tangent lines was the Capital Delta, the Greek letter which is one of the unmistakable signatures of Calculus. I used to be a classicist, which like "physicist" is one of those all-encompassing vocations which takes up your whole life. In my Greek and Latin days, I had plenty of Deltas: Dionysus, Demeter, Democritus, Diomedes, Demosthenes. But this is Delta from a different discipline. The book explains:

"…The symbol (Delta) used here has no meaning by itself. The name increment is given to the difference of the coordinates of two points, and therefore (Delta)x and (Delta)y are the increments in x and y, respectively."

As the virtual Professor explained in his first DVD calculus lecture, this is all about change and motion. I am dealing with intervals and increments rather than single quantities, and processes rather than single operations. It's Delta for Difference, D for Diligent, Daring, and Dynamic.

Posted at 11:58 pm | link

The Multiplication of Identities

I received e-mails this week from Husain Mensch, Wenonah Liberto, Aurangzeb Swigart, Yuri Pilgrim, Merlin Frausto, Pacifica Snowden, Lysistrata Chipley, Kishore Krzeminski, Cobus Pastor, Antipater Pavia, Madhukar Whittingham, Selvaggia Hammock, and the exotic Ashtoreth Olson. They were not "real people," of course, but "sender" names attached to spam e-mails, created by the endless churning of an indiscriminately globalized name-generator. Most of them were ads for prescription drugs, which are counterfeit, or for stocks, which are almost certainly worthless. The value of these, for me, is in the philosophical entertainment of artificial reality and word salad.

The gibberish language and the surrealistic poetry generated by the spams has, alas, disappeared from the junk e-mail stream, so I am left only with the amusing names. As you know by now, I hold "virtual" or "imaginary" realities to be as real as our "real" reality, so all those generated named beings, passing through the internet in the billions per second like neutrinos, are identities of a sort. They multiply faster than any living thing, because they need nothing material to grow on, just a stream of information.

I gave a few charitable contributions last year, moved by the heartbreaking stories of oppressed people in far-off countries, dying children, and tortured animals. I wrote in an earlier entryof what happened once I was known to be a giver. At that point, in February of this year, I had received over 900 address labels with some version of my mundane name and address on them. As of today, I have well over 1000, perhaps even 1500 name-labels. I just threw out another 35, because they were poorly printed and did not include my mundane first names.

Why do I return to this theme over and over again? Because it is an illustration of something which doesn't get talked about enough in the social sphere. Many people in contemporary America are worried about the government's intrusion into the information and details of their private lives. But there is an equal, or possibly more extensive, intrusion done to us by commercial interests, companies, marketing agencies, and even charities. Every time I make a purchase with a credit card, legitimate organizations record what I buy and how much I paid for it, thus creating a record which can be sold to marketers. Every time I give money to a charity, not only do they target me for continual solicitations, but they put my name and address on dozens of other charities' lists, whether I want them to or not. In fact, the commercial websites, catalogs, and sendaway lists are more likely to include a "no-share" option for my address than the charities. The world is full of legal and commercially profitable spyware, aimed at me no matter what I do.

Identity theft happens all too often, where criminals grab the information and run with it. But what about identity "sharing," where non-criminal entities propagate your identity and information through exponentially growing chains of interlocking mailing lists and marketing data? True, there is no real harm done, unlike that of criminal identity theft, but it is a nuisance to receive piles of junk mail just because you were generous once. Looking at all those address labels, I get the feeling that I am becoming a spam-name, a virtual being multiplied by the thousands, growing smaller and lighter and more insubstantial with each pack of address labels. Ashtoreth, let's get together soon.

Posted at 11:58 pm | link

Lines of Lightning

It's been great weather so far this summer, sticky and hot in the 90's just the way I like it. And we have had a spectacular storm to honor the Solstice. For two hours on the night of the twenty-second and after midnight into the twenty-third, the skies over the Metro Washington DC area were blazing with lightning. The major part of the storm passed to the south so that I had a good view of the densest lightning display from the side, though there were many jolting bolts directly overhead as well. For the first time, I took pictures of lightning. I stood on my sheltered terrace and aimed my digital camera toward the sky, and though I had no tripod I used a 6-second exposure, to capture bolts that flashed every few seconds. Here is the best of my shots from the storm:

When I was a child I was terrified of thunderstorms but now I love them, as I recounted in this Electron post from last July. And seeing real lightning bolts is the most exciting part. It's just like watching fireworks, but put on by Nature and far more powerful than a few sparkly explosions. I can understand why some people with time and money on their hands become addicted to storm-chasing. How can you see something like this and not experience a true sense of awe? The storm-chasers don't just stand on their terraces, though. Tornadoes, anyone?

Back to lightning: I've seen a wide variety of lightning forms. There is single-line lightning, that wiggles its way through the clouds. Then there is what I call "basket" lightning, a whole network of glowing filaments that seem to weave through the clouds. There is also "root" lightning, which looks just like a plant root with a central stalk and many smaller fibers extending out from the sides. I've also noticed that the cloud-to-ground strikes, which are the strongest and the most dangerous, seem to be "straighter" and a bit more like the "zig-zag" stylized lightning bolts depicted in art and graphic design. I've never seen ball lightning, and I don't think I want to, as it is supposed to be quite dangerous because it can explode. My mother experienced ball lightning very close up, many years ago in her childhood, as it floated through the room she was in and exited out a window during a violent storm. I am here because that ball lightning escaped and didn't blow up!

Looking at the cloud-to-cloud lightning I viewed and photographed the other night, it always strikes me how similar the linear forms of lightining are to other unpredictably wiggly lines such as roots, branches, rivers and watercourses, and cracks in mud, earth, or pavement. It doesn't seem to make a difference whether the lines are traced by living or unliving things; they all look alike in their various sizes and shapes.

The reason for these shapes, as has been well-publicized in the last couple of decades, is that they are all composed of fractals, the self-repeating mathematical shapes which produce nature-like forms when unleashed using the power of computers. The lightning, the root, the river all form due to mathematical patterns, though they look as though they form at random. If you are so inclined, you might think that these are the equations by which God (or the gods) designed the universe! But if there is no God, we are still left with the bright lightning of mathematics, which is almost as good.

Posted at 11:58 pm | link

Echo of Small Things

In my public life, I have to endure every day having shrieking "soul" music or howling pop noise shoved in my face, no matter where I go, even at my beloved Starbucks. So it is with a vast sense of relief that I come home to ambient sound by masters such as Robert Rich, where quietness and contemplation are still cherished. You may recall my post earlier this year about Rich's piano album "Open Window." That same year, 2005, he also released a wondrous ambient album entitled "Echo of Small Things." This is inspired by his longtime friendship and collaboration with photographer David Agasi, whose moody black and white photos are featured in the album's graphic packaging.

Those who regard only Mozart and Bach and the classical genre (or any other established musical genre!) as "real" music will not care for this album, since it is not structured the way "real" music is. Rich's work here would be better described as "sound design," since it combines environmental sounds such as voices, footsteps, wind, water, thunder, or other seemingly random noises with long, drawn-out drones created by electronics or steel guitar. These are punctuated with pentatonic (in Rich's non-Western "just intonation" tuning) notes on synthesizers and chimes, adding a coherent musical tonality to the mix. The environmental sounds are intended to correspond with the intention of the photographer Agasi to portray "ordinary things" as poetic.

There is a highly personal element to the photographs, some of which are of a Japanese girl on a bed (he lives in Tokyo) including one partial nude. The eroticism of these photos is echoed by Rich's sensuous sound textures, languid and dreamy and sustained. It is a world away from the pounding beat of porno-pop eroticism. But Rich's interpretation of Agasi is not just about people and relationships. It is about spaces, both architectural and natural. Agasi photographs stairs, or ferns, or a leaf-drifted wet autumn sidewalk, and Rich conveys this with his slowly changing hovering sounds, almost melting into the background at times, with only tiny increments of bells or crickets to catch one's attention. Both artists have in mind that famous Japanese aesthetic, unknown in American culture, of mono no aware (pronounced moh-no no awah-ray) which is sometimes translated as "the pathos of things." It is, in this context, a look at those "small things" with a combination of wonder and melancholy, since they are all transient but beautiful nevertheless.

There are also elements of deeply nocturnal mystery and spooky weirdness, most evident in track 6, "Scent of Night Jasmine," and its following track, "Summer Thunder." This is where Rich takes a listener into a dreamlike, surrealistic world where his drones, flute notes, and environmental sounds are overlaid by percussion which never quite gets into any rhythm. It is one of Rich's most characteristic touches, to suggest at rhythm without really committing to it. In "Summer Thunder," the sound of distant thunder is combined with crickets and some very eerie soft synthesizer drones. You can just feel the breeze from the far-off storm lightly agitating the window curtains at 3 AM.

In the last two tracks, the night is over, with a sense of oncoming day and the sounds of birds and people waking. The last track, "Weightless Morning," evokes a pale and somber dawn, with sounds of drones and chimes fading into light. The album ends in the same serene but uneasy quiet in which it starts. This is not the kind of album you put on to soften up your work space; it resists being utilitarian "background music" like many ambient productions. This is a participatory experience, even without Agasi's photos, a sound environment which may bring you to visit your own memories and reflections, and fears.

An afterword to this review

I must add an extraneous but still serious critical comment to this otherwise splendid artistic collaboration. Agasi's photos in the album show his model with a lit cigarette in her hand, as well as an ashtray full of cigarette butts. His other photos on his website often show people smoking. Now I realize that in Japan, and among artists in general, cigarette smoking is something everyone does, and it's taken for granted. But as a nonsmoker and a strong adversary of this filthy and health-destroying habit, I never take it for granted, no matter how sexy a cigarette appears in the hands of a beautiful woman in a beautiful photograph. When I see a cigarette in a picture, I find it as jarring as if the model were holding a crack pipe or a syringe. Many readers will say I'm over-reacting and that I should just get over it, but I am hoping that somehow tobacco addiction will continue to recede into the realm of unacceptable behavior, rather than be promoted, however subtly, as part of the life of art and beauty.

Posted at 11:57 pm | link

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Thus Spake Zuska

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