Category Archives: Art/Science

FPF World Tour, Part 7: Kicking Brain Crack in Philly

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There’s this phenomenon called brain crack. Have you ever heard of it? I remember the term was introduced years ago, by a vlogger named Ze Frank.

Basically: when you have an amazing idea in your mind, it’s easy to just keep thinking about it. Over and over. Planning all the wonderful details, crafting the perfect plan, dreaming up how great it’s going to be.

But you never actually do it.

You just get addicted to the idea. And there’s no way, if you actually did it, that it could ever live up to the idyllic concept you’ve created. So there you are, caught in a feedback loop, addicted to brain crack.

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Filed under Ambassador Program, Art/Science, Creativity, FPF World Tour, Musical Gadgets, Videos

Nature is Nurture

City skyline

Greetings!

I’ve recently returned from some extensive travels over several weeks. This is why it’s been quiet on the blog for a while, but now we’re back online, and there are many new stories to share. New adventures, new friends, and of course, new pianos.

The next several posts will cover the entire journey, city by city. After departing from Arequipa in early June, I stopped in Lima, Bogotá, Medellín, Cartagena, New York, Philadelphia and Hong Kong—then returned by retracing my path.

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Filed under Ambassador Program, Art/Science, Glass Piano, Learning about Pianos, Lima, Peru, Piano Action, Piano Maintenance, Piano Stories

The Currency is Joy

Hotel decorations

For the month of March I’ve been living in and exploring a hotel directly across the street from the Centro Cultural. Staying here at la Casa de Melgar has not only made it easier to prepare for the concert and keep up with my work at the CC, it’s turned out to be an adventure all of its own.

Some hotels here are absolutely magical. The rooms and hallways are dotted with antique artifacts, desks, grand wardrobes, and ornate ceramic tiles. Garden spaces feature sillar walls of deep blue and ochre, draped with a vibrant array of hanging flowers. Among all this, neglected but charming pianos await discovery, and new friends with rare stories come out of the woodwork. I will show you the magic of these places. I will tell you of a fascinating cafe owner who was manufacturing bombs but discovered a latent urge to instead manufacture hand-made pasta. I also mixed with a far-flung group of archaeologists who experience the quiet joy of handling the objects that the ground has kept for us to discover—and which add to the story of who we are.

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Filed under Ambassador Program, Art/Science, Learning about Pianos, Music and Wellness, Peru, Piano Action, Piano Maintenance, Piano Repair, Science

Hay Festival

HayTalk

It’s amazing how meeting just one new person can open up hundreds of pathways and tunnels you otherwise never would have found. My first visit to the home of Hernando Torres-Fernández was a prime example of this. An evening filled with friendship and piano stories, it definitely led to a slew of discoveries I hadn’t expected.

Before we parted ways that night, he reminded me of an upcoming event that I might like to attend. The event is called Hay Festival. When Hernando gave me a copy of the program, I it seemed to include many different kinds of thinkers who would be sharing their ideas. But honestly I could hardly decode the Spanish enough to be prepared. My new words of the day became “periodista” and “escritor.” There would be several of these people the conference. Once I found the meaning it made sense: journalists! Their job is to author periodicals; Writers! They might compose a script. So, it would be literary festival of sorts.

There were quite a few lectures I could choose to attend, but where should I begin? Would all the talks be in Spanish? Would I even be able to understand any of it? Continue reading

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Filed under Ambassador Program, Arequipa, Art/Science, Creativity, Multidisciplinary, Peru, Videos

DJERASSI ARTISTS’ RESIDENCY – THE FIRST 10 DAYS (DAY 4)

20150703_065212_638 Djerassi is a residency program in Woodside California that hosts artists in groups of twelve for one-month sessions. The program takes place on a several-hundred-acre property that rests peacefully in the Santa Cruz mountains. Nearby, brainy technophiles populate Palo Alto, the home of Standford University and  startuplandia. This month’s session, playfully titled Scientific Delirium Madness, is special. A selection committee has chosen a group of art/science integrators to share this experience. They are hoping we find interesting ways to collaborate and that our creativity will flourish at this remote retreat. I plan to keep a strict daily schedule: early rising, 4 hours of science, 4 hours of making things. Each day I look for ways to create something meaningful. In the last post I explained my plans to make a cardboard bird mask—this project is still in process. In the meantime I’m getting to know my fellow residents. 20150703_065233_135

20150703_065724_638 20150703_072936_937 Friday, July 3: Today is my fourth day at Djerassi. Morning walks with fellow residents are surfacing as a supremely enriching activity: we develop relationships, explore the property, exercise and absorb the dawn energy as fuel for the day. Yesterday, I had a walk with Deborah Forster, the primatologist and cognitive scientist. She explained differences in social behaviors among baboons versus chimpanzees and their strategies for adapting to new groups. As male baboons mature they leave their birth group and join other groups while in chimpanzees it is the females that move to a new group. In this residency we are all members of a new group. We speculate about how our artificial tribe here at Djerassi will cohere. Each resident is used to being a member of multiple tribes due to cross-disciplinary affinities. This could promote cohesion because each of us is accustomed to adapting within multiple existing group structures. On the other hand we are all likely to resist group cohesion because we my have found in-group mentalities to be limiting. This was our conversation yesterday, but today we begin to test how group dynamics actually develop. In the morning Deborah and I take an early, extended walk with three more of our fellow residents: Luca Forcucci, Tami Spector and Christine Lee. Each is accomplished and unique: Christine has made impressive sculptural works from waste materials like condemned fire hoses and discarded construction shims. She also helped to develop a new type of naturally bonded board (think environmentally friendly particle board) in collaboration with scientist, John F Hunt of the USDA. clee_13 Christine Lee;

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Luca has traveled the world for dozens of years doing sonic, visual, conceptual and otherwise inscrutably interesting art through the support of various grants and residencies. Before living as a full-time creative he worked as an an architect and curated for a music venue.

Luca Forcucci

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Tami Spector is a tenured chemistry professor at the University of San Francisco. She writes and lectures about the aesthetics of chemistry.

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We follow a paved road up and down (mostly up) several hills until we reach a gated off trail. We pass the gate and descend into the woods wondering what awaits us along this somewhat unkempt path. We are new to this wilderness—watching for the poison oak and ticks we were warned of.

We are not only exploring the forested paths, but each other’s minds and perspectives. I can feel my brain stretching to make sense of unfamiliar topics and references. Tami, Christine and Luca discuss many artist of which I have not heard—I am fascinated to hear about them though. Christine tells me of a book I ought to read. I think to take a note but then again there are so many new things there is no time to note them all. But we are all feeling a bit like this—navigating a forest of unfamiliar but potentially fascinating references. Tami resolves to compile a list so that she can home in on at least one film, book, and artist recommendation from each resident.

Suddenly, our attention becomes focused on a couple of animals on the path. They are yellow, mushy slimy amorphous animals—banana slugs! They are performing some sort of ritual (mating?). They take turns stroking each other’s backs in a painstakingly slow dance. Deborah—the scholar of animal behavior—remarks at their “turn-taking” and that it is such a universal and evolutionarily ancient behavior.

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We are all rapped for several minutes watching them. But then we refocus our attention on finding the famous “Staccioli Grove”—where Mauro Staccioli installed tremendous, geometric, concrete objects that balance impossibly among the tall trees.

Deborah’s attention is not diverted though. She remains rapt. She tells the rest of us to go on ahead. She sits down on the forest floor and continues to film the banana slugs.

The rest of us go on searching for the sculptural installations but for some reason we cannot find them. The maps we were given are not so clear. We leave Deborah far behind and continue to walk the woods until we find an exit.

Visit the Scientific Delerium Madness blog, hosted by Leonardo, the journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology to find out more about our experiences with art and science collaboration and banana slugs at the Djerassi residency.

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DJERASSI ARTISTS’ RESIDENCY – THE FIRST 10 DAYS (DAY 3)

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Djerassi is a residency program in Woodside California that hosts artists in groups of twelve for one month sessions. The program takes place on a several hundred acre property that rests peacefully in the Santa Cruz mountains. Nearby, brainy technophiles populate Palo Alto, the home of Standford University and  startuplandia. This month’s session, playfully titled Scientific Delirium Madness, is special. A selection committee has chosen a group of art/science integrators to share this experience. They are hoping we find interesting ways to collaborate and that our creativity will flourish at this remote retreat. I plan to keep a strict daily schedule: early rising, 4 hours of science, 4 hours of making things. Each day I look for ways to create something meaningful. Yesterday—day two— was packed full of activities and orientations.

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Thursday, July 2: I passed my PhD thesis defense about a week ago. When I did, my wife Christi and my friend Valeria Lombo came to my lab and presented me with a mask as a gift. This mask—made in the image of an Australian pied butcherbird head—was a giant hit: I had spent six long years up to my ears in song recordings of this species. This gift idea was so perfect that when my wife met with our friend Anthony Villanacci to tell him of it, she found out he had the same idea! Anthony—being an industrial designer—got to work right away on the construction and completed it masterfully in one late-night session. Christi and Valeria gave it life with paint. It is magical. All my lab mates and my mentor loved it. Everyone enjoyed putting it on and goofing around. With permission from all who made it, I decided to leave it in the lab as a mascot.

Just days after receiving this mask I lost it! This was seriously devastating. The devastation stood out as very significant against the backdrop of my general indifference toward material things. Losing the mask reminded me of what it represents. It represents the memory of celebrating with my friends and collaborators. It represents friendship, collaboration…and fun.

One of my goals here at Djerassi is to create a mask like the one my friends made me. I don’t know why I have such a strong desire to replicate something that has already been made but I think I will stick with this goal. Before attending this residency I sent messages to Djerassi alumni asking advice on how to spend my time here. It was Ramekon O’Arwisters who said “I suggest that you plan out or have specific and clear ideas of your goals for the residence mapped out before you arrive.” Others echoed his suggestion.

As silly as it seems—even to me—one goal will be to reconstruct this mask. It is strange to make it in this context. It is only obliquely related to my work as a birdsong researcher and musician—the credentials that earned me a spot here. I wonder if the other residents will find my cardboard project laughable and childish. I hope that it will become something special—a tribute to the magical powers of the original. For now I am dedicated to this possibility.

I began work on the mask yesterday and I continue today. I am quickly realizing that Anthony is very talented to have built the original mask in one night , but I think I have a plan…

There will be more updates to come but in the meantime visit the Scientific Delerium Madness blog, hosted by Leonardo, the journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology to find out more about our experiences with art and science collaboration at the Djerassi residency.

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DJERASSI ARTISTS’ RESIDENCY – THE FIRST 10 DAYS (DAY 2)

Djerassi is a residency program in Woodside California that hosts artists in groups of twelve for one month sessions. The program takes place on a several hundred acre property that rests peacefully in the Santa Cruz mountains. Nearby, brainy technophiles populate Palo Alto, the home of Standford University and  startuplandia. This month’s session, playfully titled Scientific Delirium Madness, is special. A selection committee has chosen a group of art/science integrators to share this experience. They are hoping we find interesting ways to collaborate and that our creativity will flourish at this remote retreat. I plan to keep a strict daily schedule: early rising, 4 hours of science, 4 hours of making things. Each day I look for ways to create something meaningful. I hope my output will do justice to this opportunity.

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Wednesday, July 1: Last night—my first at Djerassi—I slept hard. I have commenced recovering from my dissertation defense and the frantic last-minute preparations for this trip. The first item on day two’s list is meditation. I attempted to plan big for this month. Ideas on what to work on while here had been filling my brain until they leaked out my ears. But I couldn’t really know what to do until I arrive.

The plan includes a tentative schedule:

6:00 AM—meditate; 6:30—walk; 8:00—shower, eat, prep for the day; 9:00—four hours of science; 1:00 PM—lunch; 2:00—four hours of creativity; 6:00—dinner; 7:00—free time, socializing, winding down, reading, writing, etc.; 10:00—bed.

I don’t even know if this schedule will enmesh well with the natural rhythm of things here. Today I do what I can. After the morning greets my meditating with acceptance, I try my walk.

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A map will guide me into the art covered hills.

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The morning light dances with the shadows. They interact rhythmically.

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Sculpture installations emerge from nature and greet me as I walk. Brittany Powell has carved away moss from trees to create a pattern that still echoes loudly after two years. The periodic stripes of moss evoke the shape of a guiro—the Latin American percussion instrument.

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On my walk the early light through the dewey trees creates a rhythm that enamors me. I’ve been studying rhythms of the thrush nightingale in my research. I record a video on my walk. I run my hand through the light and shadow, creating a one dimensional slice of luminosity through the complex patterns. It evokes sonic rhythms in my mind. This is some of my art for the day: light rhythms.

After my walk and after breakfast I get to work on my science—I extend a hand out from this gentle landscape to bustling New York City and converse with my mentor. I dive into revising our manuscript, readying it for publication. I accomplish quite a bit. I’m in the zone right away!—I am hoping to submit two papers before I leave Djerassi. Quickly my schedule faces a glitch though. The staff will stop my science time short. Soon this first full day fills up with orientations and getting to know the fellow residents. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll successfully institute my precious schedule.

In the meantime, I participate in the planned activities. The staff assure us that we’ll soon have time to get things done—we all reluctantly enjoy the hell out of a guided tour of the sculpture grounds.

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The docent, Dennis, guides us through the hills and forests.

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The sculptures intrigue and fascinate us. For example, James Chinneck has left mysterious plaques along the trails here—“State Certified Fact” plates. This plaque tells the tale of a rusty old truck found in a ravine:

Frank faithfully delivered fine sausages from his store at 974 Howared Street to the loggers in the mountains.

One of the loggers, Chuck Malone, had an issue with Frank: The sausage man was having a love affair with Malone’s oldest daughter, Mary-Anne.

On November 8, 1937 Chuck Malone fired 18 shots at Frank’s sausage van. Tragically for Malone, Frank was not driving the van that day; Mary-Anne was. Upon realizing that he had shot and killed his own daughter, Malone turned the gun on himself.

Frank never delivered sausages again.

I love Chinneck’s imaginative project and I reflect on how important stories are. They add meaning to chaos. I want to create things here that tell stories.

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Later, representatives of Leonardo—the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology—meet with us. They are collaborating with Djerassi to host this special residency where artists and scientists reside together. We learn that there is an open house on the 19th—just over two weeks away: 250 outsiders will pay to enter the grounds and to find out about us and what we will have done. The meeting is fun—and we are reminded that we have the amazing gift of time with no obligation here. However their presentation to us highlighting the upcoming open house reinforces a mild pressure for us to produce something impressive to show for our time here…

Visit our blog, hosted by Leonardo, the journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology to find out more about our experiences with art and science collaboration at the Djerassi residency.

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Filed under Art/Science, Glass Piano, Multidisciplinary