Sharks on an Ideal Plane

There gets to a point when writing a PhD chapter, when you are on your third gin and tonic for the evening, that one should turn one’s attention outwardly. I’d like very much to share thoughts about my research but the very first thing they teach you in PhD school is that no-one else is interested in your topic, by virtue of being so obscure that it bears no relevance to the lives of others.

Instead I’ll do some calculations.

It seems to me rather odd, in this age of missing planes and controversial shark attacks, that interested parties (airlines and environmentalists, etc) frequently employ statistics to reinforce the fact that these events are exceptionally rare. And yes they are, by-and-large, though perhaps the most spectacular evidence that all is not what it seems, lies in the massive differences of the massive orders of magnitude in such material. And if one person is fit to recognise improper uses of statistics it is I, largely through my own severe transgressions.

Sharkplane

Had I used the right shark, I could have called this picture ‘Tiger Airways’ and been appropriate on so many levels.

Earlier this year I came across a promotional poster actually pitting plane crashes and sharks against each other – in favour of sharks I believe (something to the order of hundreds/thousands times more likely to crash than be consumed), which piqued my interest as these are two of my more intimate* fears, and also as I touched upon with that shark-toaster comparison a while ago, I realised that there are far, far, far, far too many factors in plane-shark relations to effectively compare them.

So let’s compare them.

* By intimate I mean that the number of dreams I’ve had involving planes and plane crashes are literally equal. I think become so accustomed I’d be super-demure if I was involved in an actual fiery descent. And also I’ve had a youthful encounter with a carpet shark in the wild and watched Jaws a little early.

Probability of death in an air accident if you never fly and permanently reside in a bomb shelter or other secure underground complex: Approximately 0

Probability of death via shark attack if you never go in or near any sizeable body of water, nor be near a shark in transit, nor otherwise encounter a shark: Approximately 0

Probability to ensure a plane accident (1): Assuming consecutive 1 hour flights you’d need 114.077 years according to some calculations. Given there are a handful of verified people who have lived past that age, you could potentially spend your life working towards that particular goal.

Probability to ensure a shark encounter (1): Assuming 1 million life-threatening sharks (according to my last ‘study’) each with a 5km blood detection range (78.54km^2) equally spaced, makes for a 78 537 816 km squared area of ocean currently under shark-veillance; meaning 23.42% of the world’s oceans are currently detectable by sharks. Totally inaccurate, but let’s go with it. Assuming a cruising speed of 8km/hour in straight lines, it would take our imaginary shark formation 19.635 hours to leisurely cover an entirely new 23.42%, and 84 hours to complete detecting all the earth’s oceans. So if you were adrift in the ocean, basically in the time for an equally-spaced shark to ‘certainly’ detect you (3.5 days) you’d be dying from, ironically, thirst.

We're going to need a bigger boa. :D

We’re going to need a bigger boa. :D

So in fanciful summary, both planes crashes and shark attacks are something you could (I guesstimate) live to reasonably expect, but only towards the very end of your life in each situation. However, if you took to human shark-baiting in convenient instalments, it would become much more attainable, and there is probably a strong correlation between amount of human-shark numbers/proximity and attacks, whereas flights are more quantitative and can only take finite passengers (one hopes). Anyway, the moral is that both these situations could conceivably become either a statistical certainty OR a statistical impossibility, depending on person, country, airline choices, frequency, stupidity, rugged determination, weather, preferred swimming times, etc, etc, etc.

So don’t.

Pianifestos and Quay-fish.

*Rant Warning* This post contains statements with moderate to severe levels of sarcasm and rage.

In 2008, I encountered my first street piano. Coincidentally, this was the very year that street pianos became a thing officially - an international project by Luke Jerram. Briefly, he (or possibly his minions) acquire old 2nd-hand uprights and place them on the street, where people may play them at will.

Anyway, it was in Sydney that this encounter occurred (I was not living here at the time) on a wander around Circular Quay (pronounced “Circular Qway”); I heard the faint, honky-tonk strains of a piano coming from near the contemporary art gallery. Someone was playing something … I don’t remember exactly what, but I was amazed by the concept. Whenever I’ve encountered pianos in the wild, they either normally come with ‘Don’t play’ signs, are locked, and/or everyone seems to be ignoring them like that old room-full-of-monkeys-cold-water-and-a-banana paradigm. Google the latter if need be.

But this was different. It said ‘Play Me, I’m Yours.’ I do remember playing some Brahms Horn Trio on it, going off to see the gallery and later coming back to play some more. Encouraging public performance. Unthinkable! Liberating! I spent over a week wandering randomly and locating ever more pianos scattered around Sydney, playing little more than a perfect cadence on each to establish its playability before going off in search of more.

See!

I even took a photo!

But there was a dark side. Little did I realise that this seemingly wonderful project would soon inflict a rather unique form of dysfunction upon society. I can’t really think up a suitable name for it (I later did, piano hog-ism), so I will describe it. The street piano ideal is supposed to encourage lots of things; the curious with no musical experience tinkering for fun, children playing things they’ve just learnt, even professionals doing publicity stunts, all the while making music and expression happen in everyday public life. Wonderbar [sic].

What it doesn’t take into account is that often lots of people would like to have a go at a given piano as they pass it by. So they gather around the current performer, adding to the crowd of spectators. Mr Current Performer is playing something that requires two chords of arpeggios and would probably come from Twilight were it not completely improvised. The’ve not had formal training, but watched some Youtube videos of how to recreate favourite hits on piano with only two fingers and a truckload of looking like an affected, romantic musician. They reassure themselves they are being suave.

Yes

Artist’s Impression Stage one…

After doing this for 10 minutes or so they decide to finish and look up. What an amassed crowd! And crowds, habitually at the very least, are biologically programmed to applaud at the end of performances. So they do. Encouraged and emboldened, the current performer decides to give them more of what they want, choses two new chords and launches off again. Some now bored spectators depart, only to be replaced by new ones, drawn by the crowd size, and with a fresh sense of wonderment. Those who still wish to play linger on. The pianist concludes after an eternity. The applause is still fresh and enthusiastic! Well I never!

Evidence 3

Artist’s Impression Stage Two

This goes on for some time. After a while, the pianist notices you. You’ve been there for either 40 consecutive minutes and 3 waves of renewable clapping, or even after much longer time intervals as you return to see if they’ve finished. ‘What could it be that you’re after?’ they ask themselves. The realisation dawns on them. ‘More of my wonderful playing of course!’ Mistaking the daggers in your eyes for captive stares and touched that they have such a dedicated fan, they continue this process unrelentingly until such time that a total absence of audience coincides with that brief, hopeful surfacing for recognition.

Artist’s Impression Stage Three…

Basically, the process is a cycle:

A) Belief that playing the piano to any level is such a rare gift that it is inconceivable that anyone in the crowd would also want to play the piano. (This is unlike swings in the playground for instance, or looking through a public telescope; in these cases a natural queuing system exists and though people may wildly appreciate one’s prowess on the swing set, one would always have an awareness that others may want a turn. The street piano concept represses this awareness.)

… that leads to:

B) Belief that a crowd must therefore only be present as spellbound moths to the flame, and the performer has a duty to keep going as long as there is an audience (unaware that people come and go).

… which eventually leads to:

C) Applause, which means ‘Encore!’ Thus the performer believes they are creating something magical, which leads us back to A).

There are many varieties of the piano hog (there I named it!).

Sometimes they hunt in pairs or packs (as those in my last post), clunking and singing away at Beatles hits before swapping roles, creating the illusion of giving others a turn, when really just keeping it ‘in the family’ as it were, and providing a perpetual, mutually admiring audience of one at all times. An unhealthy, symbiotic relationship.

Sometimes the piano hog is territorial. It is the guy who spends multiple hours on the same piano everyday on his way home from work, repeating the same few pieces. It is his ritual. This species builds up a library of all the passer-by compliments they received over time to cement their position of absolute dominance and validate their authority over the piano and interprets prospective performers as upstart rivals. Anyone who happened to be playing upon his arrival is met with a terse ‘I’ll take it from here, thank-you-very-much.’ Meanwhile, somewhere out in Hampstead, a marriage deteriorates as a partner dines alone. Again.

Occasionally, the rarer breeds emerge. For instance, and for want of a better name, the I-actually-have-playing-piano-anonymously-as-my-career-path-but-i’m-not-getting-paid-osaurus. Often advanced in age, the above specimen is often seen dressed up especially in patched tuxedo or pinstripe suit, playing ragtime and putting on a show, like an amusement park character on a three-hour shift to accompany silent movies. However, this is not an amusement park, but Kings Cross, St Pancras. A relic from a bygone era (not even their own bygone era; silent movies had all but died out by the 1940′s), they rely on pity to a great extent, having gotten all prepped to come in and play they truly look as though they belong there. Asking them to move on would be like telling the sad, loyal old man who continued to make wooden barrels* unpaid on the doorstep of your father’s barrel factory in the decades after it closed down that the demolition team had already commenced countdown, and that the new Krispy-Kreme store that will replace the soon-to-be crater of his former, husk-like life has a strict no-barrel-maker hiring policy, and besides, he’s much too old. As you do.

Logo

My left-handed attempt at the Krispy Kreme logo via a remarkably unresponsive online drawing program.

So in conclusion, I must emphasise my gripes with the piano hog are not with his or her technical proficiencies or chosen repertoire. Indeed the most healthy aspect of the street piano is its encouragement of everyone. Instead, it is that most often those with marginal (as opposed to none)-to-moderate pianistic ability, sometimes have a strong tendency to lose awareness in regards to over-staying their welcome, becoming quickly addicted to positive public receptions. This quashes other peoples’ piano opportunities, not only other passing kenner und liebhaber pianists, but the curious and the to-be-inspired who perhaps had never had a chance to play a piano; the whole point of the project. To the piano hog I’d suggest that the swing-set etiquette analogy may perhaps serve as a useful guide: Have a good swing by all means! Enjoy peoples’ reaction to your impressive heights and death-defying leap off into the sand. But know when to stop, don’t ignore the queue and get right back on. Kthxbai.

*A surprising amount of quandaries regarding things such as classical music’s meaning and role in today’s society can be resolved quite effectively if you replace ‘classical music’ with ‘barrel’ and solve for y.

Morris On!

Dear reader,

I realise with great trepidation that it has been some months since I have gathered together enough inspiration to compose something of any literary worth. Said hiatus was caused by an inundation of several projects and PhD work, but also by the lengthy ordeal of relocating away from the crazy cat man in the wee hours of the morning (to avoid detection) and now slowly recovering from the psychological trauma in a much, much nicer environment.

On the bright side, one of these projects I’ve finished was a fun new piece for a very eclectic mix: Clarinet, Violin, Cello, and Jazz trio (Piano, Bass and Drums), and also Morris Dancers. It was commissioned especially for the ‘All In The Wash’ concert on 24th of May, (Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane, Australia) where it will be performed by the excellent musicians of Collusion and Trichotomy combined.

Without further, vital, ado, here’s the cover page of it:

Morris Title 22

I absolutely hate program notes. Well, a certain kind of program note … I’m sure I’ve ranted about it in the past before. But if I did write a more tolerable explanation of the piece (which admittedly is necessary in this case … I think I may subconsciously be making these pieces unusual to justify having program notes) it’d be this:

What’s the piece like? It’s very folk/Grainger affected music, on top of major jazz and rock considerations; changing moods frequently, but generally upbeat, cringe-worthy and danceable. The theme for the commission was ‘Morris Dancing,’ and there will be choreography in the concert, so it is constantly bouncing around in 4/4 until an intentional change occurs. I personally evaluated the Morris-ability of it using two ShamWows.

MORRRRRISS ON MAN

All the single morris dancers, put your hands up! Oh. That’s all of you. #causeandeffect

Grande Sonata Brillante? Yup, that’s the title. The intention was to directly clash with the expectations of the kind of person who’d go to see a piece called ‘Grande Sonata Brillante’ i.e.; a lush, romantic work for flamboyant piano virtuoso. Instead it’s a democratic chamber work for mixed genres and mediums, with the surreal Morris concept undermining it all. The cover is also intended to reflect this clash.

What’s with the two guys on the front cover? Storytime: They are from a photo taken last year in a French park. This park had a public “play me, I’m yours” piano (itself a curious topic) under a gazebo, and these two gentlemen spent at least an hour repetitively hacking and belting away at Beatles and Elton John hits. (I’ll elaborate as part of a separate post later- the piano hacking itself I have no aesthetic qualms with. For our present story’s purpose, it was the sheer domination of the poor piano for such an extensive period, while feeding off each other’s encouragement to create an unrelenting and deluded atmosphere of pseudo-pop-star-dom that is relevant.)

Anyway, eventually they were torn off the piano (by a family of small children I recall), and eventually my turn came around. The photo was taken while I was playing some Grainger, forever capturing the moment like the amber-mosquitos in Jurassic Park. I savour their interpretable expressions of disgruntlement, offended-ness, or as a friend remarked “as though they’d had their raison d’etre stolen away.” Which is also the kind of reaction I’m aiming for in the above fictional ‘Grande Sonata Brillante’-hoping audience.

Comic Sans? The use of Comic Sans is not a severe oversight on my behalf, though it did take a lot of deliberation. Whether tis nobler to have people amused at the overstated un-subtlety of it, or risk them silently assuming to themselves: “poor Philip, he mustn’t know much about design” and leaving large mounds of outrageous pity at my doorstep.

Anyway. That’s at least something for now – I’ve been wanting to do a post on public pianos in more detail for some time and shall do that next. But if anyone is in or near Brisbane, totes come to the concer… wait. Why did autocorrect accept ‘totes’ as a word? Oh, of course ‘to carry’. Totes around etc. Anyway, TOTES come to the concert in May!

:D

Blanket Statements

Abstract painting has always been something I avoided. Despite the exploratory tack I desperately like to take with music, being relatively untaught in the art-realm I tend to cautiously stick to the knee-deep waters of photo-realism, where I can judge how effective a painting is purely by how much it looks like the thing I am painting.

Nailed it.

The most exciting thing I found to draw in Bangalow… Nice place though.

The treacherous, murky currents further off-shore contain pretentious, vague beasts of prey, just waiting to pounce when an art student submits a blank canvas with the word “Future” written on it in sparkly glitter. I was going to say clear gelatine, but that might actually be profound, because in the ‘future’ while it is sitting in the garbage, a colony of ants will probably come along to eat the crystals and thus illuminate the word with their bodies… Apart from a woeful tale of artistic anguish and futility, the moral of the story here is that you can justify anything* with enough of an explanation.

*Indeed, I once told a concert audience that the piece I was playing; “Canteyodjaya” by Olivier Messiaen, was written when he was twelve years old and named after his pet axolotl. This is of course completely** untrue, not to mention utterly ludicrous, but, said with a straight face, it was met not with laughter, but with blank stares, approving nods and knowing smiles. Ironically, I later received one of my best gigs that day from a member of the audience who ‘liked the way I spoke (spake?).”

**probably and hopefully.

???

Axolotls can regrow vital organs, including parts of their brains.

But I digress.

Yes, I have taken my first steps into this notorious tide by taking up the palate knife rather than the brush and attempted a non-photo-realistic portrait. Due to the new lack of detail, and the often inadvertent, but welcome, special-effects of the palate knife medium, I am ashamed to say that instead of the usual 2-month effort, I completed this painting in 2 days; one session doing a rough background coat and the other the actual painting.

It is of Molly, the chocolate labrador, from Lake Cathie, on new years eve, with a blanket.

It is of Molly, the chocolate labrador, from Lake Cathie, on new years eve, with a blanket.

On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring

Rant Warning. This is a rant. (It’s been a while)

“What fresh hell is this?”

That is my initial thought upon hearing any noise coming from outside.

You see, we have moved into what we thought was a nice and reasonably-priced apartment. During the inspection we saw a couple of cats and thought nothing of it (I’m very much a cat-person despite always owning dogs and indeed, the prospect of having a trio of someone’s pet cats around was actually an attractive feature), but within a few days of moving in the true colours came out: It’s not an apartment, but actually a crazy old man’s feral petting zoo.

Catacular

Connect the dots and it makes a fish.

Allow me to introduce our subject. He is old, senile, indecipherable (both from a poor grasp of English and the nonsensical fragments that do make it past that particular filter), and only ever wears pyjamas and a dressing gown. But, oh my, most significant of all is the delightful personality cocktail of extreme paranoia with a twist of contradictory ineptitude that combine to make a world outside my window one that defies any sort of logic.

You see we have a cat problem. Problem is an understatement. Usually it means someone’s pet coming at night and sitting on your lavender bushes. At a more intense level it signifies a small group of cats that consistently like to sit on your porch. To the most extreme degree I’ve found on the internet it’s a group of feral cats that are attracted to some kindly old widow feeding the kitties out of kindness until they breed into a veritable hoard. That’s the extent of the problem for which there are ready solutions.

Solutions like Molly, the slightly-cross eyed chocolate labrador puppy with a tendency to annoy sleeping cats.

Solutions like Molly, the slightly-cross eyed chocolate labrador puppy with a penchant for annoying sleeping cats.

Unfortunately, our situation is much worse: not only is there is a massive flock of somewhere between 25-30 individual, feral specimens residing in our back parking area, but we have the aforementioned Pyjama-Man standing on Sauron-like guard almost literally 24/7. From all evidence it appears when he and his wife are not either out on their balcony lobbing meat at the cats (and my car until I moved from my parking space to the street) or out there feeding them from a large bowl, they must simply withdraw to just behind the thin curtains and watch.

Nothing escapes their notice or suspicion and whenever someone walks into the territory it is only a short matter of time before he appears, suspiciously inspecting the path they took on the lookout for traps and reverting whatever changes were made (even cleaning the area) to their original cluttered state to provide disguised shelters for the cats. For instance my only effort so far to help the problem was to spray deterring eucalyptus oil along the fence. Sure enough, later that afternoon, he was out there with a hose (it’s mostly a concrete space) watering everything in sight and ranting loudly (though presumably he didn’t think I could hear him). Similar attempts (or perceived attempts) by other neighbours result in the search-and-destroy mission or an unending hosing down.

The situation is such that he has continuously been told not to feed the cats by his neighbours (though I avoid him), landlord and real estate, but his response to this is a confusing mix of pure denial, saying he’s only feeding one single cat he ‘owns,’ the phrase “this is the way it’s been done for 25 years”, or my favourite, resigned outrage at the fact that the ‘spirit of kindness’ is dead coupled with a sad, rant-filled token act of driving away the cats ‘for good.’ He has done this tirade twice in the past two months … Cats are still there. You see, like the humble shark, the PM is most active in his activities after dark, which is when one of these illogical aspects come to the fore. Like clockwork, our stealthy hero waits until the silent hour of 1am before going out for the main feeding sesh, but then proceeds to make all manner of cat-talk, clapping, splattering, bucket splashing and other assorted noises for a further hour. Even if I turn on all the house lights to indicate I’m still awake he still does not relent in his not-so-secret ritual.

Gosh he’s out there right now. And probably as you read this as well.

Now the cats themselves are not your typical strays, but are born and bred ferals; scared and defensive towards humans, not desexed (there have been three separate litters in the past two months) and the subject of many illnesses and afflictions. Were the kittens taken early enough they could be fostered out and lead long happy lives. Yet Pyjama Man bothers not with this; he cares not for their health, only their legion numbers. Futhermore, his veiled boasting of owning a gun and his very unsound mind, make it disturbingly unclear as to whether anyone else is allowed to take any sort of veterinary care of his ‘non-existent’ cats. I’ve overheard him telling another neighbour he’d ‘give his life for the cats.’ One thing is obvious – attempted trapping of cats for any desexing, fostering program will result in their immediate liberation, one way or another.

Caaaats. Caaaats. Cats-cats-cats-cats-Caaaats.

Caaaats. Caaaats. Cats-cats-cats-cats-Caaaats.

So yes, he’s illogical, uncommunicable, unrelenting, paranoid, possibly unstable and fostering a massive hoard of unhealthy and uncontrolled feral cats, getting in car engines, killing wildlife, and spraying everywhere to the extent that would stun the most experienced Melbourne Cup plumbing contractor .

Sigh. Any suggestions welcome, though keep in mind the unstable, uncommunicable, and unrelenting part! Something tells me we’re moving again.

Rant over, thank you for either sitting though it or storming off. :D

Seventeen Fifty-Two: A Story of Literal Musical Growth.

Seeing writhing masses of musicians graduating each year, like lemmings into the void of uncertainty, makes me wonder just where their little corpses wash up.

We can probably never know for sure, but one can guestimate the extent of this movement, so I did some quick calculations.

Beethoven as I Knew Him

Ludwig Van as I Knew Him (Musician No. 148393)

Verily, it appears by averaging undergraduate graduation rates from American conservatories* (though they significantly vary between 40-85%), they generally settle around the 65% mark. Furthermore cohort size varies dramatically too, but let’s under-ball and assume cohorts of 50 are taken in per year – meaning 32.5 graduates are churned out at the end per music school.

*I chose America because there’s a large diversity of schools to average plus there’s a good public-knowledge website for graduation rates…

So thanks to the appropriately titled list on wikipedia I counted about 549 schools of music around the world. This means about 17843 new music graduates every year. Let’s “assume” this number will remain consistent for now.

The average lifespan of countries with music schools is approximately 79 years so if graduates graduate before the age of 23, by the time the first batch get old and die all at once on their 79th birthday (which they all share), and at which point equilibrium will be reached (i.e. as many new graduates as dying ones) then there will be the tantalising number of 999 208 music graduates in the world!

Assuming this is retrospectively the case for living memory, and as we made relatively low assumptions in the first place (some major university cohorts are in the thousands!), one can probably say with a comfortable yet vague sense of accuracy that there are over a million ‘trained’ musicians in the world at the moment.

This leads to a more interesting aspect:

Trained Musician Population Over Time.

The Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia is apparently the world’s oldest musical institution, founded in 1585. Before this point there were zero musical ‘graduates’.

With our two points of data (and you only ever need two, right?) we can plot a nice graph with a power regression as follows:

Musicians over time

Musicians over time

So, according to the regression y=x^2.280997725 the number of the graduate musicians will reach 5 million before the year 2400. Unfortunately this rate is considerably slower than population growth models, so musicians will ultimately become less and less of an overall percentage over time. By dividing a human population growth formula against the above regression, we can calculate that at the moment there is one music graduate for every 7233 people in the world.

Yet in 100 years the ratio will be one musician for every 17457 people. Curiously, according to this method (and it’s totally way off) the most densely musician-populated year in history was 1752, where there were 1778.55 people per trained musician.

1752 was a leap year, eye-gouging was declared a criminal act and Muzio Clementi was born. Clearly it just went downhill from there.

Compiled Clementi

Muzio Clementi: The Beethoven of his era…

Lost in Tranlston

So it turns out that one can make a pretty extensive start on a doctoral dissertation armed only with Google and some pretty obscure squiggles that may or may not be in German, written over 100 years ago. Anyone who can interpret the following will be awarded an amazing prize* because I have no idea:

What?

I think it says ‘Aowiw lz Oardanier’ but Google Translate says no and I don’t think it means anything in English.

*Despair* Suggestions are welcome. That aside, being without means of creativity and in a small room with a big box of M&Ms, I delve once more into the realm of my previous artistic endeavours in a feeble attempt to keep this blog’s head above water in these turbulent times.

Thence introducing Hannah, the talented author of Not All Who Wonder Are Lost, whom I sketched about a year ago. For the first time ever (excepting that rather ineffectual effort with Ella Grainger) I decided to take regular photos during the process in order to make a time-lapse progression. Without further ado.

Hannah

The final result being:

And FinalAh. It’s nice to deal with a tangible art form for a change. Poor Etruscans.** The original title for this post was “Never Look a Gif Horse in the Mouth.” I’d always assumed the phrase was a reference to the Trojan horse legend: meaning if you looked inside the Greeks would know you knew they were there and attack at once. Apparently the actual meaning is much less violent in that horse-age can be determined by the length of their teeth, so if you looked at the mouth of the horse someone gave you as a present you were trying to determine/judge the value of their gift.

*Seriously.

**The Etruscans’ language is basically extinct as of over two and a half millennia ago, or something like that.