Dexterity

Back in 2013, The Dotted Line Theatre performed The Engineer’s Thumb
at the Little Angel Puppet Theatre. It was inspired by a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

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Using rod and shadow puppetry, light and object manipulation, it encountered experiments in hydraulics, memories coming to life and a terrifying coach ride along a dark country lane.

More recently the same theatre company  has performed The Lonely One:
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Last week’s Nature (volume 542, page 294) discusses how such dextrous actions by artists are used by science researchers. It cites the difficulties an analytical chemist had bisecting kidney stones – and how a sculptor working with glass cut the stones with their glass-grinding lathe.

th-7.jpeg  There are more examples of such help from teachers at the Art Workers’ Guild. It is so-called Haptic Learning and involves the transferable skills such as the use of brushes, surgical instruments, implements for sewing and embroidery, and musical instruments.

Elphie – Hamburg

Rising more than 100 metres above Hamburg’s harbour like a great glass galleon marooned atop an old brick warehouse, the Elbphilharmonie concert hall

4000.jpg, The Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron have never looked so relieved.

The project began as the unlikely dream of Alexander Gérard, a private developer and former classmate of Herzog and De Meuron, who had hoped to finance the scheme with the 45 luxury flats and 250-room hotel that are also housed in the big glass mountain. He commissioned the architects to come up with a dazzling alternative to a dreary plan for a 90-metre media office tower on the site, which died away with the end of the dotcom boom. The Swiss starchitects’ thrilling images quickly caught the public imagination and the project was adopted by the city in 2003 and prioritised as a plan of national importance.

The grand hall, itself hung from the 700-tonne roof like a dangling cocoon, features 1,000 hand-blown glass lamps and 10,000 uniquely carved acoustic panels, while the facade incorporates 600 curved panes of 48mm-thick glass. It has been compared to Kaiser Wilhelm’s megalomania,

5376.jpgThe escalator is gently curved in a hump-backed profile, so you can’t see where you’re going, adding to the camp drama of it all, before you emerge at a big picture window punched into the brick wall, affording the first great view across the harbour.
Hamburg’s completed ‘Elphie’ concert hall shines triumphant

5472-1.jpgIntricacy and complexity … the white ceiling1593.jpgOur role is to connect the old city with the new city beyond,” says De Mueron, referring to the HafenCity quarter, an emerging district slated to house 12,000 people in the former docklands, in which the “Elphie”, as locals have nicknamed the concert hall, stands as a shining beacon.

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Natural Music

 

Most musicologists think that music began within a human culture. Another idea is that our love of music has biological roots, perhaps mimicking the sound of heartbeats in the mother’s womb. Now there is scientific evidence to support a cultural origin, though the biological influences are not entirely discounted.

Deep in the Bolivian Amazon, the Tsimane Tribe make their own kind of music. It has a strong contrast between consonance and dissonance, sounds that have interested musicologists since the culture of ancient Greece.

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JH McDermott et al write in today’s Nature (July 28) that the Tsimane perceive consonance and dissonance differently to westerners. Their harmonies are simple, only played one at a time, while there is an indifference to dissonance. In the west this is used for background texture or to express tension: not so in Bolivia.

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This is distinctive cultural variation in music perception. Some observers also say that the new conclusions are confirmed by the observation that the Tsimane prefer laughter to unpleasant gasps.

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Too Much of a Good Thing

Today is William Shakespeare’s 400th birthday.

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Most days, we quote his words:

1. “With bated breath” – The Merchant Of Venice

2. “The be all and end all” – Macbeth

3. “Break the ice” – The Taming Of The Shrew

4. “Dead as a doornail” – Henry VI, Part II

5. “Faint-hearted” – Henry VI, Part I

6. “Wild-goose chase” – Romeo And Juliet

7. “Laugh yourself into stitches (in stitches)” – Twelfth Night

8. “Zany” – Love’s Labour’s Lost

9. “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve” – Othello

10. “What’s done, is done” – Macbeth

11. “At one fell swoop” – Macbeth

12. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in it (There’s method in my madness)” – Hamlet

13. “Spotless reputation” – Richard II

14. “Laughing-stock” – The Merry Wives Of Windsor

15. “Eaten out of house and home” – Henry IV, Part 2

16. “Fair play” – The Tempest/King John/Troilus And Cressida

17. “In a pickle” – The Tempest

18. “Send him packing” – Henry IV, Part 1

19. “Too much of a good thing” – As You Like It

 

Uncle Oliver

The novelist and neurologist Oliver Sacks died this week (1933 – August 30 2015).

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Oliver Sacks worked on the medical effects of neurotransmitters such as  L- Dopa. This can be synthesised and added to biochemical pathways in human nerve cells. The pathway shown here is involved with Parkinson’s Disease.

Recently Sacks wrote: “I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.”

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Slimey

Musician Eduardo Miranda plays on the piano, the system listens, plays something back, and he responds.

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The slime mould Physarum polycephalum is at the centre of this ‘system’ forming a living electronic component in the circuit that processes sounds picked up by a microphone trained on the piano.

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Ed Braund, at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Computer Music Research at Plymouth University programs the Physarum tubules by changing their resistance in response to previously applied voltages, creating a complex electrical waveform. The Physarum resistance changes as a function of the previous inputs, and the musical notes form a new composition for the piano.

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Slime moulds are now classified in their own Kingdom, separately from animals, fungi, plants and bacteria. They live on bacteria, as single cells with unstructured slimy cytoplasm and reproduce by fruiting bodies which form spores to a new generation.

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Biocomputer Music is performed at the Peninsular Arts Contemporary Music Festival, Plymouth University in March.

The Story of Light

India’s first science-meets-art festival took place in Panaji, Goa, last month. There were interactive installations, workshops, beach and street performances – and food.

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In India, young people are taking their culture into the modern world, involving science and popular media as much as tradition and religion. There is an excitement about the place.

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Jaya Ramchandani was the Festival Director