Tim bloody Minchin!

Tim Minchin is awesome. I first saw him on the Jonathan Ross show* (clip above and here), doing a song he wrote especially for the show.

tim_minchinThen I did a little online research, downloaded some songs (criminally, his albums don’t seem to be available on Amazon USA), did some YouTubing and found out that this guy’s talent is so scary I should have blogged it for Halloween.

He sings and plays piano like Elton John would if Elton John took some lessons, and his lyrics are wickedly clever (and sometimes just wicked). He’s got a strong bent for skepticism, and an even stronger bent for being bent (and check out the piano solo at the 3-minute mark of that last clip).

Pro tip for journalists: if you write a negative review of Minchin, you might regret it.

* Ross’ house band is called “4 Poofs and a Piano,” so Minchin, in the song he did on the show, jokingly offers to become gay so he can join the band, henceforth renamed “5 Poofs and 2 Pianos.”

Sondheim speaks

sondheim_caricatureStephen Sondheim doesn’t give many interviews, but the Broadway composer/lyricist gave one recently to the Seattle Times in advance of a stage chat with former New York Times theater critic Frank Rich.

Apparently he’s OK with the various ways his works have been interpreted, from a “chamber” version of “Sunday in the Park with George” to the recent Johnny Depp movie version of “Sweeney Todd.”

And he’s not a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber or jukebox musicals, either: “With the British musicals, I thought it was a phase, and this too shall pass. We’ll move away from the jukebox shows, too. But it will take longer, because pop is so popular.”

(via Girlhacker – pic via Matthew Carey, who has another interview)

Premature evaluation?

newspaper_standNewspapers aren’t doing as badly as you think, says Slate’s Daniel Gross. His point seems to be that the huge decline of the past year is nothing special — lots of businesses took a bath this last year. And he points to signs of recovery, including a nearly 10 percent profit at the chain that laid me off last year, Gannett. And to be sure, it’s far from a safe bet that the newspaper industry will actually die off in the next decade or so.

But he doesn’t address the longer-term decline that newspapers have been grappling with for well over a decade.

He Cares If You Listen

12-tone-matrix“Who’s afraid of the avant-garde?” explores why people like modern paintings more than modern music, by way of reviewing a book that explores the same question, Fear of Music: Why People Get Rothko But Don’t Get Stockhausen.”

I think there are a few other reasons modern art works better than modern (i.e. 12-tone) music:

1. Modern art still obeys basic psychological principles of what people like (Rouge’s Foam touches on this), while modern music is based on a mathematical abstraction that actually goes directly against what people like (e.g. an identifiable key, with some notes more important than others).

2. Modern art doesn’t command your attention — you can look away from a Rothko or a Pollock, but you can’t really walk out of a concert hall. Plus, modern art is almost always in bunches, so if you don’t like one, there are others nearby. Going to an art museum doesn’t mean you’ll be forced to spend 30 minutes (or 30 seconds) with art you don’t like — there’s no such thing as a “captive audience” for a painting or a sculpture.

3. I don’t know — has anybody got any ideas?

(pic of 12-tone matrix — no, I don’t understand it either, and I’ve got a music degree — via Acting Man)

See Emily Compose

Classical composer “Emily Howell” (no relation to her namesake in the Pink Floyd video “See Emily Play” above) is actually a computer program (“Emily” is taken from “Experiments in Musical Intelligence”)  that can write classical music good enough (or at least classical-sounding enough) to fool some people into thinking it’s “real” music (mp3’s at the programmer’s website).

The article sort of defends the practice, noting that even if the program is basically taking snippets of classical phrases and re-arranging them, composers have been doing that for centuries. As Frank Zappa once observed, there’s only 12 notes, and they’ve all been played. But ultimately, it comes down on the side of humanity against the machines and all that.

According to the headline, “This artificially intelligent music may speak to our minds, but not our souls.” I can’t help but wondering if an audience listening to a program of “Emily” and, say, Schoenberg, would agree that the human composer touched their souls more deeply.

(An  Ars Technica article goes into some greater technical detail)

Style Counsel

fake_ap_stylebookFake AP Stylebook is brilliant. It’s enough to make me reconsider whether this Twitter fad might be worthwhile after all.

Maybe it’s not quite as funny if you don’t have familiarity with the real AP Stylebook, but I don’t think you have to be a copy editor to appreciate an entry like, “Always capitalize ‘Bible.’ You don’t want to get letters from those people.”

Or, “Change the pronunciation so that “H1” sounds like “swine” and “N1” is “flu.”

All together now

symphony_of_science“Symphony of Science – We Are All Connected,” an auto-tuned mashup of great scientists and popular science guys (and a couple who are maybe both) is nifty, if a bit mystical. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s Neil deGrasse Tyson who steals the show from the likes of Sagan and Feynmann. Mental Floss has the lyrics (and embedded video).

So, Improv Everywhere does it again, with a musical number staged in a Queens supermarket, “Squish Our Fruits Together.”

improv_everywhere_supermarketWhat’s interesting is that the crowd seems a lot more savvy than the onlookers at their earlier Food Court Musical — lots of cell-phone cameras being whipped out. Also interesting is the sponsorship by Trident gum at the end of the video. Apparently the Improv Everywhere folks have figured out how to monetize their thing.

sports_car_graphDriving fast cars increases testosterone level in men, according to a new study. They tested the effect of driving a sports car, and also the effect of being around women, and the combination of effects.

The most unintentionally hilarious line: “Interestingly, whether there were ladies present or not, the mens’ testosterone didn’t increase at all after driving the Camry.” Yeah, that’s, um, “interesting,” if by “interesting” you mean “crashingly obvious.”

But I’m definitely going to have to think twice the next time I start to describe my supercharged Miata as “spunky.”

Update: I should have guessed Jalopnik would offer its take as well.

(graph via — of course — GraphJam)

Web Wisdom


AskPhilosophers.org lets you pose questions to actual philosophers, rather than advice columnists, therapists, talk radio hosts or wannabe bloggers. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

Today’s question is whether there’s really any point to philosophy at all or whether it’s basically just mental masturbation (I’m paraphrasing), and philosopher Allen Stairs gives a somewhat thoughtful, but still nicely snarky, reply.