Spring 2012 Showcase

The beloved Folk School held its student showcase just over a week ago at Off Broadway. Check out this slide show on YouTube. It looked like the biggest one yet.

I took Alternative Roots Ensemble with Jeff Burke of the Jeff and Vida Band. He is teaching while spending a few months here in Saint Louis. We played “Rox in the Box” by the Decemberists and then “Will You Return?” by the Avett Brothers. Looking on the SongMeanings page for “Rox in the Box,” I found that it incorporates “The Gypsy Laddie,” an old border ballad. It seemed appropriate as a song for an alternative roots class. One classmate, who sang “Rox in the Box,” posted both performances on YouTube. You can hear me plucking away on mandolin and adding harmony on “Will You Come Again.”


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Michael M. on March 17th 2012 in General, Live, Music

Sleeping medical mystery

H pointed me to the “Think Like a Doctor: The Sleeping Wife” case by Dr. Lisa Sanders in The New York Times, and to its solution and resolution “Think Like a Doctor: Sleeping Wife Solved!” that ran the next day. Evidently, she consults for the television show House. The woman’s illness is very unusual, and her doctors did a wonderful job to make the diagnosis and to start treatment so early. I will spoil the case in the rest of the post. Stop here if you want to think about it yourself first. Continue Reading »

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Michael M. on February 4th 2012 in General

Folk School, Kinky and Prine

The first weekend of December provided a musical feast.

That Thursday featured blogged Betse Ellis opening by herself. She plays in the Wilders, but this time she filled the stage with her voice, her fiddle and a little stomping. She played to help the favorite Folk School celebrate its tenth anniversary. It was a great night. The duo of blogged Pokey LaFarge and blogged friend Ryan Spearman followed. They made Thursday night. I only wish they had filled the Sheldon. KDHX has these photographs, and the Riverfront Times published broader coverage of the anniversary.

Since the concert, I have joined the Folk School Board of Directors although my name is not on the page yet. I learned to fiddle there, and I took up the banjo with help from Folk School classes. I learned new guitar styles and even taught one class, Introduction to Fingerstyle Guitar. I continue as a student, and I hope to teach again someday. Serving the Folk School in a new capacity is an honor, and I hope to contribute to continued success and growth.

In the nights after the anniversary concert, H and I saw twice blogged Kinky Friedman again at Off Broadway. It was his Hanukkah Tour. The jokes do not change much from show to show, but I still enjoy them every time. We stayed for part of the 1st Annual Hanukkah Hullaballoo with the Brothers Lazaroff, but I tired out early.

The next night was twice blogged John Prine at the Touhill. The review on the KDHX blog covers the basics. Blogged Jason Isbell opened with a solo acoustic set. Some of his betters songs worked in the format, but his electric rock is better. Prine was terrific. He played his familiar greats, both accompanied by his band and alone. He performed without appearing tired or resentful of past successes. He seemed grateful and charming, and he gave more than straight reproductions. I have wanted to see him in person for a while, and doing so easily met expectations. I hope I can attend more of his concerts in the future.

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Michael M. on January 31st 2012 in General, Live, Music

Camper / Cracker

It was David Lowery night at the Pageant a few Fridays ago. After the opening band, he came out with favorite Camper Van Beethoven. The KDHX blog has this review. After the show, I found 300 Songs, his blog about both bands’ songs. The most recent post about downloading music is disappointing from someone so interested in mathematics and information, but many of the posts have great information for Camper and Cracker fans.

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Michael M. on January 31st 2012 in General, Live, Music

My “Stagger Lee,” a resophonic festival and Mississippi John Hurt’s Rediscovery

On January 14, 2012, the Department of Pathology and Immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine hosted An Evening of Music / Winter Concert. It featured some great performances by string quartets, small ensembles and singers. I volunteered to play. With nods to the city of Saint Louis and  favorite Mississippi John Hurt, I chose favorite “Stagger Lee.” I got past the nerves and played it out. H took a video for me that I posted.

“Stagger Lee” (mp3) (video on YouTube)

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This past Sunday, H and I headed to Iron Barley for the 6th Annual Tom Hall Resophonic Extravaganza. I had to return after the blogged last one was so good. The Lulus, another favorite, made fine contributions to the festivities. So did blogged Tom Hall, Geoff Seitz, Brian Curran and many more I have forgotten.

At the benefit, a friend reminded me about the new Mississippi John Hurt album. He later directed me to this post on Black Grooves. It leads to Discovery: The Rebirth of Mississippi John Hurt. Weenie Campbell has this worthwhile thread on it. This new release on Spring Fed Records features recordings that Tom Hoskins made on March 3, 1963 when he journeyed to Avalon, Mississippi in search of the long lost musician. This video from the University Press of Mississippi on Vimeo also appears at the bottom of the album link above. In it starting about 10:20, twice blogged Philip Ratcliffe and author of Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues discusses how these tapes were found in the bottom of an old cardboard box under Tom Hoskins’ sister’s guest bed. I have been streaming tracks, and I gladly anticipate the arrival of my CD.

Update February 8, 2012: Outlook, the Washington University School of Medicine’s magazine, published this gallery of the Winter Concert. The photograph of me is 17th. You also can see it directly.

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Michael M. on January 31st 2012 in General, Live, Mine, Music, Recorded


Waxy Links pointed me to “Apropos Appropriation” in The New York Times. It concerns attempts to sue visual artists who appropriate from prior art to create their own. I have not blogged on copyright in a while. I am all for borrowing and theft when it comes to ideas. The relative openness with which the article addresses the issue seems to be a departure from past Times coverage, especially considering that the pendulum of its own web site is swinging back toward subscription fees again. TimesSelect is gone, and  New York Times Link Generator is a thing of the past. Some new form of paid subscription is back, though.

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Michael M. on January 1st 2012 in General

Musical weekend

The first weekend of October was a terrific one for music. I intended to blog about it then, but here I am.

The weekend began, in a sense, Thursday night at the Wood. I hosted the jam session there. The favorite Folk School has started having a jam on every first Thursday. I filled in for usual host  blogged friend Ryan Spearman. The beginning was worrisome. I arrived right at 6 PM. Nobody joined me for over half an hour. We eventually got going and had a nice session. I would love to do it again. I got paid, too!

The next evening, H and I returned to the Folk School for Fiddle Fest, part of Maplewood’s Arts and Eats Walk. H, Kelly Wells and I set up in a small alcove off the sidewalk along Manchester Road the street from Shop and Save. We had enormous fun. I fiddled. Kelly played guitar, and H played mandolin. We put out an open case, and we got tips. Folks from toddlers to the elderly stopped to listen. Then we got free Jimmy John’s.

Sam Bush played the Sheldon that night. We had planned on skipping it, but we got free tickets. H had seen him earlier that day at the Old Post Office Plaza. She registered for a drawing. On our drive to the Folk School, she got a call that the original winner passed on the tickets. It was a high energy show. I particularly enjoyed his fiddling. He has a strong down bow style. The Cardinals were in the playoffs that night. The action stopped periodically to announce the scores. When they won, the sound man threw up his arms. Everyone cheered. The guitarist must have thought he played the best solo of his life.

The Folk School held a jam at the Kirkwood Farmers’ Market. Jams there have become semi-regular events. It was chilly for that time of year, but I had a good time.

At Off Broadway, H and I caught another show featuring the three times blogged Rum Drum RamblersMonads and the Wilders. I have enjoyed the Ramblers every time, going back to running into them at Meshuggah years back. All acts were high energy. The Wilders, unfortunately, are nearing the end as a band. I have been fortunate enough to see them another time recently. Their fiddler Betse Ellis needs to spend more time in Saint Louis.

The weekend was memorable. I made more money playing than I did watching. I think that is a first. Up to this point, it remains an only.

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Michael M. on December 29th 2011 in General, Live, Music

Jury nullification

The New York Times published the op-ed piece “Jurors Need to Know That They Can Say No” by Paul Butler. It concerns jury nullification and the case of Julian Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor. Heicklen Freedom Page is amusing. Jury nullification has a bad history in acquitting civil rights defendants. It might have a role these days, though, in avoiding some of the too severe punishments resulting from mandatory sentencing laws.

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Michael M. on December 27th 2011 in General

Banjo in 2011

The KDHX blog has this post regarding 2011 banjo events. Several of the links are great. In particular, H and I watched Give Me the Banjo. The program is available streaming. Local PBS affiliate KETC paired it with this segment on blogged friend Ryan Spearman.

Along the same lines, Waxy Links pointed to You shall Hear things, Wonderful to tell on Metafilter. It provides background on the mentioned O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. The movie, mostly through its music, made a great difference to me. It got me playing more, and I added fiddle, mandolin and banjo in the years since. It got enough others playing that I found a community.

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Michael M. on December 27th 2011 in General, Music, Recorded

Voyager leaving us

Hacker News pointed to Voyager 1 Speeds Toward The Brink Of Interstellar Space that aired on NPR‘s Morning Edition. It reminded me of this old post about my investigation of the golden records aboard the Voyager crafts. It is wonderful that something we made has gone so far.

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Michael M. on December 27th 2011 in General

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

The Lulus’ Best

The Riverfront Times awarded the blogged Lulus, in which H fiddles, with Best Folk Band in Arts and Entertainment of the Best of St. Louis 2011. They knock off blogged friend Ryan Spearman who was Best Folk Artist 2010. Below is the video from their channel on YouTube of their performance of “Single Girl” at the Sheldon Ballroom opening for Ryan. It was a great night for them, Ryan and us in the audience. Check out their list of upcoming shows and see them where they are their best, live.

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Michael M. on September 27th 2011 in General, Live, Music

2011 Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra opener

I have not blogged about the previously often blogged Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra since 2009. I think I made it to only one concert in the 2010-2011 season. H got us tickets for opening night of Opening Weekend: Rite of Spring. This video on YouTube is a well produced introduction to the weekend’s program. Look at the index of program notes for this week’s.

The physical production was good and bad. A large projection screen hung behind the orchestra. Photographs, some of the original dance companies, were projected along with words and short action summaries of the ballets. At times, understanding what the music accompanied was helpful. It was distracting at times, though. Seeing the slide change in the middle of a musical swell took away from the music.

We sat close to the stage in front of the basses. I prefer sitting further back on the floor or sitting in the balcony. The mix of sound was mostly good. There were times, though, when the low strings were hard to hear because they pointed away from us despite being near. I could not see the horns, but were aimed toward us. Their sound came through clearly. It worked best for the first piece.

The night was dedicated to Stravinsky ballets. The first was Petrushka. The performance was excellent. Public Radio in Mississippi, the forerunner of Mississippi Public Broadcasting, much have played it often because I knew the piece. I loved the runs with the piano. Next came Les Noces. The arrangement was strange with four singers, four pianos, assorted percussion and the chorus. It was odd to me and not moving. To my surprise, the crowd loved it and gave it a standing ovation. The Rite of Spring closed the show. It was a great ending to a great opening.

I should make it to more than one performance this season. It is sad to have gone from a regular attendee to a rare one when it is so good, so close and so easy to attend. Work has its demands. The program also alerted me to the many community events. I resubscribed to the STL Symphony Blog to keep up with the many events. Smaller ensembles from the symphony will play in a variety of community settings throughout the season. It has been years since I saw the symphony outside Powell Hall, and I need to correct that problem, too.

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Michael M. on September 19th 2011 in General, Live, Music

Folk School on Missouri Get Your Business Online

Missouri Get Your Business Online is a Google project that offers free websites for businesses. It recently featured the favorite Folk School of St. Louis as one of its success stories. The video on YouTube turned out great. Catch a glimpse of me in a photograph on the web page at 51 seconds into the video!


Michael M. on September 7th 2011 in General, Music

Cardinals, Zoo, Body Worlds and Gillian Welch

H and I had several good outings this weekend. They weekend started with excellent tickets to the Cardinals game courtesy of one of her River Bound bandmates. The Cardinals got behind early and never recovered. Then a homerun in the top of the 9th closed the door on the possibility of victory. The pitching was poor on both sides, leading to an exciting festival of hitting. It was fun despite the loss, and the seats were the best I have ever had. The night ended with an extended fireworks display.

The next day, we met up with an old friend of mine and his family. The Zoo was good as always, but overwhelmingly hot. The heat ultimately led us to shorten our visit. My Chicago friends compared the zoo favorably to their local free zoo. A nice lunch at the Boat House let us visit a little longer. They departed to see family.

We headed to Body Worlds at the Saint Louis Science Center. We got free tickets at blogged LouFest. It is funny because we won those LouFest tickets. I blogged twice about Body Worlds before its last visit to Saint Louis although I never followed up after seeing the exhibit. Body Worlds and the Brain is the current version. It consists of carefully preserved cadavers and a few animals with artful dissections. The problem is that there is no major difference from the prior one I saw. I essentially saw the same thing twice. While very much worth seeing once, I needed something different for this second exhibition to be especially valuable, and it offered too little.

The brain component should have been that difference. It consists of displays along the walls that are not integrated well with the specimens. As someone very interested in the functions and dysfunctions of the nervous system, I felt disappointed by how little depth the wall displays offered. They could have presented explanations of sensory systems, the motor system and diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s along with anatomic specimens. The displays do not do justice to the important and fascinating realms of neuroscience and neurology.

Blogged Gillian Welch played the Pageant Saturday night. The KDHX blog has this review, and the Riverfront Times blog RFTmusic has this one. The short summary is that the performance was stellar despite partial power outages due to the storm. I saw her at the defunct Mississippi Nights several years ago. She was great then and now. I realized this time how many of her songs are re-workings of old folk songs with new lyrics or a new bridge added to old verse melodies.

The Pageant itself was disappointing. Our tickets were balcony general admission, meaning that we had to go to the balcony and claim seats. Consequently, we arrived early. The slow folks at the doors did not help. I hated being patted down aggressively by a security guard as part of the three step admission routine of identification, patting down and ticket taking. As mentioned above, there was a partial power failure during the show. The heat was stiffling. While in the balcony, I took a snapshot with my cell phone. A security staff member leaned over from behind. He informed me that I had to delete it immediately, that he had to watch me delete it and that I would be removed if I took another photograph. According to the event page, the show was “Camera Policy: NO Cameras / NO Audio / NO Video.” I had no idea of the policy at the time. I reluctantly complied. The tone and treatment left me with a bad feeling. At least they managed to keep the power on.

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Michael M. on September 6th 2011 in General, Live, Music

The Lulus make television.

Fox 2 KTVI broadcast Taste Of Autumn Boosts Labor Day Festival Attendance on its evening news program. The linked video featured the blogged Lulus playing “Union Maid” at 40 seconds into the segment. H is prominent for a few seconds as the fiddler, and then the group’s harmonies can be heard behind the report for a while longer. The Lulus were among the many acts at the Veterans Festival in Forest Park. The news segment also covers the Greek Festival and the blogged Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden. The mild weather improved attendance for all of them. I had my weekend fun early in the weekend when the heat was setting records. Unfortunately, I have started night shifts and slept through the fun of the last two days.

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Michael M. on September 5th 2011 in General, Live, Music

HP Touchpad

Hewlett-Packard abandoned the TouchPad. It announced sale pricing of $99 for the 16 GB model and $149 for the 32 GB model. I was excited by the possibility of buying a tablet at that price. I checked the local Radio Shack and Office Depot stores. Both stores had sold out. I was able to try a floor unit at Office Depot, and it convinced me that it would be worth the money. I trolled this thread at SlickDeals. Over the weekend of the TouchPad sale, different sellers dropped their prices at different times. Thanks to SlickDeals, I found that OnSale had them in stock. The OnSale web site was crashing under the traffic, though. I ordered a couple through the OnSale storefront on Amazon, and they came within a few days.

The device is nicer than I expected. I bought it thinking that I eventually would load the CyanogenMod version of Android onto it to turn it into a useful device. Instead, it is already very useable out of the box. webOS is the Linux-based operating system for devices descended from the original Palm Pilot. It has multitasking, an easy to use touch graphical interface and a good number of applications.

It also has an active open source and homebrew community. This post on the XDA Developers Forums helped me get started with the homebrew community and Preware. With a series of hacks including overclocking, the TouchPad becomes snappy. That thread led to this post with more tips for new TouchPad users. I got Hulu working, mostly, using the guide in this post.

After having the device for a few days, QuickOffice updated its application. It now allows creation of new documents and editing of existing ones. It integrates well with Google Docs, too. My blogged Freedom Pro Keyboard by Freedom Input pairs with the TouchPad in HID mode via Bluetooth, making typing easier with it than the on screen keyboard.

If all goes well, Android will come to the device before too long. This video on YouTube shows a TouchPad booting Android 2.3.5. The touch interface is not working yet, and the port is currently immature and not yet functional. The TouchDroid team continues working. If it becomes stable enough, I certainly will give it a try. A working port of Android might be the best hope for Netflix to run on it.

Even without the porting of Android or the appearance of new applications, the TouchPad is a functional device for browsing the web, checking email, chatting and document editing. Buying one took quite a bit of research because their availability was so limited. I am glad I got one. More should become available in the coming weeks. I recommend buying one unless HP decides to raise the price.

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Michael M. on September 5th 2011 in General

Vi Hart tackles sound and hearing.

What is up with Noises? (The Science and Mathematics of Sound, Frequency, and Pitch) on YouTube is a new video by twice blogged Vi Hart, evangelist of mathematics. The big mistake is “vasilar membrane” instead of the correct “basilar membrane.” She covers a variety of topics including frequency versus pitch, timbre and harmonics, formants, musical intonation and temperament, the missing fundamental and auditory physiology, all at a very quick pace.

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Michael M. on September 5th 2011 in General, Music

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.