Middling

The fancies and reflections of a loquacious ninja

Monthly Archives: March 2012

A word from Twain

“All you need is ignorance and confidence; then success is sure.”

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

“It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“When in doubt, tell the truth.”

“Always do right. That will gratify some of the people, and astonish the rest.”

“Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

“Where prejudice exists it always discolors our thoughts.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

“I learned long ago never to say the obvious thing, but leave the obvious thing to commonplace and inexperienced people to say.”

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

“Education consists mainly in what we have unlearned.”

“The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

“Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”

All from the Official Web Site of Mark Twain. Note: I could have included twice as many, all just as witty, insightful, and delightfully Twain-some, but I figured enough is enough.

Birdsong, Dissonance, and Harmony

I’ve missed Spring. I don’t think I realized how much I missed it until I heard the birds singing the other day, and realized how long it had been since I’d last heard their music. It was good to hear it again; the elegant trilling and chirping, dancing from the treetops in a lofty jumble, floating from the throats of singers unseen.

Isn’t it interesting how birds seem to sing completely oblivious of each other, except when communicating directly to another of their kind? They fill their lungs and let their songs go bursting forth, not caring who else is singing beside or over them. And the songs, different as they are, all mix and mingle with no problem, no clashing, no conflict; one great big potpourri of melodious music.

Contrast that to human music. Play even just two CD’s at the same time, and regardless of how great the individual songs were, you’ll probably end up with a horrible, grating mess of noise and sound. Once sweet melodies and notes become worse than awful.

Birds don’t seem to have that problem. Their songs don’t seem to suffer from dissonance the way human music does.

Humans have an enormous capacity for creating dissonance, both within and without the realm of music. When they exercise that ability freely (as they often do), ears are better off deaf. And yet… human beings also seem to have the unique gift of creating the twin brother of Dissonance: Harmony. Animals have been taught to move to music, to vocalize along to music, and even to sing human melodies (I’ve heard that several birds can learn how to do this).¬†And yet, as I believe Dr. Ken Robinson once said, animals “can sing, but they don’t produce musicals.”

Human music is like no other animal’s. I don’t want to downplay the music that animals make; they too, can sing well and sing beautifully. But to my knowledge, no animal has ever even attempted harmony, save mankind. And if there is such another species out there that has, I’m not sure they’ve honed it to the extent that humanity can boast.

Some humans seem to have the ability to discover harmony out of nowhere (if life were a musical…).

When people sing a cappella, they often imitate instruments with uncanny accuracy. I had the privilege of seeing this talented group from Taiwan a long time ago, and amazingly, I still remember them performing this number. If you’ve ever heard the Oriental instruments they imitate near the beginning, they sound just like them.

(Apologies for the poor quality video.)

With today’s technology, people can even sing harmony with themselves. That was impossible up until pretty recently, but now it’s been developed to some amazing results:

A friend of mine highly recommended this next group to me. She couldn’t give them enough praise; she was right.

(This one has talking at the beginning; music starts around the 2 1/2 minute mark.)

And finally, who can resist the King’s Singers? (not to mention the music of the master, Billy Joel!)

There are so many more examples I could share here, but you get the idea. Note that none of these used any instruments, save the one that is most versatile, most expressive, and perhaps most difficult to play: the human voice.

Humans are more than capable of creating Dissonance. And yet, perhaps through that very same ability, they can create music that far exceeds what any animal might do, through the beauty of Harmony. Some would say that even dissonance, when intentional and done correctly, is only another form of harmony; not every chord you hear is a “happy” one, but the conflict can actually benefit the overall sound.

Unison is powerful. Melodies are lovely. But in my opinion, Harmony — the blending of differences to create something that is greater than anything the individual parts could have made on their own– can’t be matched.

I’ve heard that Heaven is a place where music abounds. Where legions of songs will be sung all at once. Where not one of those songs will sound strident or piercing next to its neighbor. Where every song will be all the stronger, fuller, and more beautiful for its companions.

Dissonance, that which divides, will fade. Harmony, at long last, will reign.

More Dancing Lights

The moon... a marginal success I'd say

The third in the series! (Here were the other two: #1 and #2)

Admittedly, my “technique” (if you can call fooling around with a camera at random an activity involving technique) at this point is still pretty sloppy, but I still got some cool pictures I think. After that historic car ride where I rediscovered this concept (what I call “dancing lights,” officially known to the rest of the world as “light-painting”), I went home and looked for objects that could become victims of my new obsession hobby.

One night, I was outside and I noticed we had some lovely garden decorations that light up in the night (some of which changed color every few seconds). I couldn’t resist taking a few; and as awful as I am at it, I also couldn’t resist trying to give them elegant names, as if they were worthy of hanging in an art gallery somewhere. Anyway, here they be:

"Tesla"

These were just plastic globes with a small light in the center, but they reminded me of plasma globes when in motion.

"Colori Vivaci"

I’m afraid this one doesn’t quite live up to its name. This was the only one I edited to try to bring out the colors (they were just too dim), and it still wasn’t overly successful.

"Dragons! Or sea slugs..."

Always get them confused.

"We Three Kings"

Does anyone else see the resemblance?

"Hummingbird with shadow over pool"

So much for creative naming…

"Portal magic"

Step through, and you’ll probably end up in some strange neon-colored land.

As always, more to come in the future!

~ Tim