Off-The-Wall-michael-jacksons-short-films-10646021-600-436Well, that was a double bill I don’t think my emotional infrastructure should be put through again any time soon. Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation”, about that crucial Nat Turner -led uprising, was a remarkable piece of work, made all the more powerful by the huge and engaged audience of the Eccles Theater that I saw it in. Then I had to duck out (missing the Q+A sadly) in order to get across to the Library theatre in 20 minutes to see Spike Lee’s brilliant new documentary about Michael Jackson’s transition from Motown to the spectacular “Off the Wall” album. A proper music documentary for music lovers, really digging into all the musical details, reminding me of my formative years and beyond, and […] Click to continue reading this post

Compton Delight

compton_effectI forgot to mention that I saw some skywriting two days ago over Los Angeles that I took to be – of course – a celebration of the Compton effect. You know, when a photon scatters off a charged particle and loses energy? That. It’s so good to see physics being celebrated so exuberantly in the public sphere**.straight_outta_physics_2


**My wife, who I was with at the time, suggested to me that it was to do with someone called Dr. Dre, but I’m pretty sure that it was Dr. Compton who discovered that phenomenon, so I gently explained the discovery to her. Click to continue reading this post

Thankful for UnThanks

On the strength of Becky Unthank’s guest appearance on a wonderful and heart-rending song (“So to Speak”) on Sting’s fantastic 2013 album “The Last Ship”, I decided to hear more. Wonderful… It is impossible to properly describe Becky’s voice and the (sometimes terrifying) shivers it sends down my spine when she brings out certain aspects of it that somehow constitute a vocal embodiment of a warm sea breeze: rich, complex, open, vast, with shades of gentleness and power at the same time. I can’t explain it, which frustrates me since I am usually reasonably good at that. And Rachel’s voice is wonderful too, in a different way. And then the two together produce that other fantastic indescribable vocal phenomenon – sibling harmonies! See e.g. here.

And taken altogether (and with Sting’s album), they remind me fondly of the North East of England that I got to know for a while…the people of Newcastle, Durham, Sunderland and surrounding villages…Sigh*.


(*and reawaken a nostalgia for a time (of shipbuilding and the sea) that I really never knew. ) Click to continue reading this post

dublab at LAIH

(Click for larger view.)

Mark (“Frosty”) McNeill gave us a great overview of the work of the dublab collective at last Friday’s LAIH luncheon. As I said in my introduction:

… dublab shows up as part of the DNA of many of the most engaging live events around the City (at MOCA, LACMA, Barnsdall, the Hammer, the Getty, the Natural History Museum, the Hollywood Bowl… and so on), and dublab is available in its core form as a radio project any time you like if you want to listen online.

[…] dublab is a “non-profit web radio collective devoted to the growth of  positive music, arts and culture.”

Frosty is a co-founder of dublab, and he told us a bit about its history, activities, and their new wonderful project called “Sound Share LA” which will be launching soon: They are creating a multimedia archive of Los Angeles based […] Click to continue reading this post

Three Cellos

three_cellos_14_11_14These three fellows, perched on wooden boxes, just cried out for a quick sketch of them during the concert.

It was the LA Phil playing Penderecki’s Concerto Grosso for Three Cellos, preceded by the wonderful Rapsodie Espagnole by Ravel and followed by that sublime (brought tears to my eyes – I’d not heard it in so long) serving of England, Elgar’s Enigma Variations.


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Song for My Father, and for Horace Silver


On occasion I play this, one of my favourite songs, for my father, who passed away a few years ago. I’ll play it (“Song for My Father”) again for him, but now also for the composer/pianist who wrote it, Horace Silver, who died today. Thanks for the wonderful music.

This longer live version from a concert on Danish television in 1968. Horace Silver – Piano; Bill Hardman – Trumpet; Bennie Maupin – Tenor; John Williams – Bass; Billy Cobham – Drums: (Click below or here for the video embed – the still above comes from it.)

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Debate about Forever…

This is a good one from the Onion. (I’ve not looked in on them for a while, so this was a funny thing to return to see…*) The title says it all: “Top Theoretical Physicists, R&B Singers Meet To Debate Meaning Of Forever”. Extract:

[…] at the four-day symposium, where they grappled with extant questions regarding the concept of forever that remained unresolved, such as whether forever is better conceived as an infinite, four-dimensional expanse of space-time or, rather, what one second feels like when you’re away from your girl.

“For many years, the R&B community has posited the classic notion that forever is presumed to go on and on like our love,” said Edward Witten, a string theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study, who acknowledged that while time appears to extend unendingly, it is paradoxically composed of discrete moments such as a tender embrace or a single perfect kiss. “This assertion then raises a problem of even greater […]

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LA Phil Rock Star!

When calling to mind the Los Angeles Philharmonic, everyone’s (and all the posters’) focus is on Gustavo Dudamel, (or, the Dude, as I call him), all unruly hair and visible enthusiasm and so forth, and that’s great. He’s an excellent conductor. However, one of the unsung (as far as I know*) visibly spectacular performers of the LA Philharmonic is the excellent principal viola player whose name I do not know [update: see below*] who puts on the most remarkable physical performance every time I go (and presumably those other times too). Actually, the violist who sits next to her is also remarkable, since she manages without being distracted by her neighbour to maintain a very upright and solid, firmly planted, legs wide stance, in part providing a canvas upon which the viola player I first mentioned can splash bright splashes of movement all over the place! la_phil_sketch_28th_February_2014_smallShe rocks, sways, jerks, and contorts (sometimes even during quiet slow bits)- doing the craziest things with her legs, head, and bow arm, and so much of the time looks like she is about to spectacularly fall off her chair and wipe out at least half the viola section! This is why her colleague right next to her is also remarkable, as she acts as this wonderful un-distractable “straight man” to the physical pyrotechnics helping make them all the more remarkable by contrast. Last night I tried to capture some of the energy of the hyper-energetic viola player in a quick sketch (during […] Click to continue reading this post

Franklin Vs Watson and Crick

Wow! This is exactly the kind of thing I’ve been hoping to see more of! When the report on this started on NPR about having students do music and video about science topics, I groaned a bit (while making breakfast) when I heard the Watson and Crick mentions in the clip in the background, saying to myself that it is so unfair that once again, Rosalind Franklin is being forgotten and a whole bunch of kids will miss the opportunity to learn about the nuances involved in doing science, and miss that she did such crucial work on this most important discovery…. I continued making my coffee, listening to the report with half an ear…. and then! …more of the clip was played and a girl’s voice came on, singing a bit about Rosalind Franklin, and then I realized that this was exactly the story they were telling in the video*. The whole NPR report, by Adam Cole, is here, with a short video doc. It is about not just the Rap B.A.T.T.L.E.S. doing songs and videos about various science topics, but also about other programs as well, started by people such as Christopher Emdin at Columbia, and others. Excellent.

I’ve embedded the Franklin/Watson/Crick video below. It was made by students in the Bay area, guided by Tom McFadden at Stanford. I think this is great piece of work since they did a great job on production, particularly with casting and costuming everyone to play the principals, cutting in reaction shots and so forth… It’s a real film! And for a change, for a popular rap about science that a wide variety of young people might be attracted to, this time the music is actual contemporary rap (which usually means well thought out lyrics combined with rhythmic devices that are definitely post 1980s, and not just a bunch of lines recited over a corny background beat – see another excellent example at the end of this post) which is great! An amusing and poignant extract:
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Shorter Sweeter

I went to see Wayne Shorter last night! He’s still one of my favourite composers, so it was great to go and hear the work he’s been doing recently. It was a series of suites that have his quartet (with John Patitucci (bass), Brian Blade (drums), and Danilo Perez (piano)) accompanied by the LA Philharmonic to bring out, amplify, and explore a wider range of harmonies than you’d get with the quartet alone. It was a great evening, enhanced further by the fact that on two pieces, he had as special guest (singing on one and playing bass and singing on the other) Esperanza Spalding (who I’d seen recently at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam – post here), who I’ve now learned has a stunning voice! Stunning. Remarkable […] Click to continue reading this post

Music Matters

(Photo: Taken during the break in the back room at Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans. The Hot 8 were playing late into the night – super loud and energetic in the tiny space – and it was great. A really classic New Orleans sound.)

Having returned from the (excellent) New Orleans trip (lots of food, lots of music), I started to turn my attention to things like the final preparations for the Science Film Competition – the submissions are due Monday and the showcase is on the 23rd – and preparations for the lecture course on Electromagnetism I’ll be giving, starting Monday. But then I got hit by a virus, and yesterday was lost to the violent swings between freezing cold and boiling hot that accompanies an intense shivering fever. […] Click to continue reading this post


I’m in New Orleans for a few days. Exciting, as I’ve never been here before, but it has been on my list of cities to visit for a long time…

I thought I’d share with you the above photo of an important (to me) artifact that I visited in the old US Mint building, which has a number of exhibits. This is the cornet that, as a boy, Louis Armstrong leaned to play trumpet on!

This is sort of a big deal for me. It would be like finding a set of notebooks that the young[…] Click to continue reading this post