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  • Posts Tagged ‘Sagan Appreciation’

    Carl’s Last Interview


    2013 - 12.25

    Check out this cool downtempo track:

    ok, and also, it is past high time that I give a shout out to Groove Salad internet radio from Soma FM.   I heard the above track there, as well as the mind-blowing downtempo masterpiece Music for Space Tourism.  I’ve been a fan for nearly 10 years now and they hold it down.  Microcosmologist Official Recommendation tag for them!

    Album Review: Tiny Blue Biosphere by Rhian Sheehan


    2012 - 10.04

    Like “Arboreal” by The Flashbulb, this album is one that immediately seized me and has maintained a lasting draw, despite the fact that there are a few tracks on here that are definite throw-aways for me.

    This album came out in 2004 and the album name suggests the tone within; a whole lot of riffing on space and cosmology. But unlike, say, Symphony of Science, this guy makes use of wickedly cool nerd samples without being cheesy about it. I do love me some Symphony of Science, but let’s be honest; it’s cheesy. What’s on this album is a hipper approach to melding science and music…

    I should clarify what I said in the opener: the tracks on here with the female vocals really sound dated, to my ear. They’re something reminiscent of 1990’s BT production. Which I listened to maybe a few times too many and now I’m just finished with that sound. So perhaps to someone else, those cuts wouldn’t grate as hard.

    But oh man, when Sheehan gets it right, he nails it. And in a way that I’m super into. It’s electronic music through and through, with something interplanetary in the sound palette. It shares that “we’re totally in outer space while we’re listening to this” vibe that Visit Venus had, but it’s not a retro 60s sound, it’s more of a late 90s, early 2000s electronica sound. Upon hearing this album, I went and checked out the rest of his catalog, but was unable to find anything like this album (again like the Flashbulb, the thing I latch onto seems to be a one-off).

    Sheehan makes good use of ambient sounds. Which makes sense because film scores are apparently his main thing. The intro track to the album is a dreamy ambient affair with the muffled sounds of airport announcements in the background. It’s something that sets the tone, making you feel like we’re about to depart somewhere. Somewhere dreamy.

    Track two busts right into the meat. Carl Sagan’s distinctive inflection questions: “How… Did the Universe… Arise? …. What was around… Before that? … Might there have beennn. No… beginning? … Could the Universe be… Infinitely. Old?” There’s some kind of surreal but subtle effect on his voice too that seems to precede his words in a captivating way. Then the beat drops and Carl Sagan gets peppered around for a while as the vibe marinates. At 1:50 when that first quote gets reintroduced, it feels good; like it’s something you could be piloting a futuristic space fighter over the surface of an alien world to, looking all badass.

    Track four, Phobos, weaves together a lovely multicolored yarn of samples, with subtle piano, hand drums, etheral vocals, and maybe a couple other electronic sounds I can’t put my finger on. Then it ends with this long-ass movie quote with minimal music behind it, neither building up nor breaking down, which something which I always find tedious (I’m looking at you James Warren). Fortunately this long-winded speech is the exception to the rule on this album.

    Cut number seven, entitled “Cosmology” opens up with a set of 4 repeating chords from a string section, building into a grooving lounge-type beat with vibraphone and guitar. And booyah, Carl is back, this time offering “the current scientific story of the universe” in which he explains the big bang theory as only he can. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt that Carl has masterful oratory skillZ (that’s skills with a capital Z), I think a key component here is the fact that the music builds and swells along with what he is talking about. The energy changes as his discussion goes on, which is kind of a fascinating format that I wish I knew more examples of. It’s like a long speech about interesting things, wrapped inside of a changing groove that switches density to add or subtract emphasis from the speech. That’s in contrast to what I was complaining about before, where a long expository quote tramples over the music; the equivalent of a one sided conversation where the music just can’t get a word in. That the music flows in tandem *with* the oratory is a pivotal distinction.

    “Degrees of Freedom” is also worthy of note; a pleasant, flowing groove that uses acoustic guitar above a mellow four on the floor beat.

    And then there’s my favorite jam on the album, called “System”. We hear astronaut samples for the first time, and it works so beautifully I really wish there were more cuts just like this. The song uses acoustic guitar and strings alongside a series of synthetic sounds in a very impressive melding of these disparate elements. The mood it sets is one perfectly suited to the “magnificent desolation” as Buzz Aldrin described. A kind of yearning but still graceful and full of wonder.

    This is a great album, full of musical cues that transport the mind on a journey across space and time, unlike anything else I can name. The two tracks marrying Carl Sagan samples with sweeping music that neither overwhelms his words, nor falls limply behind them–all while avoiding coming off as cheesy–make it a memorable listen alone. That Sheehan goes on to populate his odyssey with other compositions which stand on their own merits as clever sci-fi/science-y mashups make this album required listening for all nerdy types. This one is a touchstone for me, for all the reasons detailed herein.

    The Carl Sagan Most-Awesome-GIF-EVAR runner up


    2012 - 08.05

    He’s back, with another #1 summer jam! That’s right kids, it’s the Carl Sagan “deal with it” remix. Who could do it cooler, I ask? Obviously, no one.

    For obvs, guys. Obvs.

    A nice reminder


    2012 - 07.19

    Updated Jams in the Microcosmic Reel to Reel


    2012 - 03.17

    It pleases me greatly to violently rip the tablecloth off of two steaming hot electronic compositions which are now available for your aural enjoyment. They’re sort of polar opposites; one is very long, deeply complex, and took maybe a year to complete, and the other is under 4 minutes, and took maybe 4-5 evenings tops. Still, I’m proud of them both for different reasons.

    Sorry mobile viewers or RSS readers, you’ll actually have to view the site in a desktop browser in order to listen. Hit the play button between the spinning reels on the menu above and skip to tracks 2 and 4. If you don’t see it, navigate here and you should get it.

    Track 2 in the player is called “To Feel Good” and it’s a composition created over the course of many months of collaboration with my awesome friend Vincent. We used Reason and some Carl Sagan quotes from Cosmos to make this epic, meandering jam that refuses to quit. Out of everything I’ve ever done with Reason, this one may just take the award for longest and most complex composition.

    I’m seriously, really delighted with the outcome and proud of “To Feel Good”. Vince made excellent, large contributions here, and together I think we made something colossal! Definitely check it out. Obviously it’s the apple of my eye, so I’ll just stop hyping it up and let you listen.

    Track 4 is entitled “Bullshit Prickly Pear Soda” and it’s the first morsel of sounds worth sharing from the new Impulse 61! As much for my own sake as anything else, here is some reflection on the compositional process for BPPS, which reveals my typical production workflow as well as some new benefits from having the Impulse around:

    It started as a jam between myself and my buddy Luke who had come to visit. We used the drum pads to tagteam this beat, taking several passes to add elements one by one. That’s actually a pretty nice way to create a beat, since it gives you time to listen and you can be thoughtful about how what you’re adding fits into the existing rhythms. Second, Luke added the bassline. He was like “I don’t know what to play!” and I told him “just play anything man, it’ll sound cool!” Aaaaaand success.

    The third element was the synth which is introduced over the bassline, countering the space it fills. I ended up varying the last part of it just to keep things mixed up, much later in production. The fourth element was the nintendo-sounding square wave synth, which only interjects at the end of each loop. This element filled the remainer of empty space left by the main synth and the bassline. The more I listen, the more electronic compositions I find employ such framework: use sparse elements and have each one fill its own individual space, with no overlap. It’s a good formula.

    The very last thing that got added was the thick, constant 16ths rave-sounding synth that comes in last. Up to this point, everything was composed while just looping the same 4 bars over and over. The vast majority of my Reason compositions follow that formula; looping a phrase and adding elements on top, then arranging it all later. Arranging pretty much just consists of copying and pasting in various combinations until you’ve got a buildup, a plateau, a breakdown, maybe a B-section (this jam’s got one, which I added later), then a return to the A and a wind-down. Add some cymbol crashes and maybe some buildup sounds and bam, done.

    Having the impulse handy, I then did a few extra passes through the entire tune, automating various knobs and sliders as it played back. I was fairly shocked by just how much that adds. And sure, you can do that with the mouse, or “draw it” in reason, but the human element of twisting knobs adds something that mouse sort of… filters out. I definitely plan to do more of that going forward. This is only trial # 001!

    File these under “yesss”.

    There’s a beer called Kosmos? Then drink we shall.


    2012 - 02.12

    No further explanation required:

    Happy 77th to the poet of Science


    2011 - 11.09

    It’s Carl Sagan’s birthday today, November 9th. He’d have been 77. Today is a day to rejoice in the legacy he left behind, and maybe to lament his absence just a little too. Like so many other people he’s affected, I have a profound admiration for Carl. It’s hard to pin it down to one reason why, or even a small handful of reasons.

    Today in the news I read that the amusingly-named Russian “Phobos-Grunt” probe (ok, grunt is the Russian word for “dirt”) has apparently stalled in Earth orbit after launch. The probe was supposed to travel to Mars’ Phobos moon and return to Earth with samples of the soil. Roscosmos has a downright dismal failure rate of attempting to send probes to Mars. To the tune of 19 missions with partial sucess at best but mostly outright failures. The record was so lousy that they gave up for the last 15 years. So it’s some combination of ironic and sad that this one should fail too. The engineers still have a chance to get things back on track. We’ll see. But something that sort of sticks out in my mind is that while Russia is the traditional US rival, really we all lose when any attempt at space exploration fails. I think Carl was a big pusher of that kind of thinking. The idea that exploring space is all about expanding the boundaries of human civilization as a whole, about the survival of our species, and about the next leap in our evolution–from sea creatures, to land dwellers, to explorers of other worlds. From that point of view, to think of humanity as a contest of nations seems petty, narrow-minded, backwards. Feudal.

    Another sweet piece of news this week was that the team at JPL has instructed the Voyager 2 probe to switch over to secondary thrusters. The spacecraft radioed back that it had done so successfully. It’s 9 billion miles away and it took 4 days for the command-acknowledgement signal round trip. That’s amazing. The Voyagers have been rocking for 34 years now, older than I am, and still running. What a triumph for all those who worked on the probes; and also for every human. We have probes that have almost made it to interstellar space. Seriously, that’s a milestone for a lifeform. And they both carry a hello message from Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan. It’s perfect.

    Maybe if I wasn’t preoccupied with many other things this evening I’d try to make an apple pie from scratch as a tribute. Tonight I need to start packing for Bear Creek music fest, but there will probably be time to sneak in an episode of Cosmos and enjoy some time with Carl, one of the best humans of our times.

    Just THE BEST animated .gif ever, that is all.


    2011 - 09.21

    In 1987 Compuserve introduced the .gif format so that it could someday culminate in the perfect storm of kickassery that you now witness below.  At the time of its inception, it was never dreamed that the format would someday achieve this level of incredibleness. Now that it has reached its zenith with this image, heretoforth animated gifs shall ever be in a state of decline, never quite living up to the golden standard achieved here.

    Cloudy Sky Timelapse: A Taste of What’s Ahead


    2011 - 08.12

    As mentioned before, a goal of mine is to start getting into timelapse photography. In the words of Carl, “Recently, we’ve waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting.”

    I’ve done four different night-sky timelapses, each getting progressively better. I may yet post one of them, but I haven’t so far. I’ll lead off the timelapse posts with this short clip I compiled from around 300 photos of the clouds a couple weeks back. For those so interested, the exposure was 1/500th at f/8 with ISO100. This was actually done with the T2i that was briefly in my possession.

    More imporantly, the exposures were about 15-20 seconds apart (I don’t recall precisely, but it was inside that range). You can see how fast the clouds move! I had no idea they shifted so quickly. For my next attempt, I did the exposures 6 seconds apart, and that showed the cloud movement much more fluidly. I’ll post that one later when I figure out why the rendering always seems to come out choppy. I’ve had some rendering issues with these…

    Anyhow, here is my first, tentative step into the world of timelapse! It’s The Moment Of Genesis baby!… the instant when a once far-off dream makes its first step into being REAL. Gotta love the energy that comes off of a thing like that. Bodacious!

    (Yes, I did just say bodacious)

    You’re not CARL!


    2011 - 08.10

    Okay, so I’ve got a story and a news item worthy of mention on here, and I think they’ll work best in that order.

    Sometime last year I discovered Carl Sagan’s glorious COSMOS series. I had maybe seen snippets of it when I was quite young, but never sat down and tackled the whole series, at an age when I could really appreciate what was being said and the context. As said elsewhere on here, it blew me away, seeing it effectively for the first time at this stage in life.

    When I finished all the episodes and was still craving some more Sagan in my life, I decided to check out his books. Of course one of the appeals of COSMOS is Carl’s talent as an orator, so I sought out an audiobook copy of Pale Blue Dot. This I downloaded, and found out that it apparently (at least the copy I had) was narrated partially by someone else. There I was, sitting on the couch with the Kindle, reading along on the ebook version while the audiobook files played narration when some other dude’s voice took over. Like a seven year old I shouted in outrage “You’re not CARL!!” My girlfriend burst out laughing.

    Since then, the refrain “You’re not CARL!” has served as a vehicle to express dissatisfation when presented with anything that isn’t the geniune article. Example: Standing in the grocery store and all the raspberries are from Driscolli’s instead of Richter’s? “You’re not CARL!”

    Hehehehe, I like this method of mocking lesser imitators.

    ~ On to The News Portion ~

    So.  I read in the interwebs today that there is a television program called “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey” being produced by Seth MacFarlane (mister Family Guy, American Dad, etc), Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan’s wife and co-writer of the Cosmos series), and Steven Soter (who is the other main writer on Cosmos and an astrophysicist).   Starring Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famous popularizer of science/astronomy and Director at the The Hayden Planetarium in NYC.  Wait, WHAT?!

    They’re calling it a docu-series and it’ll be 13 parts long and air on primetime on Fox… of all places.

    Read the whole deal here, it really merits looking over.

    So yeah.  …What?

    I’m somewhere between elation and skepticism.  Seth MacFarlane??  Not sure how he fits into all this, but well, this whole deal could really be superb.  While Neil may not be Carl, as I was foreshadowing in the preamble, he IS a true astronomy warrior and decorated champion on his own right. Label me as cautiously quite optimistic.  We’ll all get to see in 2013 if that’s the right outlook.  I need more details…

    The original COSMOS leaves a whole lot to live up to.  The eloquence, the wide scope, the beautiful photography, a sweeping musical score, and just… the uplifting overall vibe of it; I think all that will be hard to recapture.  At least all the right people are clearly on the case here.  And prime time on Fox?  That’s exactly where it belongs, really.  Not on the discovery channel or PBS, preachin to the choir.  I think a dose of Sagan’s company is just what they need.  Awesome.

    I can just picture it now: