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A Cottonwood Tree Makes Sounds, or “Sings”

A Cottonwood Tree Makes Sounds, or “Sings”

The “singing” of cottonwood trees are a function of its natural regulatory processes– a sound emitted when trees try to maintain internal osmotic pressure– and are only one sound from a larger ecosystem. Dr. Bernie Krause conducts research into the sounds of the natural world and has put those online (in GoogleEarth and GoogleMaps form) at Wild Sanctuary. This is another great interview found on

What is most remarkable, which is something discussed in the full version of his talk, “The Great Animal Orchestra,” is that the sounds made by animals fill in niches of sound pitch and timing, just like music; this is a system that Dr. Krause calls the “biophony.” As a hypothetical example, a bird may sing in the upper registers, and at the moment they stop, an insect may instantaneously jump in to communicate in that register until the bird resumes. There is a relationship between the animals in that ecosystem, and it is one that most people don’t think about– at least I didn’t.

The significance– beyond the elaborate timings and impressive coordination on the part of the organisms involved– is that the analysis or visual graphing of sound can show the impacts that people have on the environment in far greater detail than visual examination. Dr. Krause talks about selective logging, and how the loggers can said “Look, the environment looks exactly the same,” (yep, a little heavy-handed on emphasizing the visual) but the auditory data indicates a big hole when comparing the before-logging and after-logging “biophonies.” This work is different in that it regards the scope of sound in an ecosystem as a whole unit, instead of focusing on capturing the sounds of individual animals, as other studies have done.

Here is the singing cottonwood clip:

For the whole program, click on the “Watch Full Program” button in the bottom right corner of the player, or go here.

The image is of Dr. Bernie Krause in the field, taken from the Wild Sanctuary website.

Foundlabs Conversation: French Drawings from 1500-1800

Foundlabs Conversation: French Drawings from 1500-1800

The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. is running a show called “Renaissance to Revolution: French Drawings from the National Gallery of Art, 1500-1800″ from October 1, 2009 to January 31, 2010. I had the enormous opportunity to talk to Margaret Morgan Grasselli, the curator in charge of putting the whole show together.

Part 1: 16th and 17th Centuries

Part 2: 18th Century

As a quick summary, in editing the video for the interview, I found it very hard to condense three centuries into less than 15 minutes. And to further condense, I will say that it is interesting that the French art in this period is strongly delineated in terms of a political timeline, that a king in the 16th century very consciously kicked off an artistic movement by inviting established Italian artists to France. As the kings changed, so too did the art, such that the art that would glorify kings became more ornate and “French.” Finally, as France moved toward revolution (beginning in 1789), the art also reflected that of the people aesthetic, with neoclassicism.

The exhibit is great– go see it if you are in D.C. before the end of January 2010.

For more on the events that occurred during this period in France, the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art.

Found Interviews of Maya Lin

Found Interviews of Maya Lin

Perhaps most famous for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. she designed (shown in the picture), Maya Lin is an artist and architect whom I have found to be a terrific speaker. For a blog whose purpose is about presenting artists and their contexts– this one– she is an inspiration.

In this clip, she speaks about the meaning of that most famous memorial and what she thinks it means. I think the most interesting thing is she talks about viewing the monument as “a book out of doors,” not a structure. I’m doing this a little out of order, but this is a clip from (a site I will writing more about in a later post) on Youtube, and I think they removed the full version from their site. However, look at the last clip below for more on Maya Lin (from

This is a longer 8 minute video on Lin’s “Systematic Landscapes.” It is a documentary done [very well] for the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle by one Tyler Potts. I like that she discusses being uncertain creatively at point (spoiler: she gets past that in a very substantial way):

Here, she speaks more generally about her creative process and work. This is an interview conducted by Kathryn Adamchick, the Director of Education at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis:

And finally, for those who have the time, here is a long presentation by Maya Lin of her more recent works. By recent, I mean, her presentation was held a month ago (on September 17, 2009) at the California Academy of Sciences. This video is taken from To watch in full, you will either need to click here or the “Watch Full Video” button in the video player below.

The image is from the Vietname Veterans Memorial Fund.

Street Art: Found Interviews of Shepard Fairey (Obey Giant), WK Interact, D*Face, Faile

Street Art: Found Interviews of Shepard Fairey (Obey Giant), WK Interact, D*Face, Faile

The concept of “graffiti” has evolved beyond vandalism and has taken on a purposeful message. Like any art form before it, street art has changed along the way, but perhaps more significant is the way that it has grown beyond fly-by-night antics to something powerful and relevant in the current world.

In many instances, it’s a somewhat “messy” art form, due in part to the media (spray paint, Sharpies, posters) and in part to an intent to attract attention, but in a humorous and/or subversive way. With the 2008 Obama campaign, many of the artists (along with other contemporary artists) devoted their attention to a new cause, and the public noticed. Most notably, the Shepard Fairey (Obey Giant) version of Obama’s image became an icon. The real story there, though, is not that it happened, but that the public paid attention the way it did; the aesthetics of street art have increasingly become a part of more “mainstream” advertising, media, and culture.

But Shepard Fairey/Obey and his art is just one part of the picture. From Banksy (one of the “pioneers”) to Fairey/Obey to the up-and-coming generation, there is an evolving culture and approach to the art. It appears that in addition to a message of freedom and independence (some pushing the boundaries towards anarchy), there is a deeper expression of unrest and a call for an examination of society. It is and isn’t as simple as a form of self-expression that has been juxtaposed against accepted order.

I’ve found some videos of Shepard Fairey/Obey Giant and WK Interact– some of the recognizable leaders– as well as of the younger generation: represented here by D*Face and Faile. In addition to these videos, Streetsy, a site on street art, has a list of “40+ Street Artists You Should Know Besides Banksy.” Obey, WK, D*Face, and Faile are all listed there.

Obey & WK Interact Collaboration at Agnes B. (said to be Tokyo/Paris 2008):
The video’s audio has been removed, but the look at how and what the two do is an interesting comparison.

WK’s Explanation of the Collaboration:

Interview with Shepard in two parts (from Karmaloop, a street clothing site (since Shepard Fairey also does clothing)):
Part 1

Part 2

Interview of D*Face from BBC Blast, a BBC UK initiative aimed at getting teens involved in the arts :

Interview of Faile from BBC Blast :

The image of Shepard Fairey’s Obama was taken from his site.

MIT Open Courseware

MIT Open Courseware

Another one of those amazingly great resources available for free online is MIT’s Open Courseware. They have put up course materials for around 1,900 courses on their website, from all of their departments. However, the completeness of the course materials is a little uneven, but happily, they indicate the extent of sharing with symbols for lecture notes, videos/audio, special features, and if there are only “selected” offerings provided.

One can’t complain, particularly given the nature of this very altruistic project, and shouldn’t– the courses with provided audio and/or video are quite thorough and engaging, and might even be overly involved for some (as can be seen below).

Here are some sample videos from their Youtube channel:

Calculus, for those who need an intro or brushup

A course on the Six Sigma principles for management

The image is of MIT’s Stata Center, designed by Frank Gehry. The picture is taken from their admissions page.

Nobel Prize Site Games

Nobel Prize Site Games

Let me preface this by saying I think educational games are a great idea. I just have some opinions on what would make them better.

On the Nobel Prize site, I was pleasantly surprised to find some games. I didn’t set off intending to end up at the Nobel Prize site; my latest shower contemplation was whether or not there could be a game that would correspond to the changes in the chromosomes– tweak one pair, see the resulting change.  Maybe my mind was still on the Charlie Rose interview regarding genome sequencing, but I think a game could be interesting and a great way to present the research as it stands.

So I was interested in seeing what the Nobel Prize site had to offer. I have a couple of issues with the execution of their games. The DNA game was not really all that educational in the sense that one could explore. I think that when one is asked to do any sort of speed clicking and dragging, it just becomes frustrating more than anything else. I understand that there is a younger audience to please, but I think clicking one or more chromosomes at one’s leisure and seeing how a person changes as a result could be equally appealing to kids. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my opinion.

I checked out another game, too, one about steel alloys. This one also has a lot of potential, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. Again, the limitation of an overly pre-defined game experience is at fault; the game is almost like an extended, illustrated test. The experience of exploration is at the heart of every great game; once you take that out, the game becomes boring or frustrating, and not fun. Off the top of my head, a good steel alloy game could involved dropping a steel cage from a certain height and see how changing the composition of the steel changes whether or not the kitten inside survives. Everbody loves wondering whether or not the kitten will survive.

I think the biggest  drawback, though, is the context. If it’s an educational game, why am I playing it? What does steel alloy have to do with the Nobel Prize? Is it because a recent winner investigated alternatives steels? I understand the limitations with game design and information presentation, but at the very least, give things a context without either interrupting the flow of the game with oddly-placed facts and quizzes, or creating a game for the sake of creating a game. Exploration is fun and there are so many noteworthy and interesting Nobel Prize winners that can be further explored without overly limiting the manner of exploration.

The image is taken from their site.

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