Category Archives: music

Baba Brinkman raps up Geek Week on the Rachel Maddow show!

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

It is so cool to see Baba Brinkman hit the mainstream media now, after wowing so many of us in smaller shows around the world. We were lucky to get him on our campus early in the Darwin Bicentennial year, when he was performing at the Fresno Rogue Festival. Great to see Rachel Maddow putting him on to rap up her first Geek Week!

What next? The Colbert Report, dare one hope? I’d love to see that rap duel, wouldn’t you?

Posted via web from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

Who’s that young artist on the telly promoting the Youth Orchestras of Fresno?

This aired earlier today on KSEE24, Fresno’s NBC affiliate station. I didn’t get to see it live on the telly when it aired, because I was actually in the studio watching it being recorded, having driven there in my parental role accompanying said young artist, Sanzari Aranyak (and listen to how she says her name!)! Our first time inside a TV studio was fun, first watching the weather guy applying makeup (definitely much more on his face than Sanzari’s) while awaiting his cue, and then doing his green screen bit – very slick. And then a full three-and-a-half minutes devoted to the story we were part of, the fundraiser for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno for which Sanzari and a number of local artists have painted violins. Julia Copeland, the Excecutive Director of YOOF, had picked Sanzari to accompany her as the young representative of the violin artists on what we had thought might be a 30-second sound-bite clip on the news. Despite being not quite prepared to actually be part of the interview, our little artist pulled off her first TV appearance quite smoothly under what would have been trying circumstances for her parents! No stage fright with this one… but then again she is a veteran of the stage having performed in a variety of shows since she was 5 – i.e., for half her lifetime!

So do forgive this proud dad’s bloggy indulgence as I share our girl’s moment in the spotlight!

Posted via web from a leaf warbler’s gleanings

Thoughts on “The Origin Cycle”, or why does the Darwinian vision evoke darkness?

evt_541_150w.gifMust the struggle for existence necessarily be a bleak experience? Can we not exult in the wonders produced by natural selection without despairing over “nature red in tooth and claw”? Why do Darwin’s own words about the “grandeur in this view of life” invoke a contrary view in so many, that this evolutionary view of life must necessarily lead to nihilism and despair?

I’ve wondered about this for some time now, especially since the Darwin Day discussion panel we hosted on our campus last spring, when the philosopher on the panel brought up the not uncommon view that Darwin somehow displaced morality and left us morally and ethically adrift! And how many in the audience agreed, with even evolutionists on the panel nodding sadly to acknowledge the loss of moral innocence engendered by Darwin. (And I’m apprehensive about the new Darwin biopic “Creation” for it too may be too bleak.)

These questions disturb me again now since last night’s performance of “The Origin Cycle ” a musical performance of eight selections from “On the Origin of Species” at Stanford University. Let me state first off that I am no music critic (even my iPod listening tends towards spoken word podcasts/books rather than music), and that this particular genre of music is rather outside my normal listening sphere (and don’t even ask me what this genre is!). So consider this more a response to the emotions evoked in me by the music, and my subsequent intellectual response to those emotions. I found the concert and performances quite wonderfully evocative – even though our 9-yr-old Darwin fan fell asleep after failing to track the words being sung by the soprano Jane Sheldon; she was still impressed enough to want to meet the musicians and get their autographs on the program! As the friend who invited us to the concert remarked, the compositions were quite complex musically – and appropriately so, I thought, given the subject. So the music did capture the chosen text quite well (I’ll share the passages featured later tonight when we return to Fresno), but – and I can’t quite put the finger on the role of any particular element in this – I felt the general emotional tone was on the darker side, with melancholy washing over me far more than joy. No wonder then, that the one upbeat composition in the middle, set to a passage about the “Tree of Life” really lifted me up, but all too briefly, before the mood became sombre again. I was hoping for more uplift towards the end, with the final two pieces revolving around Darwin’s immortal words about the “Entangled Bank” and the grandeur in this view of life (Floreana) – but those compositions were darker too. The conductor, Jeffrey Means, later told me that “Tree of Life” was the ensemble’s favorite too – but I didn’t get the chance to ask him about the darkness of the other pieces. So I am left with the sense that the composers of these creative pieces too share a darker view of the meaning of Darwin’s work even as they celebrate it. I, for one, would prefer more joy, and more thrill at the sheer intellectual adventure of Darwin, as seen in this week’s Nova special on “Darwin’s Darkest Hour, which was less dark than the title suggested – but perhaps I should leave that review for a separate post.

The Rap Guide to Evolution – this weekend in Fresno!

My friend Scott Hatfield just pointed out a brilliant act premiering at the Rogue Festival in Fresno this weekend: The Rap Guide to Evolution! Its Richard Dawkins meets Eminem, to paraphrase the review in Science (yes, that AAAS journal, renowned for its rap reviews!):


Canadian rap artist, performance poet, and actor Baba Brinkman follows up his hilarious award-winning one-man show “The Rap Canterbury Tales” with a journey to the center of history’s greatest controversy: the Origin of Species. Brinkman’s powerful storytelling has been hailed the world over as an ingenious hybrid of rap and theatre. Fresh from a tour celebrating the 2009 Darwin Bicentennial in England, this will be the North American premier of “The Rap Guide to Evolution”.

It’s a 50-minute show, rated PG-13 (‘sexual references, mature subject matter, but NO SWEARING, he says”).

Lead single “Natural Selection” featuring Richard Dawkins. Click here to Download.

The Rap Guide to Evolution” explores the history and current understanding of Darwin’s theory, combining remixes of popular rap songs with storytelling rap/poems that cover Natural Selection, Artificial Selection, Sexual Selection, Group Selection, Unity of Common Descent, and Evolutionary Psychology. Dr. Pallen has vetted the entire script for scientific and historical accuracy, making it a powerful teaching tool as well as a laugh-out-loud entertainment experience. The show also engages directly with challenging questions about cultural evolution, asking the audience to imagine themselves as the environment and the performer as an organism undergoing a form of live adaptation.

The Rap Guide to Evolution” was developed with the support of the British Council, and will be touring the UK in the summer of 2009, including the Edinburgh Fringe. Look out for recordings and videos coming soon to this site!

Here’s a preview clip, via YouTube:

How can you resist the whole act after that? Perhaps I’ll see you there this weekend!

Celebrate the earth locally this weekend

adriennelay.jpgWith Earth Day coming up (in its 38th year) next week, we have two interesting options for celebrating it tomorrow (funny how weekends cause these temporal rearrangements!):

  1. The Fresno Cohousing folks, who are getting ever closer to completing construction on their complex of green homes, are inviting us all to celebrate Earth Day this weekend with the “greenest neighborhood in Fresno”! Several of my colleagues here are part of this co-housing group, and I am intrigued about the possibilities. Here’s a flyer with details – check it out!
  2. The Intermountain Nursery is also celebrating Earth Day tomorrow at their Sierra foothills location with several local artists playing music on the creek, some hands-on classes, and a seed ball booth for children! That last part, of course, draws our children – and we wouldn’t mind getting out of the city for a few hours either. So it looks like this is where we are going!

What are you doing for Earth Day this year?

Of framing, music in subways, and pulitzers

A year ago, around the time the great framing debate first started raging on ScienceBlogs (with some ripples reaching even these distant shores), famed violin virtuoso Joshua Bell was conducting a different experiment in framing:

[youtube hnOPu0_YWhw]

As described in the resulting Washington Post piece by Gene Weingarten:

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities — as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

The musician did not play popular tunes whose familiarity alone might have drawn interest. That was not the test. These were masterpieces that have endured for centuries on their brilliance alone, soaring music befitting the grandeur of cathedrals and concert halls.

The acoustics proved surprisingly kind. Though the arcade is of utilitarian design, a buffer between the Metro escalator and the outdoors, it somehow caught the sound and bounced it back round and resonant. The violin is an instrument that is said to be much like the human voice, and in this musician’s masterly hands, it sobbed and laughed and sang — ecstatic, sorrowful, importuning, adoring, flirtatious, castigating, playful, romancing, merry, triumphal, sumptuous.

And the outcome of the experiment? Very few of the hundreds of commuters streaming past realized what a treat they were getting in the public square, let alone recognize the artist! As Bora and others pointed out, this seemed to demonstrate poor framing – put a famous concert violinist almost incognito and out of context, and no one will recognize or appreciate the genius!

Meanwhile, within the tunnels of another subway system in another city, another virtuoso was probably making his living doing this:

[youtube 39M_CP-JuPk]

Who is this energetic drummer with his ersatz plastic bucket drum kit? Prem Panicker of Smoke Signals has this story:

One day, I paused in the midst of a headlong rush, captivated by music emerging from some corner of the 42nd Street subway. Ignoring the train pulling in, I went looking for the source—and saw this muscular black guy producing compelling percussive patterns out of a ‘drum kit’ made up entirely of plastic paint cans. I play the drums [or at least, I used to, back in my thoroughly misspent youth], hence it was doubly engaging to watch the drummer produce, on his ersatz kit, patterns I would have struggled to reproduce on high end equipment.

I’ve seen such drummers elsewhere, in the bowels of New York’s subway system, and it was always a stop-you-in-your-tracks sight—rippling muscles limned in sweat, total absorption in the throbbing beat, sounds that bounce endlessly off the cavernous insides of subway stations, occasionally counterpointed by the roar of a train pulling in…

That day, that guy, was different from the other dozens of his ilk, though—because the more I looked at him, the more I had the feeling that I had seen him somewhere before. Trains came and went; I lingered on, listening to him, marking time with palm on thigh, and trying to work out why he seemed familiar. After a while, he caught my eye and grinned; a little later, he took a break—and when I went up to say hello, he asked me if I was trying to work out where I had seen him before. ‘Think movies, my man’, he said—and then the penny dropped. In Green Card, Peter Weir’s 1990 film starring Gerard Depardieu and Andie McDowell, the opening credits run against the backdrop of a small boy sitting on a New York sidewalk, banging out an impressive drum solo on plastic paint cans. That boy had grown up into this man—Larry Wright—and graduated from the sidewalks to this semi-permanent spot in the 42nd Street subway.

A year has passed since that unheeded subway violin concert, and Weingarten has just won the Pulitzer prize for his beautiful report on Joshua Bell’s performance / social commentary / experiment. Meanwhile framing continues to inflame the scienceblogs family in the wake of another, much shoddier public performance attempt, and somewhere in the bowels of the Big Apple, no doubt, Larry Wright is probably banging away on those plastic buckets producing that astonishing sound!

[youtube ZRzYp-bKx6E]