Female dragonflies found to fake death to avoid male advances

Bob Yirka in Phys.org:

DragonflyA biologist with the University of Zurich has discovered a species of dragonfly whose females play dead to avoid copulating with other males once her eggs have already been fertilized. In his paper published in the journal Ecology, Rassim Khelifa recalls his first experience with a female mooreland hawker dragonfly playing dead, and what he found after further study of the species.

As Khelifa describes it, he was out collecting larvae in the Swiss Alps one day, when he happened to notice one chasing another—suddenly, the one being chased simply stopped flying and crashed to the ground, belly up. The pursuer, he notes, paused for a moment, then moved on. As Khelifa approached the dragonfly on the ground he noted it was female and then was surprised when she suddenly awoke, turned over and flew away.

Intrigued, and suspecting the behavior was intentional, Khelifa initiated a study of the species in their native environment, watching 31 male/female pursuits over time. He reports that the females tried the fake death routine 27 times, and that it worked 21 times. He notes further that in each of the fake death attempts, the female had just left her , or was on her way to tend to them again.

More here. [Thanks to Farrukh Azfar.]

Goodbye to Le Pen: France And Europe Run Away From The Trump Bogey

Melik Kaylan in Forbes:

3a4148cd48927bf48ab71ee311627f47So first the Dutch, and then the French have voted back into the center and rejected the populist-nationalist axis. A good deal of flack still pocks the scene but you can feel a general drift on the European air. Geert Wilders, the self-appointed anti-Islam Dutch firebrand, a brave man whatever you think of his policies, got left standing at the altar. And now Marine Le Pen. Certainly the mood might yet change in France before the run-off, with more Daesh-linked attacks or other spoilers. But they already had a terror attack timed to affect the vote and it didn't work. If anything, it seems to have consolidated the center. Many still doubt the trend. Here the New York Times idly suggests that the failed far-left French candidate, Melenchon, may yet tilt things towards Le Pen: he has refused to back the new front-runner Macron in the run-off. But it won't happen.

The French, like the Dutch and Germans, are unlikely to merge the political poles, the far left and right, in the way that the anglo-saxon world has embraced. Here's why. Core Europeans have finally woken up to the extremity of the danger. By that I refer not to the inner beast of fascism or authoritarianism or whatever 'ism the bien pensant side discerns in the bud. Rather, Europeans have detected a more pressing danger – the forces from without working to push them off-balance: the Trump-Putin-Erdogan factor.

More here.


15b0781528Joe Halstead at Literary Hub:

Mount Lookout, West Virginia is a blip on the radar, little more than a collection of families, a few modest doublewide trailers, and a post office. To get to my parents’ house, you have to break off from US Route 19 and take East Mount Lookout Road, driving through a collection of trailers scattered through the hills, past big-ass trucks resting in driveways like content, fattened grizzly bears. That night, I sat in the living room with my mom and dad, watching the nation break down over Trump on live TV. My dad sat to my left, slightly in front of me, my new nephew, Joshua, bouncing on his knee. Every once in a while my dad turned around and looked at me, to make sure I was still there and that I was having a good time. He said he’d like to go kill a deer. I said I’d like that, too. Understand this about me: I’ve done this for most of my life. It’s simply part of who I am. It’s part of who you are, too. Pull back the curtain of civilization and what you see is the quasi-medieval zombie world, or a Lord of the Flies, in all of us. It’s just the modern world that keeps a lid on it. I’m tempted to indict it, but my complicity makes such a critique feel self-righteous and hypocritical.

On TV, they were debating whether Trump is a total climate-change denier or if he merely denies that human activity has contributed to climate change.

“Don’t ever be one of them environmentalists, Joey,” my dad said. His gaze turned elsewhere when he added, “First they take your job, then they take everything you got.”

more here.

Paradise Lost: A Life of F Scott Fitzgerald

61bRIxhVnDLJay Parini at Literary Review:

The problem with Fitzgerald has never been the work; it’s been the writing about him. The standard biography for some time has been Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, a 1981 study by Matthew J Bruccoli. It’s a reliable and boring compilation of facts, not as well written as the first major assessment of the life and work, The Far Side of Paradiseby Arthur Mizener (1951). Any number of lives of Fitzgerald have appeared over the decades, but I’ve not found them satisfying, in large part because they tend to portray the author as a spokesman for the so-called Jazz Age, a drunken playboy with unresolved aspirations who embodies the empty morality of the Lost Generation. One got more by reading memoirs of the period, such as Malcolm Cowley’s haunting Exile’s Return (1934), which recalls well-known American authors in Paris in the 1920s, a kind of golden age that continues to inspire young American writers to travel abroad to seek their imaginative fortunes. Fitzgerald was hardly celebrating the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Instead, he offered a rueful and remorseless critique of that world, however much he adored it.

Fitzgerald was a good Catholic boy by training, a young man who read the Gospels and understood (though he resisted the notion, almost successfully) that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter heaven. His wealth-bedazzled characters, including Jay Gatsby, Amory Blaine in This Side of Paradise and Gordon Sterrett in ‘May Day’, that incomparable early masterpiece of short fiction, find little pleasure in their lives. They have swallowed a notion of the American Dream that has turned into a kaleidoscopic fantasy which tantalises but never quite resolves into a steady image. There is no fun in their yearning for something they can’t possess and that nobody can ever have.

more here.

beyond caravaggio

Rowland_1-051117Ingrid D. Rowland at the New York Review of Books:

But most of all, the Caravaggio originals in London’s “Beyond Caravaggio” demonstrate why the painter exerted such an overwhelming influence on patrons and colleagues alike, and why he is so passionately loved today. He can paint beautifully most of the time. He produced marvelous compositions of light beaming forth from the darkness, covered his canvases with luminous whites, full-blooded reds, velvet blacks, but above all, especially later in his career, he painted with restraint, and taste, and a gigantic, compassionate heart.

The restraint shows when we compare his work with that of his admirers. If the young Caravaggio painted several versions of a boy with fruit as a way of advertising his skill at both still life and the human figure, his pupil and follower Francesco Boneri (nicknamed Cecco del Caravaggio—“Caravaggio’s Frankie”) painted a red-haired musician surrounded by a bushel of fruit, cheese, bread, gourds, two glass flasks encased in nets, a hanging head of garlic, a glass vase full of water, and a violin—splendidly painted, like the sitter’s plume, shirt, and brocaded vest, but he could have proven his skill just as cogently with half as many objects. Caravaggio’s painting of Doubting Thomas showed the disciple sticking his index finger into the side wound of Jesus, a startling image already, but discreetly done compared with the way that Giovanni Antonio Galli, called Lo Spadarino (“Little Swordsman”), gives us Christ head-on, staring us down as he spreads the wound wider himself, daring us to play Saint Thomas with our eyes instead of our finger.

more here.

Cognitive Benefits of Healthy Buildings

Oset Babur in Harvard Magazine:

MJ17_art_Page_017_Image_0002Imagine a business that creates a perfectly energy-efficient environment by adjusting ventilation rates in its workplace. On paper, the outcome would seem overwhelmingly positive: fewer greenhouse-gas emissions to the environment and lowered costs to the business. It’s an idyllic scenario, except for what Joseph Allen and his team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) describe as the potentially serious human cost: workers with chronic migraines, nausea, fatigue, and difficulty focusing. Fortunately, these side effects are avoidable.

“The truth is, we absolutely can have buildings that are both energy-efficient and healthy,” says Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment science. In 2015, his team published a two-part study that quantified the cognitive benefits of improved environmental conditions for workers. The first phase took place in the Syracuse University Center for Excellence, where knowledge workers, such as architects and engineers, went about their regular workdays as Allen and his team manipulated environmental factors. “We weren’t looking to test an unattainable, dream-state workplace. We wanted to test scenarios and conditions that would be possible to replicate,” he explains. They adjusted ventilation rates, carbon dioxide levels, and the quantity of airborne VOCs (volatile organic chemical compounds that are emitted by common objects such as desk chairs and white boards). At the end of each day, the team asked workers to complete cognitive-function assessments in nine key areas, including crisis response, decisionmaking, and strategy. “We saw pretty dramatic effects,” he reports: workers in optimized environments scored 131 percent better in crisis-response questions, 299 percent better on information usage, and 288 percent higher in strategy.

More here.

Could This Tiny Bug Help Solve Our Big Plastic Bag Problem?

Laura Geggel in Live Science:

A wiggly, ravenous caterpillar — one that doesn't limit its diet to naturally grown objects — can biodegrade plastic bags, a material infamous for the amount of time it takes to decompose, a new study finds. The 1-inch-long (3 centimeters) wax worm, also known as the honey worm caterpillar (Galleria mellonella), is no stranger to unconventional meals. It's usually found in beehives, munching away on waxy, goo-drenched honeycombs, the researchers said. Now, through a serendipitous discovery, it's clear that G. mellonella can also decompose polyethylene, a thin but tough plastic that is used across various industries, including in shopping bags and food packaging. The discovery happened during a beekeeping experience, said the study's senior researcher, Federica Bertocchini, a research scientist at the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), who also works at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, in Santander, Spain. Bertocchini, who is also an amateur beekeeper, happened upon the wax caterpillars when she was cleaning out the panels from one of her beehives. (Beekeeping panels look like wooden picture frames that are filled with honeycomb.) "I removed the worms, and put them in a plastic bag while I cleaned the panels," Bertocchini said in a statement. "After finishing, I went back to the room where I had left the worms, and I found that they were everywhere. They had escaped from the bag, even though it had been closed."

Upon closer inspection, she realized that the caterpillars had made holes in the bag before fleeing. "This project began there and then," Bertocchini said. When Bertocchini and her colleagues placed the caterpillars on polyethylene plastic bags, holes appeared in the bags within an hour, they found. Perhaps the caterpillars can degrade the plastic because it has chemical bonds that are similar to those found in beeswax, the researchers said. "We have carried out many experiments to test the efficacy of these worms in biodegrading polyethylene," Bertocchini said. "One hundred wax worms are capable of biodegrading 92 milligrams [0.003 ounces] of polyethylene in 12 hours, which really is very fast." The researchers found that the caterpillars chemically transformed the polyethylene into ethylene glycol. This compound is a colorless and odorless alcohol that has a sweet taste but is poisonous if ingested, according to PubChem, a database at the National Institutes of Health. Ethylene glycol is used as an antifreeze and coolant, PubChem reported.

More here.

My Big Fat Republican Government

by Michael Liss

"What do you expect from a Republican?" IMG_0222

Being the child of FDR Democrats, I can't tell you how many times I heard that. What does one expect from a Republican? Always siding with business and the wealthy over the interests of the common people. Loving wars; making them, spending big for the toys to make them, and questioning the patriotism of those who disagree. Displaying an unseemly admiration for pencil-mustached right-wing dictators who wear uniforms and mirrored Ray Bans. Having an unhealthy fascination about how others live their private lives—and a compulsion to tell them how to live it better. That's what you expected from a Republican.

With my limited world-view (my Dad insisted I read the incomprehensibly dense and partisan Ramparts magazine), I saw "Republicans" as sort of a duck-billed platypus. There were the kooks—what we would now call the tinfoil brigade—conspiracy spouting, rootin' tootin' Yosemite Sam types. There were the American Gothics, the Midwestern farmers who, to me, not understanding social issues particularly well, inexplicably voted against their own economic interests. There were the blue-collar ethnics who had started to move out of decaying cities to the suburbs and exurbs-Nixon voters in 1968. There was the beginning of the great political migration of the Solid South. And, most importantly, there were the guys at the top of the food chain, the well-heeled and the well-bred. Tall, good-looking, society-page weddings, Mayflower, SAR, DAR. Those guys—the ones who really ran things, and for whom the government always worked. Discreetly. As you can see, I had a very sophisticated view of things.

Of course, this was a caricature. There was an entire moderate wing of the GOP. A real one—not some lonely Rock Cornish Hen wingette, but a plump, juicy game-bird of an appendage. New York's very own Governor, Nelson Rockefeller, was in charge of that wing, having inherited it from one of our former Governors, Thomas E. Dewey. Dewey started the State University System, doubled aid to education, and pushed through the first non-discrimination-in-hiring law. Rockefeller built more colleges, supported environmental causes, and created the New York State Council on the Arts (it's exceedingly difficult to explain to my own children that there actually were Republicans like this).

Yet, humanity evolves (in a non-Biblically offensive way). The moderates went the way of the Giant Squid—we hear occasional reports of one washed up on a distant shore. The farmers' loyalty intensified with the ever-warming Earth. The South turned so beet red that it solemnly considers secession every time there's an election result it doesn't agree with. Yesterday's kooks are today's….White House staffers, Freedom Caucus, and Cabinet Secretaries. And the blue-collar ethnics, and a surprising number of white-collar workers stalled in a no-growth-for-them economy, found their hero in a four-times-bankrupt brigand.

Read more »

Viktor Orbán and the Central European University

by Maarten Boudry

967344464607494e0b56bFor the past week or so I’ve been in Budapest on a study visit at the Central European University (CEU), where I’ve been doing some research on cultural evolution with the anthropologist Dan Sperber and his group. I wouldn’t normally be blogging about this kind of everyday academic excursion, but if you’ve been following the news at all closely for the last few weeks then the name of the university might ring a bell, because of the well-publicised plans of the authoritarian Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán of the right-wing populist party Fidesz, to close the place down.

The CEU was founded in 1991 by the American businessman and philanthropist George Soros. It awards both Hungarian and American degrees, the latter thanks to an agreement with the educational authorities of the State of New York. It’s one of the best universities in Central Europe, with a high Times Higher Education ranking. It’s also a bastion of liberalism and democratic values, with students from all over the world doing unfettered research into a wide range of subjects, often with generous grants and scholarships.

That last point does not go down well with Orbán, a self-proclaimed “illiberal democrat” who has been undermining the rule of law in Hungary for much of his political career, and especially since he was returned to office in 2010. As far as Orbán and his brand of muscular nationalism are concerned, Soros and his transnational, cosmopolitan worldview—as represented by institutions such as the CEU—represent a threat to the sovereignty of the nation state. It doesn’t help that Soros’s foundation finances a number of NGOs that have been strongly critical of Orbán’s policy towards refugees. So a few months ago, the government announced that Soros and his international network of subversive liberal influence needed to be reined in. And that meant that the CEU became a target.

At the end of March, Orbán’s government pushed through a bill, which the President of Hungary has since signed into law, to tighten the regulation of foreign educational institutions. Nobody is even trying very hard to pretend that this law has any other purpose than to close down the CEU. It imposes a legal requirement for any foreign university established in Hungary to also have a campus in its country of origin, a condition that the CEU just happens not to meet. Moreover, all staff of foreign universities who are not EU citizens (which, in the case of the CEU, means the majority) will need to apply for a Hungarian work permit, as the new law eliminates the existing waiver.

Read more »

The Pollinators of Technology

by Evan Edwards

DownloadOn the night of Monday, April 3rd, a man stood in the middle of the intersection at Franklin and Columbia in Chapel Hill, NC. Within minutes, thousands of people poured out of bars, houses, apartments, fraternity and sorority homes, and who knows where else, barrelling down the largest streets in the town to join him. There’s a video that shows it happening in high speed. The University had just won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament which (if you don’t know) is a very big deal.

I grew up in North Carolina, and as the week drew closer to the game, I watched so many people that I know from Middle and High school making their way back to the state, just to be there if/when they pulled it off. If they couldn’t make it, many documented their excitement wherever they were, on social media, and sent messages and memes to one another as the game loomed closer, just brimming with enthusiasm. Although I never really got into sports, it was a bit moving to watch people get so very joyous about something when nearly everything else in the news is tinged with a kind of abysmal horror.

If you watch the video I linked to above, you notice that the frame shakes as it pans from side to side. Because we’re used to it, we can read this erratic movement as the work of a smartphone camera because professional cameras and drones aren’t this sloppy, and no one uses handheld video-cameras any more. In the shot, too, you see the arm of the man in the intersection upstretched in the first few frames, the luminous glow of his iPhone at its apex, almost giving him the look of an angler fish wandering the deep, or a single firefly waiting in a meadow. As the crowd rolls in, you can’t always make out the screen glow, but it’s clear that almost everyone in the crowd is either raising their phone up to take a picture, to record video, to go live, or to snapchat.

When I was younger, my friends and I did something similar to this. We would call each other during concerts, to leave voicemails or let them listen for a while if a song that meant something to both of us was being played. For me, it was a special way of using technology to deepen a personal friendship. This was before I was on Facebook (you had to have a college e-mail address to get an account when I was in High School), Myspace was not used for sharing things like this, and so the concert voice mail was, in some way, the most cutting edge social medium we had. It was extraordinary to wake up to a voicemail like that from a friend. Absolutely moving.

Read more »

“River of Heaven” (天の川)

by Leanne Ogasawara

04HAWAII1-superJumboIt has been three long years since I was last on the summit of Mauna Kea. But at last, we were heading back up the mountain to see my husband's new instrument being installed on one of the telescopes at the KECK observatory. An experimental astro-physicist at Caltech, he and his team have designed a cutting-edge spectrograph for measuring and imaging the cosmic web. KCWI will be the ninth instrument between the two KECK telescopes on Mauna Kea and will become a wonderful boon to astronomers working in low brightness.

More importantly, though, this instrument had brought me back to Hawaii (Just kidding!).

The summit is other-worldly. In one respect, it reminds me of being in the Himalaya–as Mauna Kea is high enough to evoke that breathless, cloudless, stark lunar-scape quality one finds on the road to Ladakh. But this is Hawaii. So, rather than leaving behind the alpine beauty of Kashmir, on Mauna Kea you are but two hours away from mind-bogglingly gorgeous tropical beaches. It is unreal to see snow up there. Snow on Hawaii. A sleeping volcano, like Mt. Fuji, it is indescribably beautiful standing at the summit and watching the clouds roiling beneath you–on a good day you can see Hilo Bay off in the distance.

As you've no doubt heard, not everyone is happy to see this sublime landscape filling up with observatories. As of today, there are some twelve domes and a few scattered infrared and submilliter telescopes dotting the Martian-like landscape on the summit. In addition to KECK, other well-known observatories include the Gemini telescope (with its twin in Chile) and the Japanese beauty Subaru.

I wonder how many people probably have been reading about the controversy surrounding the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)?

Trying to do everything possible to meet the expectations of the native Hawaiian movement, the consortium (Caltech and UC; plus Canada, Japan, China and India) chose a spot not on the summit itself but in recessed spot below the summit, so that the massive dome would not be visible from below. The spot was cleared by archaeologists so as to guarantee it is not a burial place and it was also cleared by ecologists. Despite what would be a huge boon to the economy and great advantage to students in the University of Hawaii system, representatives of the movement felt enough was enough– and the gigantic telescope project is not going forward as planned. When I was there recently, I was talking on the beach with a couple from Canada about the situation, and they reminded me that this issue is not just about Mauna Kea or the native people of the Big Island, but rather all around the world, native peoples are being stepped all over. The pipeline immediately comes to mind. This controversy over TMT is bigger than this mountain. A small group was here protesting at Caltech Friday and one of the protester's signs really sticks in my mind.

It read, "Standing Rock is everywhere." (Article in local paper is here; my husband is the scientist quoted at the end).

So, the scientists might need to go elsewhere. It's not easy, of course, since Mauna Kea is one of only two nearly perfect spots in the world to make astronomical observations.

What makes it so perfect?

Read more »

This Populist Moment

by Akim Reinhardt

Beetle Baily by Mort WalkerLast week, Barack Obama got beaten up on social media and called out by the press for accepting a $400,000 speaking fee from a Wall Street investment firm. It was the day's major kerfuffle, the non-Trump story of the week, and reactions to it by many of my smart, well reasoned friends surprised me somewhat.

They began with the stance that this isn't an issue. Obama's a private citizen now, so who cares? But lots of people did care. When the story picked up steam despite their protestations, my friends then blamed the loony left for fabricating the issue, launching a general assault on fringe elements of the Democratic party and a firm defense of sensible centrist outlooks. Yet it wasn't just the left. The right predictably piled on as well, without any prompting from the left. The story also transcended the partisan divide as the centrist press ran with it. Christ, even the BBC, the vanilla pudding of international news, covered it.

In the end, the defense of Obama that gained the most traction among my friends, and to some degree in the national media, was a racial analysis. Some claimed that this brouhaha was another example of white people shaming a black man for earning a paycheck, the imposition of a racial double standard since white politicians and ex-politicians do this kind of thing all time.

This needs to be reckoned with. Obama was always held to a higher standard, precisely because he was black; he was always subjected to intense racism, and the racist backlash to his presidency as much as anything helps explain Trump's victory. Was this just another example of that racial double standard? It's an important question to ask.

Read more »

Disintermediating the trust equation or how to make sure you’re not talking to a dog

by Sarah Firisen

DogOn the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. This was the tagline of a great New Yorker cartoon years ago. The joke being that no one could ever be sure who the real person was sitting behind the online persona. Last night I was watching a re-run of the Big Bang Theory. Howard Wolowitz was trying to rekindle his relationship with Bernadette. Their relationship had ended when she had caught him pleasuring himself while “playing” in World of Warcraft with Glissinda the Troll. It’s later revealed that Glissinda the Troll is actually Steve, the greasy old fat guy in Facilities Management. The punchline speaks to a nagging fear that anyone who has flirted, or more, on the Internet with stranger.

Who are you? Prove it! We are asked to prove our identities all day, every day. And conversely most of us, in many situations, have a degree of skepticism about the identity of people when we first encounter them, particularly online. While the fears of being taken in by a con man or having one’s identity stolen have been around for as long as mankind has been, they’ve become far more of an everyday fear and valid concern since the rise of the Internet.

For the few painful years I participated in online dating, I learned to treat every new encounter with a healthy amount of suspicion; I became the queen of romantic sleuthing. And those suspicions proved over and over to not be the result of a paranoid mind but entirely valid. In fact, over time, I became more suspicious and skeptical about men I chatted with online because I encountered every form of deception: profile photos that were poached from the headshots of actors and models; lots and lots of married men pretending otherwise; made up careers; inaccurate geographic profiles. Some men were clearly outright con artists clearly hoping to lure some less guarded poor woman into some financial scam. Some were just trying to cheat on their significant others. Some wanted to get laid while they were passing through town and thought that their chances were better if they pretended to be locals. Almost everyone using online dating has told white lies about their age and or height. If nothing else, there’s a valid concern that if you tip over into a new decade that will immediately shut you out of searches and so saying 39 instead of 40 doesn’t seem so terrible. Of course, when you’re still saying 39 five years later, that white lie becomes an increasingly dingy shade of gray.

Read more »

Why Disney’s Fantasia is a Masterpiece

by Bill Benzon

4459394929_8578f06c19In 1938 Walt Disney decided to bet the farm on an extravaganza originally entitled The Concert Feature. He would use the power of animation to present Classical Music to the Masses. Get it out of the concert hall, into the movie palace, and dress it up. But he also wanted to showcase the powers of this new medium – one in which Disney had a considerable investment, both in time and imaginative effort, and in money – in a way that had never been done before.

Disney secured the collaboration of Leopold Stokowski, the best-known conductor of the day, and who had already been parodied in a cartoon or two, and devoted the full resources of his studio to the effort. The film premiered in late 1940 under a new name, Fantasia, and received mixed critical notices. Music critics were offended, film critics didn’t quite know what to think, though some liked it. The public, for the most part, did not. The film was a financial failure, though it finally managed to break-even in the late 1960s, after Disney had died.

Fantasia is highly regarded among students of animation and has sold well in videotape and DVD. I have little sense of where it stands among more general arbiters of culture. I’m convinced it is a masterpiece. But a masterpiece of what?

The World as We Know It

Fantasia has no story. Rather, it is a set of nine unconnected episodes arranged in a convenient order. In Disney’s original conception the film would tour constantly, with new episodes being exchanged for old ones from time to time so that there would always be something to see. Though other episodes were planned, and work had begun on some, this aspect of the plan never unfolded. The film that premiered in 1940 is only version we’ve got.

When you examine those eight episodes carefully you realize that they traverse an astonishing range of … of what? “Human experience” would be a good phrase here, but one major segment, The Rite of Spring, concerns things that no human being could possibly have experienced. Human experience, yes. But more generally, the world.

And that is the film’s singular achievement. In the short compass of two hours it presents us with the world, all of it. Not in any detail, of course, but by analogy, implication, and indirection.

Here then is a brief sketch of how Fantasia maps the world. Each segment, except for the last, is preceded by a brief onscreen introduction by Deems Taylor, a well-known music critic of the time.

Read more »

Roger Scruton (and Brian Kane) on Sound, Music and Noise

by Dave Maier

I’ve tried a couple of times already, in this space, to make sense of the relations between sound, noise, and music. (See here and here) (also here). Here’s another chapter in that ongoing story.

KaneIf music is the art of tone, and noise is not, then we need to understand how noise differs from mere sound. (We could interchange these terms, and speak of the art of sound as opposed to mere noise, but I want to make the link to what we often, perhaps carelessly, call “noise music”.) A key issue is the denotational content, or lack thereof, of sound. Two opposed views each seem too extreme. “Acoustic ecologists” like R. Murray Schafer see the denotational function of sound as essential to sound art, regarding other, non-documentary types of sound art as “mediated”, cutting us off from our natural acoustic environment for dubious aesthetic ends. In response, noise artists like Francisco López promote “absolute listening,” which attempts to hear sound in itself, completely independent of its cause or referent. López thus demands “the freedom of a painter” (who can use colors and forms freely, without representational intent, if he so desires).

In so doing, López explicitly enlists Pierre Schaeffer’s “acousmatic” conception of the objet sonore. But this is not quite right. As Brian Kane points out, in an interesting book I have been reading, in this Schaefferian tradition “acousmatic sound” is defined not as sound regarded for its own properties (let alone aesthetic ones), but simply as sound heard without seeing its cause. This need not require the “reduced” or “absolute” listening we may or may not use in approaching sound aesthetically. Kane’s point, which seems good to me (much as I admire López), is that there are many cases in which a sound is detached from its source, or its source is invisible to us, other than in Schaefferian sound art, and we shouldn’t let what we say about the latter determine what we say about the former; and most of Kane’s book is about these other cases. We might then go on to wonder whether that analysis was right even about the narrower case, given how it mangles the wider one, if it does.

Read more »