Space Oddity – Track by Track

Posted February 9th, 2014

Since finding my Stylophone, I wondered if anyone had transcribed the parts from Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, and to my surprise, I found YouTube videos of the individual tape tracks from the recording session.

Lead guitar and Stylophone


Backing vocal, flute, cello


Other tracks include bass and drums, acoustic guitar, and of course the lead vocal.

Deadline Riot: A Group NYE Resolution

Posted January 20th, 2014

I’ve joined the gang at Deadline Riot, a group blog for songwriters who are all attempting to write one song every week this year. So far I’m right on schedule and have contributed three new demos:

  1. At a Gas Station in Indiana – a fake Billy Bragg song.
  2. Shalott – a tiny jazz ballad.
  3. See the Little Goblin  - a Blackadder reference in song.

I suspect blog posts on songwriting will migrate over there for the year as well.

Quantum Theory and Dualism

Posted December 23rd, 2013

Via Neuroskeptic, a new paper in Brain and Cognition investigates the maximum affect Heisenbergian quantum uncertainty could have on synapses

Wildly waving toward the quantum world has been one major defense for dualist theories of mind – which posit that the mind is not reducible to the brain. It’s also the last line of defense (just above “magic”) for many people who wish to retain some notion of a soul.

As many have insisted must be the case, the numbers reveal that the Heisenberg uncertainty has no affect:

I conclude that Heisenbergian uncertainty is too small to affect synaptic function, and that amplification by chaos or by other means does not provide a solution to this problem. Furthermore, even if Heisenbergian effects did modify brain functioning, the changes would be swamped by those due to thermal noise. Cells and neural circuits have powerful noise-resistance mechanisms, that are adequate protection against thermal noise and must therefore be more than sufficient to buffer against Heisenbergian effects. Other forms of quantum indeterminism must be considered, because these can be much greater than Heisenbergian uncertainty, but these have not so far been shown to play a role in the brain.

This is unsurprising for anyone who recognizes the scale at which nerve cells interact – several orders of magnitude larger than  the quantum world. But it’s good to see people investigating this assumption.

Read “Neuroscience, quanitum indeterminism and the Cartesian Soul“ by PG Clarke.

Too Little Evidence, Too Much Speculation

Posted December 22nd, 2013

Last night I read the chapter of Electric Eden on Nick Drake (“Orpheus in the Underwood”), and shocked by the stories I hadn’t heard before, I summarized the last years of his life for Erin. This morning she found this nerve interview with author Trevor Dann, author of Darker Than the Deepest Sea: The Search for Nick Drake. Cannabis-induced schizophrenia, Asperger’s, dissociative identity disorder, and abuse are all floated as explanations for his withdrawn behavior. With a spread that wide-ranging and contradictory, it should be obvious to them that there either do not have the necessary evidence or do not have the necessary expertise. Both probably true in this particular case.

I’m wondering now about this cultural drive to – not just speculate – but to seek and defend definitive answers where it’s unlikely that we’ll ever be sure of one. Is it so difficult to remember someone like Drake by just the facts?

The Second Generation of Electric Folk

Posted December 21st, 2013

I was very happy to read this 1971 piece on Steeleye Span and Mr Fox, “the second generation” of electric folk, written by Karl Dallas for Melody Maker. He expresses exactly what attracts me to these two bands early 70s output: the diversity in the arrangements and the forsaking of standard rock cliches. Dallas notes

The carefully structured nature of their arrangements is one of the things which is tending to hold most electric folk bands back, I feel. The lack of room to manoeuvre has been very noticeable on recent appearances by Fotheringay and is possibly one cause of their lack of fire. The arrangement used by Steeleye and Fox are both pretty complicated so I think it will be a long time before they have finished exploring the potentials of them. In fact – and if this sounds contradictory, I’m sorry – Steeleye’s arrangements tend to be so complex that the essential words of the songs are sometimes swamped by so much music. This may be a balance problem added to the fact that Martin Carthy and Maddy Prior still basically sing in an ‘acoustic’ style and have not adapted themselves to the different techniques needed in a rock band.

Like the difference between the acoustic and electric guitars, the close miked voice of the rock singer is really a completely different instrument from the ‘acoustic’ voice which is merely amplified to carry it’s true tones into the far corners of a big hall.

I found this turn interesting because of the history of Steeleye Span, which I’ve noted here before, of turning into a rock band who happened to play traditional material. Prior certainly adapted more of a rock vocal style as the years went on, but this was accompanied by the band losing much of what made Please to See the King interesting: the sparse and delicate arrangements, with no drums and and no rhythm guitar strumming away for no other apparent purpose than to add volume.

What Is a Program?

Posted December 21st, 2013

In a series exploring the inner-workings of a computer, Mark at Good Math, Bad Math has written a better basic definition of program than is usually found elsewhere:

Back when people first started to study the idea of computing devices, they talked about computing machines as devices that performed a single, specific task. If you think about a basic Turing machine, you normally define Turing machines that perform a single computation. They’ve got a built-in sequence of states, and a built in transition table – the machine can only perform one computation. It took one kind of input, and performed its computation on that input, producing its output.

Building up from these specific machines, they came up with the idea of auniversal computing device. A universal computer was a computing machine whose input was a description of a different computing machine. By giving the universal machine different inputs, it could perform different computations.

The point of this diversion is that looking at this history tells us what a program really is: it’s a description of a computing machine. Our computers are universal computing machines; they take programs as input to describe the computing machines we want them to emulate. What we’re doing when we program is describing a computing machine that we’d like to create. Then we feed it into our universal computing machine, and it behaves as if we’d built a custom piece of hardware to do our computation!

Read more of “More Basics: Compilers, Programs, and Languages.”

An Interview with Scott Aaronson

Posted December 21st, 2013

Via Robby Bensinger, an excellent interview with Scott Aaronson on the insight mathematics and the sciences can shed on philosophical problems.

Many interesting philosophical puzzles boil down to what it means to know something: and in particular, to the difference between knowing something “explicitly” and knowing it only “implicitly.” For example, I mentioned in my essay the example of the largest “known” prime number. According to the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, that number is currently 2^57885161 – 1. The question is, why can’t I reply immediately that I know a bigger prime number: namely, “the first prime larger than 2^57885161 – 1″? I can even give you an algorithm to find my number, which provably halts: namely, starting from 2^57885161, try each number one by one until you hit a prime! Theoretical computer science has given us the tools to sharpen a huge number of questions of this sort, and sometimes answer them. Namely, we can say that to know a thing “explicitly” means, not merely to have ANY algorithm to generate the thing, but to have a provably polynomial-time algorithm. That gives us a very clear sense in which, for example, 2^57885161 – 1 is a “known” prime number while the next prime after it is not. And, in many cases where mathematicians vaguely asked for an “explicit construction” of something, we can sharpen the question to whether or not some associated problem has a polynomial-time algorithm. Then, sometimes, we can find such an algorithm or give evidence against its existence!

Read more of “Scott Aaronson on Philosophical Progress.

David Bowie Live in 78

Posted November 30th, 2013

Despite the folk rock I’ve been posting, I’ve had the synth-bug for a couple months now and have been revisiting favorite albums made with analog synths. I spent Friday morning listening to the entirety of Bowie’s Low. I hadn’t saved much of the mostly-instrumental second side to my MP3 player, but I was paying particular attention to those tracks that morning. Each one makes me wonder what would have appeared on the scraped soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Reading the Wikipedia entry for the Eno co-authored “Warszawa“, I was struck by this paragraph:

It was used as a live opener on Bowie’s 1978 and 2002 tours. Rather than quickly delving deeply into loud rock music, the song was used to intentionally provoke the audience into a calm, holding them initially in deep suspense. Bowie’s choice to maintain a low profile during 1978 was expressed through his entrance to the stage during this song, not singing, but simply sinking into the band and playing the Chamberlin until his cue to sing the lyrics.

So I looked up a live version, and just happened to find a 1978 Japanese concert film: