Archive for October, 2011

Upcycling music

I was idly listening to To the Best of Our Knowledge on KWMU while eating a sandwich when it seized my attention. The episode was Upcycling, something I certainly support, but I was not listening closely. Then the segment Mark Frauenfelder on “Made by Hand” began. Frauenfelder is the co-founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of Make magazine. I found this older video from his appearance on the Colbert Report. Several of his projects are musical instruments, including a cigar box guitar he played on the Colbert show. TTBOOK also pointed me to Cigar Box Nation, an amazing web site dedicated to homemade musical instruments.

The segment also brought several local friends to mind. The blogged Green Strum Project, by friends Kelly Wells, director of the favorite Folk School and member of the the blogged Lulus, and blogged Ryan Spearman, have many of the same goals. Back in the spring, my band scramble group the Dumpster Divers won at Earth Day. Teammate Jr and I played two of his cigar box guitars for the win. He has this page on Cigar Box Nation for his Crooked Box Guitars.

Because upcycling is local by its nature, I am happy to know local folks in an endeavor gaining the national attention of public radio. At the same time, their projects extend beyond the local. I  hope that my local friends gain wider attention, too.

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Michael M. on October 9th 2011 in General, Music

Folk instruments and home

My father told me that the Enterprise-Journal, my hometown newspaper, published “Folk Instruments Made of Materials from Nature” by Ernest Herndon. It highlights the banjo making of Jason Smith, former student of the late previously blogged Scott Didlake. Smith is also a violinist in the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra. Through Jaybird Banjo, he makes and sells gourd banjos. His YouTube channels as jaybirdbanjo and JasonSmitherrific show him and the banjos in action.

I found a reference to Smith at the Mississippi Gourd Society. There is a whole network of clubs dedicated to gourds. I had no idea. The American Gourd Society includes the Mississippi chapter and the Show Me Gourd Society for Missouri. I am sure the banjo connections are many although the groups appear to focus more on non-musical arts and crafts.

I found a few more resources about Didlake. History of the Banjo is a short documentary featuring him in three parts (1, 2, 3) on YouTube. The documentary dates to 1976. It is rough, but worth a look. This PDF file “An Apprentice with the Ghosts” by blogged banjoist Bob Carlin was published in the Old-Time Herald.


Michael M. on October 4th 2011 in General, Music

Science to the public

David Wright, chair of Mathematics at Washington University, presented on mathematics and music at the most recent Science on Tap at Schlafly Bottleworks. I imagine that it was an extremely condensed version of his course Mathematics 109/Music 109M, Mathematics & Music. He introduced relative primes and modular arithmetic to explain the rhythmic and melodic device employed in “In the Mood” and “Rhapsody in Blue.” He compared diatonic and chromatic shifts to their analogs with shifts of mathematical functions. He presented Fourier analysis and its relationship to timbre. He talked about temperament and the circle of fifths. At the end, he played a video of Ambassadors of Harmony. He is assistant director of the group. He amazed us.

The only one that compares involved the Mars rovers. Raymond Arvidson, professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Wash U, presented Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rover Mission: Six Years and Counting. The Earth and Planetary Remote Sensing Laboratory, which he heads, provided much of the planning for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. This recent article from Student Life and this one from the St. Louis Beacon provide updates.

Science on Tap happens most last Wednesdays during the school year. Its popularity just grows. We showed up about 75 minutes before it began and grabbed the last available table. My schedule limits how often I can arrive early enough to find a seat, but I will keep going when I can.

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Michael M. on October 4th 2011 in General, Music

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