Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Camera Obscura, When Accuracy Rules

Back in 2001, British artist David Hockney suggested great artists like Vemeer, Rembrandt and others, could have used, god forbid, a camera obscura in the creation of their work.

"From the moment David Hockney began to suspect that the Old Masters had created many of their paintings with the help of lenses—in effect tracing their subjects— he insisted he was not saying they cheated.

"Optical devices certainly don't paint pictures," Hockney said. "Let me say now that the use of them diminishes no great artist."

Yet as he studied prints of five centuries' worth of paintings on a "Great Wall" in his Los Angeles studio, there was an unmistakable gotcha to his mission. He knew that many art historians would be horrified at what he was suggesting.

Did Vermeer use a lens to help him capture the intricate patterns in the folds of a tablecloth? Or Caravaggio, to re-create a curving, foreshortened lute? Even Rembrandt fell under Hockney's gaze. He could not have been looking through
a lens while creating his haunting self-portraits. "But," Hockney said, "he might have for the helmets and armor."

Before long, Hockney was wearing a T-shirt blaring, "I Know I'm Right."

Needless to say, his findings caused consternation and ridicule (of Hockney) because, if true, these artists, to some, would now be considered mere tracers of images, thus relegating work like "The Music Lesson or A Lady at the Virginals with a Gentleman." as a cheat and not as a masterpiece revered all over the world, a notion this artist finds ridiculous to the extreme.

The reason why I find this argument ridiculous lies in the fact any creative person worth her salt will use any tool available if it helps them to create the very best work possible in the least amount of time because if this was not the case, then oil, canvas or paintbrush would never have been invented either as these tools must also be considered "cheats" if the luddites of the world had their way.

Because the Camera Obscura accurately displays perspective, it stands to reason a Vemeer would jump on it if it helped him to capture this illusive imagery thus allowing him more time to focus on laying down countless transparent layers of paint in order to build up the incredible sense of light and detail that permeates all of his work, something the camera obscura obviously does not do, thus relegating the "cheat" hypothesis to the wastebasket where all stupid ideas reside.

BTW, David Hockney's no slouch as an artist either as seen by his "A Bigger Splash" piece done in 1967.

Perfect Woman III

Gustav Klimt would be proud as Marta Dahlig's creation, inspired by his work, Judith and the Head of Holofernes

comes across as an elegant and sumptuous portrait no matter how it was created. Click on Marta's rough preliminary to see how she did the deed. Pretty amazing if you ask me.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Music, as everyone knows, is a leading driver of tech because instruments intended to generate music require intense research, testing and viable production methodologies to enable musicians to buy reliable hardware at reasonable cost. In doing casual research on instrument design, (particularly violins, cellos & basses) one comes away with profound appreciation as to what goes into making something that, in the hands of a master craftsman, stands the test of time. Because the cello "has been described as the closest sounding instrument to the human voice."one would expect its sound to be familiar and "easy" but, when heard live, is anything but, especially when played by a virtuoso in front of a live audience.

While visiting friends at Elora, Canada, my wife and I heard a concert given by a brilliant young cellist named David Eggert which astounded me as the cello's sound was startlingly abstract and modern, something totally different from what one would think would issue forth from such a "well known" instrument. This unique power of abstraction really comes to the fore when listening to Bach as his exquisite Cello Suites are both sublime and "different" at the same time, thus encouraging anyone to experience the true power of great music for perhaps the very first time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Quintessence II

Quintessence, the post about Kind of Blue and Mile Davis, got some reaction from readers as some said other gems like A Love Supreme and Blues & the Abstract Truth, among others, are just as good as Kind of Blue (they have a valid point) even though I still consider KOB to be No. 1 by a very close margin.

Before getting to an all too short list of great albums/artists, I feel it necessary to mention two musicians who are almost never recognized as giants in the jazz pantheon, Oliver Nelson and Eric Dolphy. Nelson, of course, created The Blues And the Abstract Truth, a magnificent album showcasing a group of gifted musicians playing original compositions penned by Nelson. Oliver's solos in Blues (soprano/tenor sax) are architectural masterpieces constructed with exquisite precision, passion and patience, a style Bach would have appreciated given the kind of music Bach created. The other notable thing about Oliver was the quality of his work. Had he lived, Duke Ellington would have had company as being at the top of the list of great American composers. (Check out Stolen Moments to see why. It's on TB&TAT.)

Eric Dolphy, who played with Nelson on several albums (including Blues), had a melodic sense unlike anyone else. Classically trained, Dolpy's solos (flute, alto sax, bass clarinet) have to be heard to be appreciated as he pulled out hidden harmonic relationships in ways which have never been duplicated by anyone playing jazz AFAIK.

Both died way before their time.

IMHO, an all too brief list of great albums/artists one should have if stranded on a desert island with proper phonic equipment. :)
  • A Love Supreme, Crescent - John Coltrane
  • Blues & the Abstract Truth - Oliver Nelson
  • Milestones - Miles Davis
  • Kind of Blue - Miles Davis
  • Four & More - Miles Davis
  • ESP - Miles Davis
  • Bird
  • Dizzy
  • Sonny Rollins
  • Chick Corea
  • Duke Ellington
  • AJA - Steely Dan
  • Gerry Mulligan & Bobby Brookmeyer
  • Waltz for Debby - Bill Evans
  • Gill Evans - Sketches of Spain and Into the Cool
  • Charles Mingus
  • Bach's Goldberg Variations - The young Glen Gould
  • Electric Ladyland - Jimi Hendrix
  • Dave Brubeck at Carnagie Hall/1963
  • God Must Be a Boogy Man - Joni Mitchell
  • Hot Rats - Frank Zappa
  • Early Bob Marley
  • Synchronicity, Ghost in the Machine - The Police
  • Early Bob Dylan
  • Sly & the Family Stone
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
  • Harvest - Neil Young
  • Elephant Mountain - The Youngbloods
  • Stravinsky
  • Retrospective - Buffalo Springfield
  • John Barleycorn Must Die - Stevie Winwood
  • Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder
  • Off the Wall - Michael Jackson
  • Disraeli Gears, Wheels of Fire - Cream
  • Staircase + Various Trio Works - Keith Jarrett
  • Ornette Coleman
  • Gimme Shelter - Rolling Stones
  • Mississippi Delta Blues - Various Artists
  • Real Bluegrass Music - Various Artists
  • Real Irish Music - Various Artists
  • Indian Ragas - Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan
  • Vintage Santana
  • African Drumming
  • John Mayall & The Blues Breakers
  • Stevie Ray Vaughn
  • Eric Clapton playing the Blues
  • Wired - Jeff Beck
  • Led Zepplin
  • Steve Reich
  • Bach Organ Pieces
  • Leonard Cohen
  • Billie Holiday
  • Tommy - The Who
  • Sun Ra
  • Dr. John
  • Jimmy Smith
  • Oscar Peterson
  • Muddy Waters
  • Weather Report
  • Sgt. Peppers - The Beatles
  • Revolver - The Beatles
  • Mozart, Various works
  • Brahms - Various works
  • Phillip Glass - Various works
  • The 9th - Beethoven
  • Scriabin
  • Samuel Barber - Adagio for Strings
  • Stravinsky - Rite of Spring
  • Aaron Copeland - Various works, Applachian Spring, Fanfare for the Common Man
  • Bach - Six Suites for Cello, Yo Yo Ma
  • Ravel - Bolero (An old chestnut)
  • Paul Hindemith - Various works
  • Chopin
  • Bartok
  • Schoenberg
  • Webern
  • Mahler - Symphony No. 8
  • Allman Brothers
  • Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense, 77
  • U2 - The Joshua Tree, Achtung Baby
  • Early Janus Joplin
  • John Cage (Think of Merce Cunningham)
  • Count Basie
  • Art Blakeley & the Jazz Messengers
  • Blue Note Artists, Horace Silver, Lee Morgan, Freddy Hubbard etc., etc.
  • Monk
  • Early Ray Charles
  • Phil Woods
  • Lee Konitz
  • Ahmad Jamal - Poinciana
  • The Roots
  • MJQ
  • Buddy Rich Big Band
  • Peggy Lee - Give Me Fever
  • Chuck Berry (need I say more?)
  • Early Elvis
  • Jerry Lee Lewis
  • Little Richard
  • Joe Williams with Count Basie
  • Sinatra
  • The Mothers of Invention
  • The Grateful Dead (The long jams - We are the World, Playing in the Band, Dark Star etc., etc.)
  • The list will grow as it, like links, never ends. :) Great Books should be next but not now. Also, please add more as I know I have forgotten to include many really good ones that have slipped my feeble mind. :)

The Amazing Acacia Tree

The Acacia Tree, with it's unique horizontal canopy of branches, is the symbol of Africa. It also possesses incredible characteristics which could change how Africans work with fertilizers.

"With its nitrogen-fixing qualities, the tall, long-lived acacia tree, Faidherbia albida (Mgunga in Swahili) could limit the use of fertilizers; provide fodder for livestock, wood for construction and fuel wood, and medicine through its bark, as well as windbreaks and erosion control to farmers across sub-Saharan Africa. "

Sounds like Hemp has company. :)


I am currently rereading Edward T. Hall's masterful The Hidden Dimension and am constantly amazed at how important a book it truly is. Every American should read this to learn how man interacts with the environment and with each other. Absolutely one of the best books I have ever read.

"Like gravity, the influence of two bodies on each other is inversely proportional not only to the square of their distance but possibly even the cube of the distance between them."

The only "mistakes" seen in Hidden is due to when it was written (1966, 1982) as no one knew the Ancient Greeks painted their sculptures - True Colors/BRT and that man descended from an arboreal ancestor (Learning to Walk/BRT). Other then that, this book will change how you view society and yourself. Not bad for a paperback costing $7.95, don't you think? :)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beyond the Looking Glass

The possibility of seeing the many worlds of Hugh Everett has never been seriously discussed until the advent of metamaterials, tech that not only bends light in opposite direction ( negative refractive index) from ordinary materials but also can tune the electromagnetic spectrum in ways impossible to do until now.

"In the research paper, the researchers from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and Fudan University in Shanghai describe the concept of a "a gateway that can block electromagnetic waves but that allows the passage of other entities" like a "'hidden portal' as mentioned in fictions."

The gateway, which is now much closer to reality, uses transformation optics and an amplified scattering effect from an arrangement of ferrite materials called single-crystal yttrium-iron-garnet that force light and other forms of electromagnetic radiation in complicated directions to create a hidden portal."

To read more about this astounding research, click on the graphic below.

Harry Potter's invisibility cloak looms.

A First Step

The Fed has to explain where the 2 trillion dollar bank bailout went. They have five days in which to do it.

The Federal Reserve must for the first time identify the companies in its emergency lending programs after losing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Manhattan Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska ruled against the central bank yesterday, rejecting the argument that loan records aren’t covered by the law because their disclosure would harm borrowers’ competitive positions.

The Fed has refused to name the financial firms it lent to or disclose the amounts or the assets put up as collateral under 11 programs, most put in place during the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression, saying that doing so might set off a run by depositors and unsettle shareholders. Bloomberg LP, the New York-based company majority-owned by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sued on Nov. 7 on behalf of its Bloomberg News unit.

“The Federal Reserve has to be accountable for the decisions that it makes,” said Representative Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, after Preska’s ruling. “It’s one thing to say that the Federal Reserve is an independent institution. It’s another thing to say that it can keep us all in the dark.”

The Fed got a reprieve until September 30th.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Yes, I was there, really. Went up with my future wife in a 1957 VW van with paste-on flowers, a stash of grass on hand and feeling a vibe sadly missing today. Paid $36 for tickets, inched up hills with my 40 hp machine and experienced frequent stops (and conversations) along the way (NY State Thruway) in making the pilgrimage to see a lineup of rockers that constituted a must see for a musician such as myself.

As for the concert, amazing is the only word to describe it. 400,000 plus people existing in mud, really crappy weather and marginal toilet facilities without violence, anger or malice is something impossible to imagine today in this fractured world fraught with fear and a lack of faith in all things political, financial and corporate. Back then, anger at the government and its ongoing disaster of Vietnam was intense but belief in the future and the ability of our generation to make change happen was considered part of who we were while catching Santana, Sly and The Who. We could change the world for the better we thought and Woodstock conveyed that positive feeling for all the world to see.

Does it matter now, 40 years later, when looking at the present situation, where, on one hand we touch the very fabric of reality with tech unimagined back then while at the same time we foster a broken political and financial system mired in greed, incompetence and betrayal while viewing the specter of global warming looming ever larger in our collective consciousness. I don't know but I like to think so in thinking back to what it was like growing up as part of the free love generation of the '60s. (it was, believe me. ) :)

In BRT, much commentary regarding just how dire our situation really is has been written. At the same time, roughly the same amount of commentary devoted to the inventiveness of man has also been written. When looking at these two lines of thought, I feel it (very) indirectly resembles the ratio of matter to antimatter in the early universe where the tiny imbalance of the two determined how our existence would be created just as the difference between success and failure, oftentimes, is also tiny but with end results just as profound.

"Many scientists believe that this preponderance of matter over antimatter (known as baryon asymmetry) is the result of an imbalance in the production of matter and antimatter particles in the early universe, in a process called baryogenesis. The amount of matter presently observable in the universe only requires an imbalance in the early universe on the order of one extra matter particle per billion matter-antimatter particle pairs.[1]"

"80% of success is showing up." - Woody Allen

Addendum: While leaving Woodstock, (could no longer deal with the mud.) I heard Jimi Hendrix playing The Star Spangled Banner. Chills went up my spine because I knew I would be never be the same again, ever.

Friday, August 07, 2009

A "Simple" Matter of Perception

Just read a really interesting post from Physorg titled Lefty or Righty? A new hold on how we think.

"After testing both righties and lefties in five experiments, Casasanto - now at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics - found that righties tend to judge objects on their right side as positive and objects on their left side as negative. Lefties do the opposite, pairing positive things with their left side and negative things with their right."

Extending this notion of perception obviously centers on the five senses, the environment and to language because all these variables, in addition to handedness, shape how we view existence. (I'm a lefty.) When reading Edward T. Hall's seminal book, The Hidden Dimension, I was struck by the profound differences in how Arabs perceive space versus the Japanese where the first wants personal space to be extensive while the second values closeness as an essential part of society.

The same difference of perception applies to language where the pictographic form of Kanji necessitated the Japanese to invent high resolution displays to visualize their alphabet while the modularity of western languages facilitated the creation of computer software in the Americas, Europe and Russia.

"He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead;
his eyes are closed." - Einstein

Monday, August 03, 2009