Well, National Science & Engineering Week is now over and we’re drawing a line under the official launch celebrations for this year’s Geek Pop festival. And we have SO many thank yous to say for all those who’ve helped to make this the BEST. GEEK POP. EVER.
We’ve made a big ol’ list of thank yous on this page here, but we really can’t emphasise enough how grateful we are to all our bands. Not only has this year’s festival output been of the highest musical quality – a special shout out here to all the behind-the-scenes people including producers and siblings/friends roped in as musicians – it has achieved new heights of geekiness and allowed more Geek Pop festival-goers than ever before to appreciate scientific ideas in original and unexpected ways.
Thank you also to all those festival-goers who have blogged, tweeted and told their friends about Geek Pop by old-fashioned, er… talking. And to those who have helped fund more scientific musical madness by buying a ticket for our launch party or something from our shop.
But don’t think this means Geek Pop 2011 is over. So much has happened at this year’s festival, it’s hard to take it all in. And of course, Geek Pop being a virtual festival, it’s all going to stay online for… well… ever. So if you’re just catching up, here are a few bits and pieces to get you started.
Our free festival highlights podcast is essential listening. A round-up of the crew’s picks of the festival, including ten full-length tracks brought to you straight from Geek Pop’s four virtual stages. You can download each of these tracks separately at the festival, plus more by the same artists.
Geek Like Me – a collection of six uber-nerdy songs, curated by us, on an actual record. That’s right: a record you can buy in an actual store – albeit it an online store such as iTunes or Amazon. But to preview full tracks for free before you buy, go to Bandcamp, where we’re also selling some special limited edition physical CDs, which are rapidly declining in number.
And once all that’s whet your appetite for sci-pop, it’s time to head to the festival map, where you can access full sets for 20 different geek musicians 24 hours a day. Just click on the download arrows to get zip files of tracks from your favourite Geek Pop artists. And remember, besides those Geek Like Me tracks, it’s all free to download.
So that’s a wrap for this year’s festival diary, but for Geek Pop all year round, tune into our regular podcast, which dissects five geeky tracks a month and brings you live sessions from Geek Pop artists.
Well, I missed the Geek Pop launch last week, which I was most disappointed about, but I’m back from the mountains now, and have rushed straight here to the Geek Pop festival (and it’s lovely weather for it too).
I started off at the Tetrahedron Stage and did a little jig to ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea‘. Then I laid back and enjoyed Marian Call’s beautifully melodic pieces, particularly ‘Got To Fly’, elements of which I would think resonate with everyone these days. I always seem to be doing six things at once… [long pause as I check Twitter whilst making tea and talking about the Fukushima nuclear power station in Japan]. As a fan of both science and poetry I tittered to Dr Martin Austwick taking metaphors literally in ‘Meet Me on Monday’, and with a final burst of enthusiasm for all things cosmic from Andrew Pontzen I skipped over to the Tesla Tent where I am now bopping to the beat of ‘Black 7′ by Weird Gear.
I’ve noticed in my tramps between the tents that in between the informative, science-y stuff like Jonny Berliner’s clever calypso ‘DNA’ there’s also a lot of love out there – cautious, furtive, obsessive, flagrant, it’s all there and all cloaked in jargon, terminology, maths, physics principles… or otherwise being very inconspicuous and showcasing biology. One of my pieces is about love – well, infatuation really. It’s called ‘Love in a Lecture’ and is about fancying the lecturer and daydreaming about all the geeky things to do together. I like it because of the piano (kindly arranged and played by my sister Nicola), especially the instrumental bits.
My other pieces are more science-based. I’m a plasma physicist so I had to write something about plasma – the fourth state of matter. A plasma is a charged gas, where electrons have been stripped away from the atomic nucleus so there are positively- and negatively-charged particles moving around separately. Extra energy is required to strip the electrons, and if the electrons recombine with an atom this extra energy is given off as light, so plasmas are often very beautiful and colourful, as well as useful. Some examples of plasma are lightning, the aurorae, the Sun and stars, neon lights…
But plasmas are also very chaotic and unpredictable. This is because they’re made of charged particles, and charged particles create electric and magnetic fields, which are intimately connected – moving charged particles (currents) generate magnetic fields and changing magnetic fields generate currents. So everything affects everything else.
I found that many of the words we use to describe plasma – excited, highly-charged, chaotic, dynamic – are also used to describe human characteristics, so in the song I set out the reasons why I, out of all the states of matter, would like to be a plasma.
And finally, somewhat illogically, the first song of my set is Darwin and the Monkey Bone, which I should probably mention quickly as it’s the reason I’m here at all – it was a runner-up in the Geek Pop summer song-writing competition. I’m not a biologist, but I had a crack at tackling Darwin and evolution, hopefully reasonably accurately. It’s my other – non-piano-playing – sister’s favourite, I think because it’s catchy and the “dee dee dee-dee” bit gets stuck in your head.
[EDIT (geekpop) As an added bonus, here’s the original version of that Darwin song. Melanie worries it’s a bit noisy, which it is, but we love it all the same :)
And don’t forget, the revamped electric version is available to download on Melanie’s Geek Pop 2011 page.]
Anyway, that’s enough from me. Enjoy the festival! I’m off to iTunes now to make myself a Geek Pop favourites playlist. Hurray!
O friends! O theoretical physicists, very-much-hands-on zoologists, fellow Geek Pop musicians and scientists (ie, you lot backstage), never-let-out-of-the-shed inventors, and O you passers-by accidentally caught up in the virtual fun of it all: hi. How are you all doing? It’s great to see you here – and, for us, to be part of the whole marvellous Geek Pop experience once more. We hope you’re enjoying yourselves.
Four-fifths of Spirit of Play infiltrated the launch at Wilton’s Music Hall last week, in order to gawp at Steve Mould’s butane solo, marvel at the sweet sonorities of the Amateur Transplants (surely they’ve never been called that before?), and take off our collective hat (only worn for the most Spiritual of occasions, don’t you know) in the fabled presences of Dr Martin Austwick and Helen Arney. It were grand.
Martin and Helen, like us, can be heard on Geek Like Me. If you’ve already picked up a copy of that, or had a listen – thanks, hope you enjoyed it. Our contribution, ‘An Element Sends a Postcard Home’, is one of our more upbeat, lo-fi numbers, inspired by various rumours about the, shall we say, somewhat heavier elements that, we’re told, really ought to exist even if they don’t already.
No doubt somebody with a properly firm grasp of such matters can respond and put us/you straight about that. We’re really ever so fond of our artistic licence to take an idea, or even just the hint of an idea, and make a song and, if you bribe us, fine, a dance about it too, as exemplified in our former attempts on particle physics (‘Wave or Particle‘) and genetics (‘Chromosome‘). In other words, don’t expect rigorous, peer-reviewed empiricism and accuracy from us. Just some notes, in the strenuously indie-ish order of our choosing, and some garbled lyrics about polynomials.
Talking of which (spot the segue – go on, I dare you! Spot it! There, that was it), we hereby invite you to grab our latest song, ‘Difference Engine’, for free.
Just sign up for the odd e-mail from us (very odd, judging by this blog), via firstname.lastname@example.org or follow us on Twitter (@spiritofplay1), whichever you prefer, and we’ll send you the link to download it. It’s a very different beast from “An Element…”, and entirely constructed out of back issues of New Scientist.
Those of you with a thoroughly nerdish interest in the prehistory of digital computing will already know what the song’s about: the great Charles Babbage (1791–1871) and his efforts to build an automatic, completely accurate calculating machine, despite the immense cost (mainly to the taxpayer), scepticism about its usefulness (yep, computers have turned out to be a real dead end, haven’t they?), and Babbage’s various personal misfortunes and eccentricities (the finest irony being that in his final years he campaigned vigorously, and quite rightly, against street musicians…).
It’s an extraordinary story, well worth seeking out online or in print (for example, in The Difference Engine: Charles Babbage and the quest to build the first computer by Doron Swade). Not the least of it is that it involves Byron’s daughter Ada Augusta Lovelace, Babbage showing off the working model of the Difference Engine at various parties (Swade, p. 76: “There was a growing fashion for statistics…”), and alienating potential allies, all of which finds its way, albeit in feverish, distorted ways, into this song.
Gosh, it’s a tough gig, this virtual festival malarkey…
For last year’s Geek Pop I wrote a song ‘Arabidopsis‘, which as well as being designed as an ode to the little plant that forms the basis of much work in genomics was meant to mirror the way in which the general public knows about the groovy people who use and design around technology, but nothing of the labwork that goes on in the background.
This year I worked on a song to celebrate 50 years since the first manned flight in space – ‘Radio Gagarin‘. A song, as its title implies, discussing Gagarin climbing into the Vostok 1 and shooting out into space. I like the fact that at the end of this song there are actual excerpts of Gagarin on the radio. He is saying in Russian that he feels good and the visibility is good – basically, everything is going to plan.
And a huge part of why everything went to plan was down to Sergei Korolev, chief engineer of Soviet space program at the time. The Arabidopsis of this story if you will. This guy has a tale that must be told, and I was going to tell it on my guest diary entry for Geek Pop 2011. However, since yesterday The Guardian did a more thoroughly researched version of this tale than I could have produced – full of insight into the politics and personnel at the time – I will direct you to that article.
The tale of Korolev is one of those worthy of an epic Russian-equivalent-of-Hollywood biopic. It is a testament to the man’s character that in spite of spending 10 years doing hard labour (during which time he lost all his teeth) in one of the worst gulags Stalin had to offer, he came back to lead the Soviet Space program into its golden age. Certainly something worth considering if your main complaint is paperwork required for grant proposals.
As the US decommisions it space shuttle program the only way to get people up into space will essentially be from a rocket based on Korolevs 50- year-old design, which demonstrates just how good the designs are.
But what about the cutting edge of sending people into space? The next big step that will really capture the public’s imagination is when someone does to Mars what Neil Armstrong did unto the Moon. And in this respect it seems to me that the big problem is not about the electronic, and mechanical machinery to get people there and bring them back, but the organic machinery that makes those people tick. The physiology and the psychology of being in a cramped capsule with the same group of people for two years is going to be difficult to get through.
There is currently a simulation going on in Moscow of this scenario, where a group of people are locked in an small enclosed space, due to ‘land back on earth’ in November this year. Last month they landed on the ‘fake Mars’ and two weeks ago they blasted off back to Earth. After a previous test resulted in a punch-up (a New Year’s glass of bubbly led to two guys fighting over a woman), the team chosen are all male and they will be denied alcohol. This one has people of mixed nationalities and seems to be going well, though the lack of gravity for the length of time when they do it for real will also make things interesting.
Personally, I think back to a Ray Bradbury description of someone leaving Earth for Mars from his Martian Chronicles collection, and know that however much the child in me wanted to go on such a journey, the isolation for that length of time would not be something my neuroses and I would take. But I salute those who will do it in the future.
AND NOW, A SPACE-THEMED COMPETITION!
‘Radio Gagarin’ on the Geek Like Me mini-album is peppered with distorted musical themes from a classic space-faring movie. The question is: What is the movie? Send your answers via email to email@example.com, with the subject line Gagarin Compeition. The prizes are: The Natural World DVD Box Set, Doctor Who DVD (from the Tom Baker era), a Karmadillo tea towel and CD.
Well, hello! As you can see I’ve got my nerd gear on and am having an ace time hopping from stage to stage at the newly up-and-running Geek Pop 2011. Over the next few days, you’ll be hearing from Spirit of Play, Karmadillo and The Ultraviolet Catastrophe via this virtual festival diary, but for today you’re stuck with me.
Actually, I say “hopping” from stage-to-stage… but over the weekend, the benefits of all those stages being accessible by http became very much apparent. Despite being a regular runner, my calves objected profusely to having to dart up and down the stairs (about a million times) at Wilton’s, the venue for our live launch gig, on Thursday night. By Friday midday, when the virtual festival was launching, I was pretty much incapable of walking anywhere. Thus, being able to simply direct my browser at The Tetrahedron was most convenient.
Anyway, without meaning to be over-the-top, the launch party was perhaps the scariest and most exciting thing that’s ever happened. (That was a bit over-the-top, right?) If you’ve got yourself a virtual VIP pass you can now see some silly behind-the-scenes footage I shot in the run-up to the gig, in which crew member Neal averts a minor emergency and Jim tries one of my delicious but incredibly poorly iced Geek Pop cakes. I also took Amateur Transplants some of those cakes, and, bless them, they were very polite about them – check out my quick chat with them in the Green Room.
So what’s going on at the virtual festival? Well, lots! Of course, we’re all very excited to have the great Jeffrey Lewis on-site. His ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ is going down a storm and he’ll be playing it continuously for… well… ever. Such is the nature of virtual festivals. And on the subject of Mr Lewis, I couldn’t happen to notice that both Jeff and Helen Arney at the Comical Flask mention squid and praying mantises in their sets. When I told Helen this she said, “NO WAY! Hook us up! Transatlantic Jeff/Helen duet time?” Quite. Let’s campaign for it!
In the meantime though, if you have a particular fetish for songs about squid and praying mantises – and let’s face it, who doesn’t? – you’d do well to download Jeff’s track for free on his page and Helen’s on the Geek Like Me mini-album. We’ve already started posting physical copies all over the world, but you can also get digital copies via just about every major online MP3 store.
Right, well, I’m off to watch Wolfington at the Reproductive Stage now – seems the crowds have been enjoying their ode to Professor Brian Cox. Just hope we don’t get in trouble about their Uranus references…
Bye for now!
Photos from Thursday night’s launch gig! Thanks to Ben Valsler of The Naked Scientists for some of these (the good ones).
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The Geek Pop 2011 festival is go! Our highlights include the awesome Jeffrey Lewis headlining at The Tetrahedron, a song about Professor Brian Cox and a musical rendition of the Fibonacci series. Listen below, download for free via our iTunes feed, or jump to virtual gigs for artists on our highlights playlist by clicking on the arrows.Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea >>> Spirit of Play – An Element Sends A Postcard Home >>> Hannah Werdmuller – Diurnal Migration >>> Wolfington – Spacefox (Live) >>> MJ Hibbett – A Little Bit >>> Helen Arney – Erwin’s Other Animals >>> Lårs & Marïse – Phibonacci Nova >>> Matt Westcott – Love is Never Mean >>> Marian Call – I’ll Still Be A Geek After Nobody Think It’s Chic (The Nerd Anthem) >>> Weird Gear – Black 7 >>>
Free downloads of over 40 Geek Pop 2011 songs are available online at the 2011 festival site.
For six bonus tracks including Spirit of Play’s ‘An Element Sends A Postcard Home’, download the Geek Like Me mini-album at geekpop.bandcamp.com for just £4. Geek Pop will donate a third of the profits to a fund for new science-inspired music.