The Bolt

An exhibition at the Gallery for Russian Art and Design, Little Portland Street, London, recalls a ballet, The Bolt, performed just once in Soviet Moscow in 1931 before being banned.


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The plot was by Victor Lopukhov – a factory worker plans to throw a bolt into the new machinery but is challenged and stopped by his more faithful colleagues.  The ballet was choreographed by Fyodor Lopukhov, music was by Shostakovich and designs by Tatiana Bruni.

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The political trials in Soviet Russia of the 1930s made the ballet very topical. On one hand it had creative fervour, experimental spirit and enterprise. One the other it encouraged originality that could threaten the new political theory. Lopukhov wrote: “Comrade Smirnov has read me the libretto. Its theme is extremely relevant. There once was a machine. Then it broke down (problem of material decay). Then it was mended (problem of revitalisation) and at the same time they bought a new one. Then everybody dances around the new machine. Apotheosis.”

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A new film by Peter Strickland, Biophilia, premiers at next month’s London Film Festival.

It features Icelandic artist, Björk, who performs songs from her eighth album with evocative visuals provided by designers from around the world.

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Bjork struts across the stage in a tight cream-coloured dress with music from an Icelandic choir and background screens of quickly-changing colourful images.

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Opening and closing with a voice-over from David Attenborough the film attempts to reunite humans with nature.

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It begins with an aerial photograph of a drainage pattern from a mountainous landscape and then a microscopic image of rectal tissue which looks remarkably similar.

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Some see the film as a hymn to humanity and nature, an interactive project with film, apps and a website. Click here for the trailer.





The Don Juan Pond in Antarctica is one of the few places on Earth where there is no life. th-2Antarctica, Wright Valley, Dry Valleys, Don Juan Pond, wind carved rock, (ventifact).. Image shot 1980. Exact date unknown. The pond is so rich in calcium chloride, and has smaller amounts of sodium chloride, that it remains as liquid even when the temperature falls to -30 C. The site was discovered in 1961, when it was about 0.25 sq km in area and just about 30 cm deep, though that is getting less. Don Juan Pond   th-1  Don-Juan-Pond Don Juan Pond is found at the lowest point of the basin and is bounded by steep slopes to the north and south, a debris-covered lobe to the west, and colluvium-mantled terrain to the east, where the most prominent water tracks are observed. It was studied by JL Dickson et al online Nature March 2013. 45047057     59704767   Lifeless was the name of a band in Salt Lake City, Utah, that played in the 1990s. It no longer exists.

Shop Windows

Until March 2, a Festival of Imagination is at Selfridges, the Oxford Street shop in London. More than 15 topics about art, design and science are presented at special lectures and each has a display in the shop windows looking out onto the street.

Although the displays are strong on creative design they are very weak on science, and leave too many unanswered questions for the lectures to answer. Here are some examples.

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Agatha Haines – increase of imagination through an increase in brain stimulation – the possibilities of our bodies as another everyday material

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Rolf Sachs – the wireless transmission of electricity, questions the relationship between science and the natural world

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Vitamins – static animation moves as you walk along past the window,  a sheet of paper flies like an aeroplane; inventions and 3D printing

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Igloo Art – comparing the natural to the artificial, an app that re-imagines the camouflage of tribal patterns

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Nancy Fouts – the double bass and fancy – if there’s music only the imagination can hear it – perception of everyday life

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Minima Forms – artificial intelligence relating humanity and machines


James Dyson Foundation – testing and repeating a design until it works

The Festival raises far more questions than it even attempts to answer. Perhaps that’s the culture of retailing in the fashion industry.

Three New Myths

Three big ideas went to the wall last week, good examples of how science works by trying to disprove theories.

One involved the analysis of DNA in the 400,000 year old femur of a fossil human from a cave in Spain. That in itself was a surprise: that such old DNA retains its chemical identity.

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The theory was that Neanderthal Man was there in Spain then, but the DNA turned out to be more like that from a different population of early humans, Denisovan Man only known in Siberia. The theory was based on evidence from bone structure (which was also the source of these unreliable facial reconstructions) while the DNA evidence was very detailed and measurable.

The second falsification concerned the Moon, and the theory from the 1980s that some planet-sized object hit the very early Earth. Although the object was thought to have passed on, a ring of  debris from the crash coalesced into the Moon.

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Now, it seems, the angular momentum of the Moon’s orbits is not consistent with the Earth’s 24 hour day, as you would expect if they were from the same source. Furthermore, the chemical composition of the Earth’s crust is very similar to the surface samples retrieved from the Moon: there’s no sign of other chemicals expected from some foreign object. See (M Meyer et al Nature 504, 16-17, Dec 5th)

Thirdly, John Eliot Gardiner, musicologist, conductor and author of Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, has dispelled the idea that JS Bach was a conforming man of uneventful routine. This reputation came from the regularity of his frequent church compositions and from the lack of evidence about the other parts of his life.

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Gardiner has got to know Bach as well as anyone over the last three hundred years, especially on the 300th birthday pilgrimage to play most of the choral works across Europe and elsewhere. In his new book, Gardiner presents evidence that Bach was a “natural dissident” who had a congenital problem with authority. Why else would he have hit on the brilliant idea that the soprano performer of the motet “Furchte Dich Nicht” should enter by standing up in the gallery, hidden from the orchestra and congregation?

Napoleon Silenced

I’m just back from a six hour presentation of Abel Gance’s 1927 film Napoleon with music by Carl Davis and the Philarmonia Orchestra. (Reviewed here)

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The silent film made several advances in cinematic technology: coloured tints reinforced the moods, short clips threw the audience into the middle of the action and a mobile camera was used for dynamic parts. There were superimpositions and once the screen split into nine images. You got to know the characters with a lot of long facial close-ups. Most famously the finale has a triptych that makes a wide-screen image, an invention Gance called Polyvision, fusing the physical, mental and emotional elements of the subject.

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Carl Davis compiled this score from works of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and others, added his own links, and first performed it with the film in  1980.

Meanwhile, film-buffs talk of the changes in the techniques of photographic laboratories between the 1920s and today, and how the replacement of carbon-arc lighting with xenon lamps give a different affect. The slower early methods of cinematography did let an audience get to know the characters much better than modern ones. Napoleon hardly left the screen for the duration of the film and just compare these facial expressions to feel his compassion and determination.

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th-21  As that reviewer said, it almost made me want to be French.


When you take science and art together, you can often reach a new level of understanding. For example, the iconic Pink Floyd image separates white noise or light into their components, waves of different lengths. Just click on the black triangle:


Other demonstrations of what these waves can do are given in recent exhibitions. Earlier this year in London we had The Light Show (April 17th blog, below) and now there’s Soundings – A Contemporary Score at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

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It’s their first major exhibition of sound art and presents work by 16 of the most innovative contemporary artists working with sound. These are the longer electro-magnetic frequencies, at the right hand end of the spectrum (above and below). In the middle of this spectrum is visual light and to the left, beyond the infra-red, are x-rays and radioactivity.


The works in the New York exhibition ( include architectural interventions,  visualisations of otherwise inaudible sound,  an exploration of how sound ricochets in a room, and  a range of field recordings such as echolocating bats, abandoned buildings in Chernobyl, 59 bells in New York City, and a sugar factory in Taiwan.

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T Perich’s installation is Microtonal and comprises 1,500 speakers in an aluminium wall panel. The overall effect is the monotony of white sound, but if you get your ear up close to one of the speakers ……….

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C Norment’s Triplight is silent. An old lamp flickers on a broken microphone casting blurred shadows in the space. You recall a smokey room in a dingey jazz club and you imagine the music and laughter.

S Tcheripnin has taken a subway bench that looks ordinary enough and also stays silent. When you sit on it sound is transmitted up through your bottom.

Meanwhile, in Boulder, Colarado, composer Jeffrey Nytch is more explicit about making music with a science theme. His first symphony called Formations was composed with the geology of the Rocky Mountains closely in view.

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The Boulder Phil played the premier on September 7th 2013, with the familiar range of wavelengths from its instruments;