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(((I remember lying in bed listening to a loud building alarm going off for what seemed like maddening hours before I managed to turn it into a sort of white noise rhythm pattern in my mind)))

Ever listen to Dane Cook?: "Helloooooooo.... Ima caaaaaaaaar."

I wish that I could see embedded links at work! I'll have to come back to this. I'm a big fan of all that stuff and then some. I'd highly recommend checking out computer music. Look around for the Consortium for the Distribution of Computer Music (CDCM) or wikipedia for some artists; it covers everything from what you might call ambient, found sound (musique concrete), computer-composed music (Rodney Waschka has a great piece about Ambrose Bierce composed with genetic algorithms), and so on.

Also, I'd recommend checking out some post-rock. I find that a lot of the softer stuff (Paper, Goodnight Sleep Well, Godspeed You Black Emporer, Explosions in the Sky) fills that same place in my life that pleasant ambient/techno can fill - not dynamic enough to be distrcting, but calming.

For fans of Ambient music I recommend the radio show Ultima Thule from Australia. They can be found at They have an extensive archive of the 90 minute shows all as unencumbered MP3s for downloading. You can download them directly or subscribe to the RSS feed and receive new shows via your favorite podcatcher client.

I keep an MP3 player loaded with them beside my bed for nighttime listening.

"Music from across the ages and around the world"

A couple of reactions. Sorry I'm late to the party, but I'm behind on the sudden surge of posts in this column.


I had a bit of an epiphany about music a number of weeks ago. I had just finished reading Jay Ingram's book _Theatre of the Mind_, which explores the nature of consciousness; I listened to an audio version of Oliver Sacks's _Musicophilia_, and finally I read an article by Carl Zimmer (I'm pretty sure) on the nature of time.

One of the questions scientists have about music is, Why? Why would an appreciation of music evolve? What adaptive advantage would it confer?

It occurred to me that music is a good way for humans to keep track of time. We're much better at keeping even time (tap, tap, tap, tap) if we do it with music in mind than if we try to do so without music.

In fact, there was even a study widely reported recently that showed that rescue workers who sang the BeeGees' "Stayin' Alive" in their minds did better at timing the 'pumps' required for CPR.

So, if tracking time conferred any advantage, musical ability may have been selected for. That's a big 'if', of course.


With regard to Ambient Addition: a couple of weeks ago, a Canadian radio show called The Vinyl Café had a show called "The Basement Tapes" in which the show invited some of their favourite musicians to send in quick-and-dirty recordings done in their homes (i.e. without sophisticated recording equipment).

A couple of the most interesting pieces were from a project in which Charles Spearin, from the instrumental rock group Do Make Say Think, invited neighbours to come to his home and tell him what happiness means to them. He recorded the answers and then got musician friends to play along with the interviews, matching the sounds of the voices (spoken, not sung) as closely as possible with their instruments. The result is pretty amazing.

For anyone interested, the podcast will be available for download for another week or two, at Look for the one called "VC: November 1st, 2008 "Home Recordings". The direct link to the MP3 is

The Spearin recordings are at about the mid-point of the track, but you may find the whole thing worth listening to (except for one somewhat anti-science bit as the intro to one of the songs).

Hey thanks for all the great recs everybody. I've been checking some of them out and found some new favorites (Dane Cook hmmmmm. Very funny guy.) And some great podcasts.

Wilson, I think you're right about music being a great way to keep time. It's also a great way to memorize things. Poetry and music get wound up in that sense because of their dependence on rhythm. There have been studies about how much easier it is to remember phrases and such when they're set to music. I'm continually amazed at the number of complete song lyrics I can remember to songs from the 70s.

The Spearin recordings reflect the fact that most musical instruments mimic the human voice somehow. Then there's Bobby McFerrin . . .

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    • Heavy G
      The perfect pick-me-up when gravity gets you down.
      2 oz Tequila
      2 oz Triple sec
      2 oz Rose's sweetened lime juice
      7-Up or Sprite
      Mix tequila, triple sec and lime juice in a shaker and pour into a margarita glass. (Salted rim and ice are optional.) Top off with 7-Up/Sprite and let the weight of the world lift off your shoulders.
    • Listening to the Drums of Feynman
      The perfect nightcap after a long day struggling with QED equations.
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      1/2 oz light rum
      1 oz Tia Maria
      2 oz light cream
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      1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
      In a shaker half-filled with ice, combine the dark and light rum, Tia Maria, and cream. Shake well. Strain into an old fashioned glass almost filled with crushed ice. Dust with the nutmeg, and serve. Bongos optional.
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      Electrify your friends with amazing pyrotechnics!
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      1 oz Campari
      1 oz fresh lemon juice
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      Dr. Strangelove's drink of choice.
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