5:25 am - excellent!
I brush the last of the snow from my coat and switch on the lights before taking my seat. A few minutes of silence and then a door opens and closes reverberating for about three seconds. The clicking of shoes echoes through Warner Hall as she makes her way to the bench. A minute of preparation and then the Praeludium in G by Bach fills her space and mine. I sit back and shut all but the Bach from my mind.
She is doing an excellent job until - rats. Bach derails and I sit up in my chair looking around. A female shout fills the space reverberating for about three seconds
She goes back a few bars and dances through the problem smoothly. Now a piece I don't recognize, but it is still clearly Bach until about 6:55. Her shoes and coat go on and steps click to the door in the distance.
And a little magic as a female voice is softly singing Bach.
A door opens and closes. The reverberation is about three seconds and then silence. Time to switch off the amplifiers and make some hot chocolate before getting to work.
She was an organ student in Oberlin and I was in a special room in New Jersey where we were working on the reconstruction sound fields. A special seven microphone array had been installed in the hall with a computer handling compression mixing and compression in realtime. The bitstream made traveled Eastward to our room where a reasonably convincing illusion of the Hall's sound space was created. We had created a virtual acoustic reality.1
Pipe organs - the old mechanical 'tracker action' organs - may have been the most sophisticated technology of the middle ages. Oberlin's Warner Hall organ is a wonderful Flentrop that is ideally suited for Bach - a fact that partially determined where the array went. Listen to a performance.2
The construction of modern tracker action organs hasn't changed much in a half millennia. Each make has its own special alloys for pipes and techniques that are specific to each company and even to a master builder. The sounds from the metals and woods of the pipes have distinctive signatures that come from voicing by golden eared experts who reason with the material in quest of perfection.
I have a habit of taking a few weeks at the beginning of each year to learn a bit about something new. The idea is to get to the point where I can ask questions that aren't completely foolish. By the end of the two weeks I always feel I know much less about the subject than when I started, but this is sign of progress. It is a bit like learning a few phrases in the language of a country you're visiting. Even if people speak perfect English they appreciate that you've tried. That becomes a starting point if you want to learn.
Several of these mini sabbaticals have been guided by designers and craftspeople. Those who know fabrics, metals and woods at an intimate level. There are amazing properties that we usually don't think about. How can you put an edge on a knife, how does concrete work, what happens when you bend metal, how do metals influence flavor? How do you tune the exhaust note of a sports car? How do you build flexibility and stretch into denim? Some of this is well studied. Much of it isn't.
There is an effort to move beyond STEM education by adding the arts - STEAM or STE[A]M education. It often involves sensors, lights and some computing power with a few companies appearing to supply and inspire experimenters. A few brilliant bits have emerged from people like Iris van Herpen and Björk, but most of it is - well - learning and part of a transition Design languages will emerge and now is probably an exciting time to get involved. The beauty is that it encourages people to acquire the skills it takes to make things - something that is missing from most K12 programs.3
The Maker community is a starting point if you're interested in the intersection of the physical world and technology (mostly computing). While a great hobby and even a business opportunity for some, I see a path to something deeper. Most of us are idiot savants with the technology and stuff that surrounds us. Perhaps this is a path to an evolution of our education that embraces the past and the future and recognizes art and science as active partners with engineering. Computing and networks are important, but so is the material world and understanding how we relate to it.
A goal is to bring together people with a wide range of expertise and create new classes of materials and designs. Clothing that adjusts itself to local temperature and humidity while remaining comfortable and perhaps even having a wonderful 'feel' and movement. New ways to make proteins in during cooking to create entirely new flavors. Building materials that repair themselves. Fabrication processes that allow individual expression while being inexpensive enough for average people. Tools and designs that encourage people to add to the design rather than just consume.
The sky is the limit. The problem is finding the right spark with enough constraints that collaborations begin to reverberate. But that is another story...
1 There were a number of other experiments in shared acoustic VRs and sound field reconstruction for conferences.
2 The Oberlin Conservatory site has a link to an organ concert in Warner Hall that was covered by the public radio program Pipe Dreams. Worth a listen!
3 Make: magazine is a good resource. They're mostly focused on male-centric STEM (mostly T and E) projects, but Make: Volume 43 Feb/Mar 2015 has sections on clothing and wearables. Adafruit is very woman friendly with supplies and projects to get someone going.
Making It by Chris Lefteri is a brief but excellent book detailing a few dozen techniques and an introduction to the different technques used at a variety of production scales. Get the 2nd edition!
What happens when you have a can of plum tomatoes and some coconut milk. Very easy and a nice area for experimentation
Tomato Soup with Coconut Milk
° 2 tbl olive oil
° 1 large yellow onion - chopped
° 1 celery stalk - chopped
° 1 carrot -chopped
° 2 garlic cloves- minced
° 28 oz can peeled plum tomatoes - real San Marzanos are a bonus!
° 2 cups vegetable broth, unsalted preferred
° coconut milk (the stuff in the cans, not the dairylike drink)
° salt and pepper to taste
° heat the oil in a pot to a medium heat
° add onions and reduce the heat a bit. Add some salt and reduce the onions until soft.
° add the carrot and celery stirring every now and again for about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
° pour in the stock and tomatoes, bring to a boil and then cut to a simmer and cover. Cook for about a half hour
° salt and pepper to taste
° stir in about a half cup of the coconut milk. (a full cup may be even better)