12 July 2008

memory and music association

felix sockwell ny tiimes

[Felix Sockwell - New York Times Illustration]

I am a HUGE fan of music. I think I always have been. I remember sitting in my room when I was little listening to B104 on the radio and calling in requests with my friends. I like a lot of different type of music too... Actually the variety out there is one of the reasons I think it's been such a big part of my life. There is something for every mood and situation. Music is also a great equalizer. It doesn't matter what you do or how you grew up a song can evoke the same emotions.

One of the most powerful things about music is the memory associations created. Anyone affected by music can tell you that hearing certain songs can transport you back to a specific time in your life instantly. For me any 80s song and it's summer with my friends or cruising around with my sister and our sitter. Classical music reminds me of my father. There is also one song that I don't even know the name of, but it brings me right back to a child fashion show at the local mall I participated in. I can even feel the itchy turtleneck they made me wear. The list goes on and on.

It's amazing how clear the memories evoked are as well. I mean sometimes I can't even remember someone's name 2 minutes after being introduced, yet I know the lyrics to more songs than I can count.

The American Psychological Society is just as interested in this phenomenon. A study published in the journal "Nature" used an MRI to see what parts of the brain are used while listening to music and it was determined that musical memories are stored in the brain's auditory cortex. The researchers also found that even when the music ended we still continue to "hear it in our head," which keeps the auditory cortex active helping to further establish the memory. In fact there is an additional burst of brain activity after the song ends, which is contrary to normal brain function. (Usually the activity occurs while something is actively being perceived.)

Researchers from McGill and Stanford have also discovered that using music for brain studies is ideal because listening to music activates nearly all known areas of the brain. Perhaps music's ability to use many senses is what makes it so powerful and long lasting. People were playing carved flutes long before they were writing books and it was also a primary means of passing on oral history for centuries.

Many feel that listening to music helps cognitive development hence the "Mozart Effect". Now, I'm not sure if listening to Beethoven or Mozart will make you smarter, but King George I of England did. He commissioned Handel's Water music to help him reduce stress and decrease memory loses.

Playing a musical instrument has been proven to take the power of music a step further. Scientists have found that many musicians have an increased ability with linguistics and word associations especially if they started playing at a young age. There is evidence that since music simulates both sides of the brain at the same time it in a sense exercises the brain helping it to process complex information throughout life.

So next time you hear a GREAT song appreciate the power of music. Not many things have the ability to evoke a memory or change your mood instantly. And thanks dad for making me listen to classical music, while I was growing up. Every little bit helps.

To read more:

MSNBC May 26, 2005 article

CBC News Canada August 5, 2007 article

Mozart Effect

Music and the Brain - Laurence O'Donnell

09 July 2008

kitchen landscapes

While researching collections for my graduate thesis one of my advisors shared with me the work of Monica Rosello and Jordi Guillumet. They published a small book of photographs of "alternative landscapes" made from arranging common kitchen equipment like a grater, string, shakers, baskets, espresso maker, and sponges to name a few. The book is called l'Armari de l'Arquitecte and it is in Spanish, so much was lost in translation, but the images were no less haunting.

rosello 1

[from l'Armari de l'Arquitecte]

2 rosello

[from l'Armari de l'Arquitecte]

3 rosello

[from l'Armari de l'Arquitecte]

While Chinese artist. sculptor Zhan Wang has taken this concept 10 steps further with his futurist interpretations of modern cities like London and San Francisco. Using mirrors, pots, plans, tea kettles, utensils and any other stainless kitchen utensil you can imagine he creates these scenes as part of his "Urban Landscape"

Most of Zhan's work is of abstract forms resembling stone/ rocks that have been coated in chrome, so these cityscapes are a departure from his normal repertoire.

His recent "On Gold Mountain" exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco on just closed in May. The exhibit featured interpretations of rocks from Sierra Nevada, but Zahn also created one of his urban landscapes of the city of San Francisco. Stunning or maybe a "blinding" is more appropriate!

zhan wang - san fran

[SAN FRANCISCO from io9 http://www.io9.com/]


[LONDON from Williams College Museum of Art http://www.wcma.org/]

These certainly put my cereal box John Waynesque western town from the third grade to shame.

For more information on Zahn Wang check out the following sites:




07 July 2008

the air car

air car

Motor Development International (MDI) may have a solution for breaking the world's dependence on oil! And the answer is...drum roll please...The Compressed Air Car!

Models like the CityCAT can hit up to 68 mph with a range of 125 miles. They can be made into a hybrid as well to extend the range.  The best part is that it costs only around $2.00 to fill up with compressed air! (it holds 340 liters of air) Coming in at an estimated cost of around $13,000 it's also affordable.

These cars are ZERO emission! In fact air motors generally release cleaner air than they intake due to the air filter. Cars that are actually purifying the air? What a concept. And unlike fuel cells or electric cars they don't have batteries, which means they are more easily recyclable.

models       taxi

[proposed models of the Air Car under-development]

The only catch is they are tiny! They actually make the smart car seem large. So don't count on seeing them any time in the United States because I doubt they would pass safety requirements. They actually sort of remind me of those Fisher Price Power Wheels for kids.

They go into production this year in India.

More information can be found on MDI's website: http://www.mdi.lu/

02 July 2008

lyman-alpha blobs


(Image from http://www.subarutelescope.org/)

I've been home sick the last few days, so it gave me ample time to catch up on my saved History Channel and Nova episodes. While watching "The Universe" series on the History Channel highlighting the largest things in the universe I was introduced to the Lyman-Alpha Blob.

My first question is who comes up with the names for these things? Blob is the best we could do?!? The Lyman Alpha part refers to the filter, which filters the Lyman-Alpha emission line of hydrogen and allows us to see these amazing formations.


(Image from http://www.subarutelescope.org/ the LABs are green. Each square is 620 thousand light years across)

The Lyman-Alpha Blob or LAB is a concentration of gas. On the show it was compared to a giant bubble except instead of gaining its shape from gravity and air it moves and grows based on amassed energy and heat. The gas inside is moving at an estimated 300 miles per second. They are also immense! Some are more than 200 million light years across! Compare that to the our GALAXY, The Milky Way, which is only 100,000 light years in diameter. (That's 3,000 times larger for those keeping score) They aren't just big, they are also quite beautiful ameba-esque formations, constantly shifting and growing.

fig6 fig5

(Image from http://www.subarutelescope.org/)

LABs are relatively recent discoveries having been first seen in 2000 using the Subaru Telescope of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan. Of course these LABs are so far away that we're really seeing what many of them looked like 12 million years ago. Scientist predict that the big bang was about 13.7 billion years ago, so 12 million is only a blip on the universal timeline.

Researchers believe these blobs are the precursors to the formation of large galaxies. So the blob is only a stage in a galaxies development. The blobs are regions where gas is collapsing under its own gravity in turn forming a galaxy. Some LABs have several galaxies already in their composition. With this discovery scientists hope to learn more about the cycle of a galaxy.

If this doesn't boggle your mind about just how large the universe really is then perhaps you should read up on the search for dark matter. There are so many amazing things out there in the universe!

I've done a fairly poor job of explaining these fascinating formations, so watch the video from the History Channel below to hear the experts give it a try! (Or go to http://www.history.com/video.do?name=The_Universe and watch The Universe: The Biggest Things in Space: Part II)