MonthApril 2004

More Quadratic Ridiculousness

     I started an Ask Metafilter thread on the quadratic equation songs I wrote about the other day, and got a few more submissions. In case you’re keeping score at home, so far I’ve been told of versions sung to the tune of the following familiar melodies:

  • Frere Jacques.
  • Pop Goes the Weasel
  • Row, Row, Row your boat
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
  • The Notre Dame Fight Song
  • The U of M fight song
  • Jingle Bells
  • Ballin’ the Jack

     For some reason, I had never heard of ‘Ballin’ the Jack.’ Maybe it’s just me. Turns out its a 1913 rag that sparked a gigantic dance craze. Gelling nicely with yesterday’s post, Harry Nilsson even recorded a version of it. Just to add to the useless trivia – here’s some info on where the phrase ‘Ballin’ the jack’ comes from, via this newsgroup thread.

     “The “Historical Dictionary of American Slang” says that “ball the jack”
means: to go fast (said espcially of a railroad train), make haste; (hence)
to run away. The 1913 quote from a well-known ragtime song gave the phrase
wide currency and referred specifically to a dance step presumably
introduced by the song. Whether the phrase itself was coined at the same
time is uncertain. This reference is to the Jim Burris and Jim Smith song
called, “Ballin’ the Jack” as in…”and that’s what I call ballin’ the
jack.”

     So there you are. There are all kinds of references to useages of
“ballin the jack”
but not a word as to what “ballin” (in this context) or “jack” (in this
context) mean. What an elusive phrase. Sure it means, “make the train go
fast” but why does it mean that?

     From the Glossary in the back of Lucius Beebe’s “High Iron” (1938):

JACK: Locomotive.

     Unfortunately, there is no reference to ‘ball the jack’. Maybe ball is
short for highball:

HIGHBALL: Signal for clear track, deriving from the first train signals
which were in the form of painted metal globes hoisted to the crossarm of
a tall pole when trains were to proceed….

     Given that a “Jack” is a loco, and to run on a clear signal (Highball)
is to “Highball” the train, it’s probably most likely a contraction:
‘ballin’ the Jack…or running the train at top speed on clear signal.

     You can download a recording of ‘Ballin’ the jack’ for free from Amazon via this link.

     Be on the lookout for my next band: ‘Quadratic Invasion.’ Our reportoire will consist exclusively of these different arrangements of the quadratic equation… as they would sound if performed by (early) Beatles.

MP3 of the week – 'Vine St.'

     Another half-baked idea that I may or may not follow through on is to put up a new MP3 every week and write a little bit about it. Here’s the first installment.

Harry Nilsson – ‘Vine St.’

From: Nilsson Sings Newman (1970)

     There’s a nice summary of the song, on this Randy Newman site:

     “One of Newman’s truly original compositions, “Vine Street” strings together a trick intro, barbershop harmonics, split-second key changes, multiple bridges, and sudden fade-outs, all set to semi-autobiographical lyrics about starting out in the music business.”

     Taken from an entire album of Newman covers by Harry Nilsson, a friend and I recently had a drunken conversation about how the arrangement of the Nilsson version the best. The best part of the song as far as I’m concerned is the ‘song within a song’ device that Newman uses – if you listen (or examine the lyrics below), you’ll see that partway through the song there’s a drastic shift where the narrator references the first half of the song as a wholly separate song. Meta-song?

     This was the only example of such a thing I could come up with until this morning in the shower, when I realized that the new D12 single, ‘My Band,’ does something similar, including a bit from a purported future single: ‘My Salsa.’ I’m not sure if this ‘counts’ yet, my brain is still conflicted. I’ve included the lyrics to ‘Vine St.’ below, along with the relevant sections of the ‘My Band’ lyrics.

     If you can think of any other songs within songs, let me know or post in the comments, because I’m all about that. I should probably make clear that I’m not looking for songs that reference other songs – there are a billion examples of that; and I’m not looking for songs that simply reference themselves – that’s every hip hop single ever. I’m looking for songs that appear and are referenced within a song. Yes.

Update:

     I just heard the Van Dyke Parks version of ‘Vine Street,’ and the intro song is different. Crazy.

‘Vine St.’ Lyrics:

My baby left this morning

With everything I had

She didn’t give me no warning

And that’s I feel so bad

I need her, I need her

I need some sympathy

I need her, I love ya

Come and sit by me



That’s a tape that we made

but I’m sad to say

it never made the grade



That was me: third guitar

I wonder where the others are?



Vine Street

We used to live there on Vine Street

She made perfume in the back of her room

while me and my group

would sit out on the stoop

and we’d play for her

the songs she liked best to have us play



On Vine St.



Vine Street

the crack of the backbeat on vine street

swingin’ along on the wings of a song

lying secure, self righteous and sure

wild with things we’d say

if the people would pay to have us play



On Vine St.

     Having seen the Family Guy episode featuring Randy Newman (mp3) for the first time last night, it’s hard to take the lyrics too seriously, but I still think it’s a great song. There’s a similar MAD TV parody of Newman (which also involves Star Wars) here.

‘My Band’ Lyrics:

My salsa, look out for my next single, it’s called My Salsa…

My salsa, salsa, salsa, salsa, my salsa

Makes all the pretty girls wanna dance

And take off their underpants

My salsa makes all the pretty girls wanna dance

And take off their underpants, my salsa

Cheap Thrills

     In case you’re into both comic books and music, there’s a good conversation from this past February on the Comics Journal message board, dealing with album art done by comics artists. The thread is rife with the requisite message board fodder – broken image links and multiple postings from people struggling with image tags – but there’s enough there to make it worth visiting.
There were several covers that I never would have recognized by artists I’m familiar with, as well as some that I’m just so used to seeing that the familiarity of the artwork never occurred to me. It also yields links to two sites that cover the same material more thoroughly (Though both are text-based so you don’t get to see the images).

phantom

Chompers

     Scene: a ginormous department store on the Saturday before Easter. A father and 5-ish year-old son are examining the flower selection.

Father: How about this one?

Son: That’s not a Chomper!

Father: I told you, none of these are chompers…

Son (Indignant): I want to get Mommy a Chomper!

     Oh man – I always wanted a chomper, too. How did I forget that? Back on the lifetime to-do list. Click the image to take a virtual tour of the Galleria Carnivora – an entire museum dedicated to carnivorous plants.


plantx.bmp

Probably Music

     A few months ago I read somewhere that Mozart had written an algorithm to compose music automatically. This, of course, fascinated the shit out of me. I did a bit of googling and turned up the following:

     “Music publishing was a thriving trade during the latter part of the 18th century in Europe. Publishers vied with one another to print the works of the latest “hot” composer. Many of them looked for novel ways to entice new customers into their music shops.”

     “One such ploy was to publish systems that would allow any amateur to compose music without having to know the techniques or rules of composition. The London music publisher Welcker, for example, issued a “Tabular System whereby the Art of Composing Minuets is made so easy that any person, without the least Knowledge of Musick, may compose ten thousand, all different, and in the most pleasing and correct Manner.”

     “Many of these schemes involved using dice or other randomizers to select musical fragments from an array of choices. Composer Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721–1783), a former pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), suggested the use of dice for this purpose in his book The Ever-ready Composer of Polonaises and Minuets, published in 1757.”

     “One well-known example of such a scheme is the “Musikalisches Würfelspiel” (Musical Dice Game), first published in 1792 in Berlin. Attributed by the publisher to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), it appeared a year after the composer’s death.” [source]

     So it was a dice game, and it might not have been by Mozart at all, but it was a start. The next step was to look into the ‘authenticity’ issue. In doing so, I found several essays that conclude that Mozart was not the author, but that the dice game was a result of the rampant plagirism that plagued the music publishing “scene” of the 1800’s. Chief among the evidence are the tables used in the “Mozart” game, which appear identical to tables used in earlier games by other authors. An essay that meticulously traces the origins of such dice games can be found here. The author finds that many dice games bearing similarly incorrect credits were once available from the same publisher, and manages to find many simlarities between these games and previously published works. He infers from this that the Mozart game has similar origins, and that Mozart’s name was invoked purely for reasons of marketing. The essay concludes:

     “In short there is absolutely no evidence, even a hint beside Mozart’s name being on the title pages of the above issues, that these games had anything to do with Mozart.”

     This does not mean, however, that Mozart did not mix a bit of math with his music. Another article, after establishing that the dice game is most likely not authentic, adds the following:

     “Nonetheless, there are indications that Mozart enjoyed mathematical puzzles. He also had a lively sense of humor and was fond of playing around with names. And he had a passion for gambling—a major preoccupation at the time (along with drink) among the men of both Salzburg and Vienna.

The article goes on to discuss the beginnings of a musical game found in one Mozart manuscript:

     “On both sides of the sheet, Mozart wrote down long strings of measures, grouped into two-bar melodies, each labeled with a letter of the alphabet and a number (1 or 2). However, other than supplying a “worked-out” example at the end of each page, he gave no instructions on how to proceed.”

     Hideo Noguchi of Kobe, Japan, has written a paper on the rules of the game as he has worked them out. It appears to be a method for developing a ‘signiture meolody’ based on one’s name. Noguchi’s paper is available online here, complete with figures depicting bits of the original manuscript.

Gameplay

     Ok dudes, so you want to play the “Not by Mozart” dice game? Itching to compose some minuets? The procedure is as follows: the ‘composer’ rolls two dice and looks up the resultant roll in a table. The table dictates a certain numbered measure of music to be played. This process is repeated 16 times until the randomly generated minuet is complete. In the interest of further alienating former kempa.com readers, I’ve pieced together a short discussion of the mathematics involved in this game from various sources on the internet. It might be a good idea to visit one of these two sites – both are web-based midi implementations of the game – and compose a few minuets before moving on, so you aren’t completely lost.

     The total achieved by throwing a pair of six-sided dice can result in any number from 2 to 12. Therefore, there are 11 possible outcomes. As such, each of the 16 measures in the resultant composition have 11 possible selections associated with them (Depending on which version you’re going by, the 8th and 16th measure have either the standard eleven, or a far less impressive two possibilites). This means that the final piece is composed from a pool of ~ 171 prewritten measures. These measures are arranged in a table corresponding to their placement in the context of the 16 measure piece and the dice roll for that measure. You can view an example of the table that determines the measure to be played, and listen to each measure here.

     The most interesting aspect of this game is that the measures are arranged within the table according to the total rolled on two dice. The probability of getting a certain result when rolling two dice dictates that certain measures will be chosen more often than others based on their positioning. I’ve illustrated this in a ridiculous table, below:


Dice 1

Dice 2

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

1

1

x

                   

1

2

 

x

                 

1

3

   

x

               

1

4

     

x

             

1

5

       

x

           

1

6

         

x

         

2

1

 

x

                 

2

2

   

x

               

2

3

     

x

             

2

4

       

x

           

2

5

         

x

         

2

6

           

x

       

3

1

   

x

               

3

2

     

x

             

3

3

       

x

           

3

4

         

x

         

3

5

           

x

       

3

6

             

x

     

4

1

     

x

             

4

2

       

x

           

4

3

         

x

         

4

4

           

x

       

4

5

             

x

     

4

6

               

x

   

5

1

       

x

           

5

2

         

x

         

5

3

           

x

       

5

4

             

x

     

5

5

               

x

   

5

6

                 

x

 

6

1

         

x

         

6

2

           

x

       

6

3

             

x

     

6

4

               

x

   

6

5

                 

x

 

6

6

                   

x

 

Total:

1

2

3

4

5

6

5

4

3

2

1

     As you may or may not be able to see from this hastily constructed table, a roll of two dice is 6 times more likely to produce a total of seven than a total of two or twelve. Because of this, we see that the probability of a measure being chosen is directly dependent on its position in the table. As the tables were composed by the author of the game, the mathematically optimistic among us can assume that the composer took this into account when arranging the measures, placing the measures he favored with the more likely-to-be-rolled totals, and hiding the more exotic and less aurally pleasing meaures along rows two and twelve of the table. For reference, the probability of realizing each total with a roll of two dice is conveniently recorded in the table below:

Dice Roll Probability
2 1/36
3 2/36 = 1/18
4 3/36 = 1/12
5 4/36 = 1/9
6 5/36
7 6/36 = 1/6
8 5/36
9 1/9
10 1/12
11 1/18
12 1/36

     This game has proven a popular project for programmers all over the place, and there are a heap of web-based implementations. Here’s a list of the best working versions I found:

  • This version, by Zsófia Ruttkay and Bram Boskamp, is among the best. While it doesn’t show you any of the randomizing, it does everything else remarkably well: automatically loading the score to the generated piece, playing it in midi, and presenting you with a variety of playback options. There’s another simple MIDI version by John Chuang, here.
  • There’s a simple shockwave version, by Michiko Charley, here. This one also keeps the randomizing behind the scenes, jumping right to the playback of completed random piece. Uniquely, The chart of each measure is displayed as the measure is played, giving a nice visual reference to where each interchangable measure begins and ends for those of us who do not read music.

Oh man

     I was reading Entertainment Weekly last night and happened upon an interview with David Fincher regarding the forthcoming recently released THREE disc special edition Panic Room DVD. Anyone who’s into seeing behind-the-scenes filmmaking via DVD special features knows that Fincher does it best, and with TWO full discs of special features, this looks like it’ll be a monument to me wasting time.

     Someone involved with the production of the DVD started (But never finished) a production diary here:

     “Panic Room is without question the most elaborate, complex DVD I have yet produced. It wasn’t designed to be that from the outset, it just grew in the process. There’s a strange phenomena that can sometimes occur where the circumstances of a film’s production are mirrored in everything else related to the film; if pre-production was a bitch, production will be a bitch. And so will post, marketing, et cetera, right on through to the DVD, almost like a generational curse. When David Fincher set out to make Panic Room, he intended it to be a quick, breezy B-movie with a relatively low budget. But somewhere along the way a series of almost mythically proportioned mishaps and difficulties arose that turned a quick-and-dirty exercise in suspense into a gargantuan undertaking that tested the endurance and tenacity of everyone involved. Similarly, the DVD took a long and tortured route to completion, albeit for different reasons.”

Musical Quadratic equation

     When I was in 7th grade, my algebra teacher, Mrs. Berry, taught us the quadratic equation to the tune of the Notre Dame fight song. In discussing this with other people years later (I’m a “Sit around and discuss the quadratic equation” kind of guy), I found out that this was a common practice, but that the tune to which the quadratic equation was applied would vary.

     Here’s where you come in. I want to know how (if?) you learned the quadratic equation. I’m hoping it was via song. The IDEAL participant will find a recording of the tune online, and record themselves singing the quadratic equation along to it. I realize that this probably won’t happen, but that would be really, really great. The less ideal participant will post in the comments to this entry and tell me what song was used in their quadratic equation education. In case you have forgotten what exactly the quadratic equation is, here’s a reminder:

quadratic

     …and as sung to the Notre Dame fight song:

X eq-uals the op-po-site of B

plus or min-us the square root of

B squared min-us four Ayy Cee-eee

All over two times Ayy (dum dum).

     I did a bit of searching online and didn’t come up with much besides this 19 page .pdf document called the ‘Math Song Sing-a-long.’ The Math Song Sing-a-long suggests that the Quadratic equation can be sung to the tune of both the Notre Dame fight song AND ‘Amazing Grace.’ Without hearing it, the ‘Amazing Grace’ version doesn’t seem to work as well, but you can be the judge of that – here are the ‘lyrics:’

THE QUADRATIC FORMULA

WORDS BY: JOHN A. CARTER

TUNE: “AMAZING GRACE”



If you need to solve a quadratic

Equation in any form,

Set it equal to zero,

And use this formula.

You’ll have the zeroes before you know.



x equals the opposite of b

Plus or minus the square root

Of b squared minus 4a times c

All over two times a.

     Now, you may be thinking – “This is ridiculous, it can’t possibly get dorkier than this.” But it CAN. The other songs in the Math Song Sing-a-long are AMAZING. Just awe-inspiring. Here’s a bit from their take on the ‘Cheers’ theme:

CHEERS TO INTEGRATION

WORDS BY: STUDENTS IN J. CARTER’S CALCULUS AB CLASS

TUNE: “THE CHEERS THEME”


Integrating with trig identities takes everything you’ve got.

Anti-diff-er-en-tia-ting sure can take a lot.

Wouldn’t you like to learn a way… ?

     …and a bit from a mathematic interpretation of Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You:’

WE WILL GRAPH YOU!

WORDS BY: JOHN A. CARTER

TUNE: “WE WILL ROCK YOU!”



Buddy, you’re a man with a hard time graphing

All you need to do is find the m and the b.

It’s not too hard you see, You put your pencil on the b.

Graphing’s not as hard as you thought it might be, singing



Chorus:

We will, we will graph you!

We will, we will graph you!

     As you can see, it’s really necessary to read the whole thing. That’s it for today. Math and music. And this is only the beginning. I can feel the cool kid links already. Also – Rob, I get half of your pay for every day you use this in class.

Gameboy Advance ADVANCE

     I’d imagine most people who read this
site don’t have a Gameboy
Advance, but I do, so that’s what you get to hear about.

     Around christmastime, I saw a little blurb over on slatch.com about flash memory for the Gameboy Advance. This is important because it means you can flash GBA
roms onto the cartridge and carry around more than one game at a time (This also means that depending on the quality of your moral fiber, you might not exactly have to pay for the games). Even better, it means that a whole programming community has sprung up
around the gameboy advance, writing all sorts of ridiculous and
entirely unneccesary software. As you well know, ridiculous and
uneccesary are my two favorite adjectives, so I did a bit of digging
around.

     The first great thing I found out is that
you aren’t limited to playing Gameboy Advance games on your Gameboy
Advance anymore. Emulators have been ported for a shitload of systems,
including the original gameboy, NES, SNES, Atari (Not released yet), and
even MAME a few classic arcade games, so you can load your GBA up with favorites from systems of days gone by. You can download all the GBA
emulation software from this page.

     Beyond emulation, developers for the
Gameboy Advance have coded TWO basic operating systems – GBA WinS and pogoshell, not to mention useful items like a calculator and guitar tuner.

     The sites to visit to keep abreast of the latest developments in the world of GBA development are gbadev.com and the GBA section of devrs.com. There’s also a ridiculously comprehensive tutorial to authoring Gameboy Advance games from scratch here, if you’re so inclined.

     I ordered my EZF II Adavnce from this company (They’re in Hong Kong). It arrived with no instructions whatsoever, but it was relatively easy to figure out with the assistance of google and some common sense. Fellow nerds will want to know that the cartridge I ordered is 256 Megs and currently holds five games (Metroid: Zero Mission, Super Mario Advance 2, Wario Ware, Advance Wars 2, and Mario Kart). In summary: WATCH OUT METROID ZERO MISSION.

Mp3 Repositories I Have Been Frequenting

  • There’s an archive of live Elliott Smith shows available in mp3 format at the Elliott Smith Mini-Repository. A long time ago (Sometime in 2000) I downloaded a solo Elliott show recorded somewhere in France that was really great. I’ve since lost it. Anyone know if it’s still up somewhere? Also: The guy who runs the site has a nice mini-tutorial on recording shows using a minidisc or dat recorder.
  • There’s a remarkably thorough page collecting Evan Dando B-sides, guest appearances and live mp3’s here. Recommended: the cover of Big Star’s “Ballad of El Goodo,” and “Brain Damage,” from the last Blake Babies record. Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield really need to do a whole album of song like this – their voices just work so well together. It would be like a poppier Ida with harder drugs. Also of note, but not necessarily recommended, as they’re pretty bad: covers of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know,” Oasis’ “Live Forever,” and REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You.”
  • An epic collection of live Lilys performances, ranging in date from 1996 to 2003 can be found here. Recommended: the 11.08.96 VPRO session, recorded in Amsterdam. All sorts of studio goodness to be had. Also: any of the shows where they play “3 Way” material, as they’ve been ignoring that album almost completely in every set I’ve seen lately. They’ve also got the “Nanny in Manhattan” video for download.
  • If you’re feelin’ historical: there’s a nice collection of public domain mp3’s available for download here, and the American Memory Historical Collections for the National Digital Library has a pretty amazing series of historical essays annotated with mp3’s here. Topics range from the early recording industry to recordings of slave narratives. Amazing stuff.
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