Whimsy archive

Archived from the "Olde Curiosity Shop" page.

Curiosities fade into memorabilia, and thence to dust traps. It is time to retire them. This page is the elephants graveyard. A place where mice can come, retire, and eventually die in the shade of a mammoth rib.

So if you are curious about the wording on one of the previous entries on the whimsy page, you can trace it here. If there get to be too many, they will have to be catalogued, with little cards written in crabbed robot writing.

That's a while off yet. Let's not anticipate the great robot revolution of 2030.

Reed Warblers threaten World Economy.

Global warming can be blamed for the current financial boom-bust yoyo on Wall Street. The relationship is rather subtle. It is not due to an exaggeration in the anticyclone then depression cycle, nor to hurricanes, nor to overheated crania. Rather, it is due to a movement northwards of the Reed Warbler. 

Feeding warblers.I have mentioned previously that Reed Warblers are the mascot creature of the oboists of the world. In that article was a picture of a parent teaching the nestlings to sing Doh-may-reed. Therein lies the disaster. The sub-species of importance here are the Wharton Reed Warblers.  As anyone who has ever driven the Cranberry Bogs Access Road knows, Wharton State Forest is 80 miles south of New York. As the crow flies.

Wharton Reed Warblers endeavor to raise exactly 7 young. More eggs might be laid, but once 7 hatch and squawk, the small remainder are cruelly tossed out. Oddly enough, this normally eliminates any cuckoos, so it does have some immediate benefit.

The number 7 is a Fibonacci number. These occur throughout nature to aid in evenly placing items in a circle. Think of it as a wheel with 7 spoke positions. Create a tree spiralling up, where each new branch is placed in a spoke position, 4 beyond the previous one. (Going round a circle, after 7 comes number 1 again. The add-four sequence is 1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7, 4, then it repeats.) This enables branches to avoid clustering above each other and maximize sunlight catchment. In the case of the Reed Warblers, the young are eventually placed radially away from the nest, each getting its own patch. First hatchling gets spoke 1, second spoke 5, and so on - well nearly.

Here is the Wharton Reed Warbler call:

Reed warbler theme

Ornithologists know it as the Doh-may-m'reed-farfar-la-tee-t'dah call. They are out to recall the tune, not the usual names of a scale. The sense is that the bird can reedily warble far away, giving itself airs. Those airs are the above air, optionally up an octave, with rhythm variations (and say, con bragadaccio). Each note of the G-scale occurs in the sequence 1, 5, 2, 7, 6, 3, 4.

During warbler feeding, the male sings the sequence while the female feeds the nestling on its note. Chicks rapidly identify with their particular pitch. Later, as fledglings, they are separately fed away from the nest. The female drops the insects further and further away, and calls the fledgling by its note. 

Whilst each chick gets an equal time share, the rhythm of the male's call has quaver pairs for some. Chicks just get fed on the first note. Nor does the final minim bode well for the last chick. By the time it has ended, the mother may well be departing for more worms. Typically, two chicks are fed at a time, but when the last chick is fed, only enough for one is brought back. They are efficient little birds, with a bossy, terrier character. Males are territorial, and will aggressively attack rivals even while warbling. Piping into battle.

Interestingly, the sequence is not a pure Fibonacci. It should be stressing separation of one chick from another. Instead, the 7 has been placed after the 2, rather than between the 3 and the 4. Scientists are divided into the melodics, who argue that the pitch sequence fits some neural network and makes brain sense, and the behaviourists, who argue that the shift means the later-hatching, smaller chicks form supporting pairs (6 & 7; 3 & 4). Understandably, both factions loathe each other and research at present merely supports entrenched positions. The Reed Warblers do not care.

Then catastrophe loomed..

Now this has gone on for thousands of years, and did not affected humanity at all. We could all go whistle. Everything changed with global warming.

Over the last few decades, the natural habitat of the Reed Warbler has been moving northwards. They hunt insects and fresh-water larvae, which are limited by the intensity of winter. Now they are able to forage further north. Finally in the last year or so, they reached New York. The warbler call echoed along Wall Street.

The call is melodic, almost hypnotic, and definitely memorable. It inserts into the brain of the susceptible. It is intrinsically a yoyo sequence. It seems to have triggered a yoyo response in the financial wizards of Wall St. The 'melodic' faction are arguing that the call is touching a deep Fibonacci neurology. Stockbrokers, who deal in economic cycles, are particularly sensitive to any boom-bust, bull-bear ripple. The melody has triggered SYP - stockbroker yoyo psychosis. The behaviourists just think they are spending too much time feeding the perky little chaps and 1000 bushels of poisoned wheat would fix the world economy. Politically, this argument is a dead duck.

What to do? Alack-a-day

So there you have it. A plague of warblers is wobbling the world economy. What can be done about it? The best approach seems to be to move the vagrants on. Good old pre-Keynesian 'Beadle' economics. This means turning off all fountains and other fresh water sources in central New York, draining the ponds in Central Park, and keeping gutters scrupulously clean so worms and larvae cannot hatch. Additionally, attract the warblers away by doing the opposite in the outer suburbs. Leave the leaves in the gutters, worm your way into their affections. The plan requires stockbrokers to live in apartments in a warbler-barren inner city, but that apparently is pretty much the case anyway. Sanity will return. The tune will fade with time and the world economy will recover.

Any postman or other joyous soul living in suburbia can expect a swingeing fine if they whistle the warbler call within a mile of Wall St. Security cameras are to have warbler-detector microphones attached. Cell phones may not use it as a call tone. Civilization itself depends on Big Apple vigilance.

Except for oboists. They can retain their mascot provided they play in a cupboard, deep in a basement. Ideally, they would chose a different sub-species if they want to warble a ditty, but this is a sensitive cultural area. Stockbrokers who are also oboists would be best to read up in Wikipedia about what happened to Typhoid Mary.

Oh, and future generations of stockbrokers are to be be tone deaf.

History of Orchestral Warfare - Part 7. The Trombabuss

This segment is something of an aside from normal warfare.  More perhaps an example of what happens when dangerous weapons (orchestral instruments) and human passions synergise to violent levels.

The year is 1928 in Belgrade, and the leader of the orchestra has his eye firmly set on a  lovely young lady, name unrecorded, but believed to be in the second violins. A trombonist, one Vladec Mihajlova, is also competing for her affections.  Regrettably, the lead violinist resorted to mis-use of his authority to belittle Vladec. It wasn't much, just things like a well-timed raised eyebrow during tuning and the like, but it constituted an effective campaign of ridicule.

Vladec retaliated by planning to mock a particularly poignant cadenza which the leader played during a set of Folk Dances. It was a wedding tune, and the violinist milked it for all it was worth, almost to the point of parody.  The idea was to push it well into parody, and make it seem the leader considered weddings to be an occasion of buffoonery. Vladec intended to blast a cloud of blossom petals into the air. The boom was to be timed to coincide with a major drum beat, so the net effect would be a weepy build-up by the violin, a jolting drum beat, and a snowfall of blossoms that would leave the audience laughing at a musical joke.

At left is a reconstruction of what came to be called during the trial "The Trombabuss", a sinister fusion of trombone and blunderbuss.

It was relatively simple to construct. An old trombone had a spark plug welded in. A simple battery, coil and switch arrangement from a motorbike was sufficient to generate a few weak sparks. Only one spark was required.

The bell was filled with blossoms, lightly bound in a handkerchief so they stayed together in the ascent, before tumbling into a snow cloud and then fluttering individually to the ground.

An alcohol-air mix was used as propellant.  Vladec had tested out rum and found it worked quite well, generating a substantial punch without being too violent. Oddly enough, the feared back-blast into the mouthpiece did not eventuate.  Not only was the tube quite small there, but the alcohol near the mouthpiece was too concentrated for the air mix and effectively dampened the fire flash. He carried out only a few tests, as he did not want to attract early attention.

On the night, two things went awry. A flatmate had drunk the rum, so a somewhat more powerful vodka had to be substituted. Additionally, it had rained, and the blossom was now rather damp. The changes did not seem significant to Vladec. At the crucial point,  the conductor dramatically pointed to the percussion, and with a bang, a soggy mass of sodden blossom launched rather too quickly into the air.

The mass did not tumble into a safe but sarcastic cloud, but instead slammed into a candelabra, which then fell in iridescent rain about the conductor. Thankfully,  the theatre designer had focussed on symmetry, so the conductor was standing in the exact centre of the large circular candelabra. The rain of cut lead-glass fell around but not on him.  Applause was erratic rather than wild.

The management of the orchestra were intent on prosecution, but the crime lacked sufficient precedent. "Mockery of a Parody" fitted the intent, but not the event. The police were persuaded to bring charges for the reckless discharge of a  firearm in a public place. At the trial, they made the mistake of assuming the physical evidence (plus Vladec having to speak in his defense though bruised lips) would be sufficient to carry the day. They were delicate enough to miss out all reference to motive.

For his defense, Vladec claimed that he had been legitimately creating an experimental musical instrument, one that fused percussion with brass. He demonstrated the modified trombone to the jury, but took care to use a somewhat weak rum, and very dry blossom, which he claimed was a old recipe for a mute. The jury was charmed by the blossom fall, repelled by the malevolence of the orchestral leader, and acquitted him. He fled the country before fresh charges could be brought.

All in all, the final outcome might be seen to be beneficial for all concerned. Vladec fled to the United States, where his music and electronics background led to a successful career in the recordings industry. The leader of the orchestra married a lawyer's daughter. Vladec had written an explanation and apology to the young lady, who had been unaware of the seriousness of the rivalry because she was 'walking out' with a satirical novelist, whom she later married. They left Belgrade when satire became politically dangerous, and settled in Britain.

The only loser could be said to be the conductor. He rejoiced in his miraculous survival. His strong tendency towards religious music thereafter was fine and acceptable. However, reviewers complained of him that he seemed to lack the willpower to draw true drama from the percussion.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice's DVD

I was required to amend the 'Next Concert' page, and also add in a note informing members that they will not be playing anything from Fantasia. I own a copy of that movie. A rather old video, but I like it, and still have a video player to watch it on.  Soon, a generation will arise who will have to have the term explained to them. A Latin verb, second conjugation, video (I watch TV), vidiet (he/she watches too much), videmus (we become couch potatoes.)

Sorcerer's ApprenticeFantasia was an unusual movie. Instead of composers adding sound to the film, the film added imagery to classical compositions. At right is a scene where the sorcerer's apprentice has cloned some brooms to carry well water for him. And the clones cloned, and things got out of hand.

Cartoon lovers and classical music buffs were separately horrified. Well, it was a long time ago. Things will have changed. I think the Apprentice moved out of sorcery (night hours, and you met the wrong sort of girl) and became part of the Marketing Division of Disney. (Or Fox or whoever.) There he pointed out that a live orchestra was costly, but a DVD could be cloned ad-infinitum. Copy protected of course. Otherwise the clones clone. Which does seem to have happened (both DVD and the piracy).

The next generation of product should work at getting rid of the orchestra entirely. Anything original is expensive. It is a matter of having a web-cam watch the viewer, feed in stock images warped to stock music, and have a feedback loop so any lessening of attention triggers re-selection of favorites. OK, so it is formula driven, but the ingredients are a secret recipe, so the audience is kept happy. (Except twice a week, there are two-hanky weepies.) Hasn't happened yet.  Odd though that a number of computer monitors have built in web-cams.

Then the computers can get rid of the audience, and simply send software to each other. The only human left is the Marketing Manager. Some people are just so essential they will always be there. The MM, sitting at his desk, humming Dukas, and saying to himself, "buckets of DVDs, more, more, audience share 100%, perfect,..."

Nah. It'll never happen.

Oh, no, an oboe joke.

Why do oboe players so seldomly become conductors?
Oboe players spend so much of their lives scoring reeds
that they don't learn to read scores.

Har dee har, har.
Ok, so it is a play on words, but gets its real force from a glad-it's-not-me sympathy for oboists. Well, it was all news to me, so I went on the web to find out. You can find anything on the web, and you can also guess next week's lotto numbers while doing so. The number of false tries can use up a lot of time.

Clamourous reed warblerAmong notable irrelevancies was the bird mascot of oboists, the Glamourous Reed-Warbler.  Bird watchers spell it with a C (as in clam, not glam), but G sounds better, and everyone hears what they expect. (Blame the reed.) The photo incidentally is from an Australian Museum collection, and is referenced in the above link. Mummy reed warbler is training her chicks to sing doh-may-reed. Where was I? Oh, yes, lost in web space.  There was an interesting site by someone well past 70 living somewhere near Old Sarum. He had developed a good technique for paring reeds, and admired the knife wielding capacity of surgeons he had trained (cutting reeds, not people.)

The most useful site was one for the New York Times (31 Oct 1997). After discussing the convoluted practice of shaping double reeds, it revealed how a rocket scientist had helped his wife do it in a semi-scientific manner. His was the scientific half. She was supposed to score the reeds. That's score, as in give a rating from 1 to 5, and it wasn't quite so scientific. Then she admitted at the end (they having published and got the glory) that she had now given up on the science bit and retreated back into reed shaping as an art form.

If you regard shaping reeds as a form of sculpture, then it is one art form preceding another. Not really a waste of time at all. You can do it to relax, but not just anywhere. As oboists are supposed to have three knives, sharp, sharper and sharpest, it is not the sort of occupation allowed on trans-Atlantic flights anymore.  This explains why flight attendants so seldomly play the oboe in flight. Ditto reed-warblers.

Conclusion: The joke is founded on fact. The conductor bit is an accident of language and is without credence.

It is also known that jokes evolve. Once you've heard a joke, it's over. You've got to change it. Hence, the following are probably out there somewhere, in that tech-ecology called the world wide web. Out there, busily evolving, swapping DNA,  and keeping an eye out for Tyrannosaurus Jokeraptor.

Why do pot smokers so seldomly become composition critics?
Because they spend so much of their lives scoring weed that they don't learn to weed scores.

Why do librarians hate horror story writers?
Because they spend so much of their lives scaring readers that they don't learn to read scarers.

Now you know what DNA means. Does Not Amuse.

Some of these jokes will be extinct soon. That's life. Some future palaeontologist will dig up two or three of the words, guess much of the rest of the joke, and hypothesize that it was warm blooded and had feathers. That's life too.

A little background music - coda

The border music for our site is taken off a manuscript for a piece re-written for a choir of flutes. It really is too difficult to identify as is. Firstly, it has been designed as a tile, with the clef and key signature removed to give the tiled page the appearance of a manuscript. It is in the key of F. Secondly, you have to isolate out the repeating fragment to be able to play the second line flowing from the first.

For those interested, here is the tile, larger, darker. Flatten each B when playing. 
Music fragment
You may have been able to pick out the key theme towards the end. It is that gem of the Baroque period,  the Pachelbel Canon in D. Yet the above version is in F?  Ah, well, I never said it was going to be easy. The theme as you would expect it (in D for violins) is here to close off this little interlude. Repeat as if basso continuo.
Pachelbel Canon in D - theme

History of Orchestral Warfare - Part 4

An occasional series that help explain the structure of the modern orchestra.

Orchestra bow and malletThe development of the long cello bow dominated orchestral warfare in the middle ages. It was particularly dominant in England, which is why their court music is almost entirely voice, drum and brass. Potential assassins were to have their weapon choice limited. Strings were confined to the lute and similar plucked instruments.

As can be seen from the picture, the weapon required an alliance between the strings and the percussion. Illustrated is a cello bow about to fire a marimba mallet.

The separation of the string and percussion sections was first tried as a desperation move in Italy. This was so successful that France and Germany rapidly adopted the arrangement. Spain followed a generation later. Unsurprisingly, the paranoid Tudors remained conservative. Only the death of Elizabeth and the subsequent threat of the bagpipe finally encouraged the importation of continental practice into England.

The use of woodwind as a separation group stabilised playing, and allowed the steady development from the Baroque to the Classical period. Composers eventually made greater use of the clarinets and flutes which had to be present. Conductors retained this tight, integrated control until the invention of the mortar bassoon in 1787.

On Manuscripts, Calliope and Compuscripts

On the topic of 'manuscript'. The word means: written by hand.  I am not sure how many composers do that any more. Not only is the computer a neater printer, it will also play the music back, albeit with all the flair and passion of a calliope.

To those of you who have read Homer, Calliope is the Muse of Epic Poetry. Maybe she can sing with expression, but here I am referring to the 'steam piano'. This is a sort of organ using steam as it's gas source, rather than a madly pumping choirboy. The calliope is the typical sound used to evoke a fair ground. There, the machine is more of a steam pianola, where holes punched in paper or thin metal decide the opening and closing of valves.  Fin de siècle Techno music.

Which leads to the question. Is manuscript out of date as a word?  Should it be reserved for hand-written music, with the implication that it has only been played, if at all, by inexact, difficult to program, humans?  The replacement word would be 'compuscript'. Or something equally horrible.

Did you know that 17.4% of statistics are made up on the spot?

Interesting link: Graham Nasby's resource page
I found this a useful source of descriptions about a wide range of instruments, with pictures for people like me who think that the piccolo is the guy marching just before the matador, and he doesn't like being so close to the horns.

Nasby also complained that the re-vamped NZSO site had removed one of the better source of music jokes available. His list of site updates has the following line:
•  November 26, 2005 - added music jokes from the old NZSO website

But the link is dead.  Nasby was probably guilty of palagarism, which from memory was a heresy about 400 AD caused by some British Celt, and universities are not keen on it coming back. Shame about the jokes though.

Note added after feedback.

The joke in the previous paragraph is from the deliberate confusion of plagiarism and Pelageanism, which is a 400 AD heresy. You can look up both in Wikipedia. The mis-spelling was designed to be a mix of the two. Plagarism is a 'false claim to be original' sin, whilst Pelageanism is to 'falsely claim there be no Original Sin'.  Quite different really. As universities were orginally staffed by theologians, it is reasonable for modern academics to keep the faith by stomping on all deviation from the standard forms of orginality. I may, in some future rant, muse on how much change is needed in a tune to make it original.