Nerd Nite Globalfest
Aug21

Nerd Nite Globalfest

(OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Esoteric Minutia) This post was written by Rick Mullin, author of the blog “The Fine Line,” business reporter for C&EN, and, apparently, a nerd. I arrived early and waited outside with the first two nerds on the scene. We sipped our coffee next to the chalkboard indicating we had come to the right place: “Nerd Nite Globalfest” at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Yes, I went to Nerd Nite Globalfest. My business journalist colleagues demurred when the home office (C&EN headquarters in D.C.) inquired as to whether one of us in the Manhattan bureau might want to swing by the event for a day and see what it’s all about.  But I gave it a little more thought:  “Nerd Nite,” I said to myself. “A conclave of people so unlike me that I will have an opportunity to do some truly objective reporting.” Or … not. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Nerd Nite would be an excellent place to assess the pop culture phantasmagoria into which science would seem to be sliding all helter skelter, what with the rise of science-y sit-coms and TED Talks. And what better place than Brooklyn, N.Y., to investigate the conflation of nerd and hipster—a troubling social phenomenon that threatens to turn the definition of nerd upside down. I realized I had some strong opinions. But I kept them to myself while chatting with my two nerd companions, Cristina Romagnoli and Gunther Oakey outside the lyceum this past Saturday. Romagnoli told me how she had attended a previous Nerd Nite in Orlando, shortly before moving to Brooklyn this summer.  “I felt that I’d found my folk down in Florida,” she said. And these folk told her about the Brooklyn Globalfest, which was obviously an ideal way to get back with her people in her new hometown. “So I showed up last night and met up with the five Nerd Bosses from Orlando!” Oakey told a familiar story of grade school ostracism followed by nerd solidarity and collectivism in boarding school, after which things got even better. “Luckily, we are in the Golden Age of Nerdom, where movies and pop culture are all, sort of, glorifying nerds,” Oakey said. Inside, I met organizer Matt Wasowski, who is the “Big Boss” of Nerd Nite. He explained to me how the series evolved from a regular gathering of scientists in a bar in the Jamaica Plain area of Boston in 2003. The bartender begged these people to stop talking, or to try to organize their endless science discussions into something like a monthly meeting,...

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Rockin’ in the Tree World
Mar09

Rockin’ in the Tree World

A fresh crop of talent has just hit the music scene with a style unlike anything the record industry has ever experienced. Just be extra careful when holding up a Bic lighter at one of their shows. Slices of wood are making quite the musical splash, and it’s all thanks to their show-stopping performance in German media artist Bartholomäus Traubeck’s 2011 installation “Years.” The installation features a record player built by Traubeck that translates the growth rings found on a slice of lumber into music. To unleash the melodies that have been gestating inside our timbered brethren for years, the record player uses a modified PlayStation Eye webcam—containing a customized lens that functions as a microscope—to record and analyze the strength, thickness, and growth rate of a tree’s rings. A media-generating program called vvvv then maps those characteristics to piano keys within a specific musical scale that has been determined by the wood’s overall appearance, and abracadabra, a song is born. Traubeck tells Newscripts that he was inspired to create “Years” when he realized the “visual pun” of equating the growth rings of a tree to the grooves of a vinyl record. “I thought about the implications and the associations between the two media, wood and vinyl, and decided on trying to actually build that as a machine,” he says. As a result of his efforts, Traubeck has created a machine that can play a variety of woods, and much like the members of a boy band, no two wood slices sound alike. There’s walnut, the tortured soul of the wood world, whose complex texture produces a “very loud and stressful” soundscape. There’s fir, the shy one, whose wide gaps between growth rings create a “minimalistic” effect. And there’s ash, the leader of the group, whose musical style falls somewhere in between the brooding angst of walnut and the quiet atmospherics of fir. Armed with such a versatile collection of musical styles, Traubeck’s wood slices have been creating quite the buzz. London’s Eat, Sleep, Repeat Record Label will be releasing a CD of their music in the coming months. The slices will also be embarking on a world tour of sorts, playing at an exhibition in Moscow in April and one in Switzerland in late May. What makes these public appearances truly special is the fact that no two performances sound alike. Because the record player must reread the wood slices each time they are placed on the turntable, “even the same 'disc' can produce a slightly different outcome every time you play it,” Traubeck explains. With the promise of a different-sounding performance each night they take the stage,...

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