Category Archives: Damn!

Engineered Myths: ‘Metamorphoses’ at A Noise Within

Clockwise from center: Erika Soto, Trisha Miller, Rafael Goldstein, Cassandra Marie Murphy.
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations

ANW’s tribute to myth, art, and engineering is both visually dazzling and a chutzponic choice for this temporary breather from the pandemic.  Water is everywhere – onstage and on the audience – as a gifted cast seamlessly weaves eight stories  and a coda from Ovid  to impressive stagecraft.  The play is sufficiently well-known that there’s no point in recapping the fables-for-grownups  by Mary Zimmerman,  a brand unto herself.   Locally, Stephen Legawiec’s long-departed and much lamented Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble did exceptional service to myth.  The Sacred Fools and Coeurage also deliver technical miracles on a budget.  Zimmerman ups the ante requiring an onstage pool central to her theme.  ANW has built the resources over the years to afford the rights, the engineering, and the resident ensemble to pull it all off.  The costs must be astronomical especially for a barely four week run, an oddly appropriate leap-of-faith in art over economics.

Nicole Javier (top) and Rafael Goldstein (bottom).
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy A Noise Within Theatre and Lucy Pollak Public Relations

On top of the usual artistic concerns and choices, director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott has to see to the safety of her performers who are feet, knees, and backs in the water as much as they are out of it.  This is no mean feat given costumes (Garry Lennon), props (Shen Heckel),  walking continuously on a wet stage, and a disease spread by droplets.   The company has hewn to its resident artist model (six of the nine performers) although it seems to have gone away from its roots in repertory.  It is interesting to note the changing of the guard having followed the company closely in the 90s to mid 2000s and sporadically thereafter.  Geoff Elliott remains a constant of the motion with Rafael Goldstein and Erika Soto now regular members along with unfamiliar faces with extensive company and classical credits.  That Shakesperean training pays off handsomely with uniformly rich, resonant, and nuanced voices inhabiting instead of reciting the text.  It’s a heady mix of comedy, drama, pathos, and bathos.  Trisha Miller is excellent as Alcyone,  Sydney A. Mason as a nasty Aphrodite, and DeJuan Christopher as Ceyx.  Elliott is all the fathers; Pythonesque as Helios negotiating with Phaeton (Kasey Mahaffy) as well as  Midas and Cinyras navigating daughter problems.  The physical demands are great as the cast have to carry one another in and out of the water throughout the piece where one slip could end many careers.  The level of trust engendered by long and close collaboration must be off the charts and hard to conceive with a team assembled for one production.

But, oh, that engineering – Francois-Pierre Couture (design), Ken Booth (lighting), and Robert Oriol (sound) – deserves a loud, two-syllable, “Damn!”  Even if we take the pool  for granted, electricity, water, and people don’t mix.  This constrains the high powered lights to surround the stage and there again from safe a distance – yet nothing essential is in shadow.   Glowing orbs are undoubtedly enabled by LEDs.  Their collective play off the water and onto the walls are a splendid touch – carrying the audience along waves of action floating on Oriol’s effective yet unobtrusive soundscape.  And we should not take any of this for granted.  Going from page to stage is a tough artistic job but no easier than taking a technical concept through design, build, test, and delivery.  ANW’s timelapse shows the large uncredited crew that made it happen and glimpses the kind of backstage preparation area accessible to very few of the city’s theatremakers.  Yes, there are a couple of songs but … what are you going to do?  Barring extension, only five performances remain so act accordingly.

Note bene: While there are no bad seats at ANW, the raised stage does obscure the water’s surface from the front rows.  There is a benefit (and certainly no harm) in going to the middle or even the back of the house.  Those up front will get splashed.

Youtube Channel: A Noise Within

Metamorphoses
Based on the Myths of Ovid
Written and originally directed by Mary Zimmerman

Directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott
for A Noise Within Theatre Company
3352 E Foothill Blvd. 
Pasadena, CA 91107

Thursdays through Sundays, closing 5 June 2022
Two performances Saturdays
Running time: Ninety minutes without intermission
Performance times vary, see the theatre’s website for details

Proof of vaccination/booster required, Masks must be worn inside the theatre

Tickets through the ANW Online Box Office
or
626.356.3100

Astrophysics at Ludicrous Speed: But Why? on stellar collapse

It should be no surprise that aging scientists from all fields gravitate (ha!) to astronomy as we get more interested in the grand fates of things. Fortunately there are many sites and channels to scratch that itch, giving us a perhaps too comfortable view of complex material. The life and death of stars is an example where the high level explanations of gravity versus fusion do work but where the many omitted details cause midnight befuddlement.  Where does the energy come from?  Where does it go?  Wait… how fast – Relativistic speeds?

Anonymous Youtuber “But Why?” breaks the barrier with this beautiful video on the collapse of very big stars – the kind that leave neutron stars or black holes in their wake. It isn’t all symmetric implosions and classical rebounds and the thought of a giant object collapsing 5000-km in a tenth of a second boggles the mind.  The depth of detail is breathtaking, the amount of research inspiring, and taught me much new physics that I incorrectly thought I already knew.

Youtube Channel: But Why?

 

He who keeps cool will collect (photons): Christian Ready on the JWST instrument package

Sports Illustrated quoted this Japanese proverb back in 1975 in conjunction with Cal’s championship men’s gymnastic team of that era.  The adage abides with the James Webb Space Telescope now in its halo orbit around the Sun-Earth L2 point, its optics and instruments slowly cooling to their ultimate cryogenic temperatures, the better to collect the faint signs of heat from the early universe.  Little has been said to the public about the instruments nestled in the big box behind the 6.5-m primary mirror.  This is perhaps not surprising.  There are no secrets here, just that the real science goals and the optical engineering to meet them are fiendishly complex.  Friendly Neighborhood Astronomer Christian Ready tackles the challenge, explaining where the precious photons will go and what will happen to them once they arrive.  The comment section clamors for more detail on the MIRI cryocooler which will take the mid-Infrared Instrument’s focal plane array below 7K.  Here’s to hoping for a full video on this beast, built across the hall from me, and on which I spent a couple of weeks when the team was shorthanded.

Youtube Channel: Launchpad Astronomy

 

Bird Up: JWST completes major deployments

As the man said after the Eagle landed: “You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

The James Webb Space Telescope, largely designed, built, and tested at Space Park in Redondo Beach, has launched, raised itself from the spacecraft, deployed its 5 layer sunshield, and put its primary and secondary mirrors into place.  It will take another few months for the telescope to cool in the shade and then to commission the instruments before science measurements can begin.

It has been a long and contentious wait but the magnitude of this accomplishment is worth celebrating.

Youtube Channel: Northrop Grumman

Fascinatin’ rhythm: Four Brits on Gödel

I’ve got only a superficial understanding of the revolutionary incompleteness theorems that Gödel brought forth while a preternaturally gifted young man.  It will be the work of a remaining lifetime to learn it in any detail but it stimulates periodic revisits.  This podcast from the BBC’s In Our Time series smacked my gob when I came across it:  A very well-prepared moderator and three distinguished scientists discuss its impact.  It starts with a punch and soars from then on.  Yes, it is true that the posh accents predispose to trust but beyond that it is 40 minutes of serious yet freewheeling fluffless conversation that compels the listener to pay attention in the now and do homework afterward.  The presumption on the listener to be prepared, attentive, and engaged is exhilarating.  I can’t imagine such an exchange prepared for broadcast in the modern United States even by the remaining cultural outposts like NPR.

Youtube Channel: Philosophy Overdose

Theme and Variations: Nahre Sol adapts and explains ‘Happy Birthday’

Pianist Nahre Sol delightfully explains sixteen levels of pianistic complexity in about ten minutes.  That doesn’t mean there are only sixteen but, damn, what a lower bound for the recreational pianist to aspire to!

Youtube Channel: Wired
and the separate Nahre Sol Youtube Channel

Sol is in good company.  Here are Mozart’s Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” which we know as something else.

Youtube Channel: Canacana Family

 

Horizon Event: The big EHT reveal

The Event Horizon Telescope team announces its major discovery following two intense and quiet years of data analysis on top of a longer period of development.   A nice testament to aperture synthesis and international collaboration as the rest of the world spirals into madness.  Damn!!!

Youtube Channel: National Science Foundation

Context for the interested public:
Youtube Channel: Sixty Symbols

 

Seawater: Armando Hasudungan on carbohydrates

The reputation of carbohydrates waxes and wanes depending on trends in nutritional science and public interpretation.   Chemical facts that I learned years ago still hold.  Take one carbon, two hydrogen, and one oxygen, CH2O (or seawater, ha!) and repeat in quantity n to get the empirical formula for the carbohydrate family: (CH2O)n .  From there it quickly gets very interesting and very complicated.  These handed molecules can form five- and six-membered rings and the rings can join together in marvelously intricate ways.   Beyond mere aesthetics they form through sugars, starches, and cellulose the code, fuel, and structure of life.   Here is Armando Hasudungan explaining more than what I once knew but since have much forgotten about these compounds.  His channel is a gold mine for aged chemists and aspiring medical students.

Youtube Channel: Armando Hasudungan

 

Master of the Integral and Differential Calculus: Flammable Maths

Facility with calculus, specifically integration and differentiation, is mandatory for just about any technical discipline.  Slog the first is setting up the problem, Slog the second is hacking through whatever differential equations and/or integrals present themselves.  For those of us of a certain age, getting to calculus in high school was a badge of honor and being able to evaluate difficult integrals through clever substitutions and grit a point of pride.

Time has passed and the standards have gone up.  Way way up.  The kids these days are learning more, learning it earlier, and are scaling peaks we didn’t know existed.  The mathematics subculture on the Internet is fueling this fire and a particular segment of Youtube is devoted to these calculations both for fun and for education.  MIT has even held an “Integration Bee” for many years where students go head-to-head under time pressure.

Leading this pack is Jens Fehlau, an early twenty-something bro from Germany whose skills and presentation style make us glad we aren’t in a class where he’s ruining the curve.  His Flammable (formerly Fappable) Maths channel  has a strong following with early videos in German and more recent ones in excellent English with calming sounds of chalk on a chalkboard.  Fehlau also reminds me of a college classmate of mine who did exactly that and is now an eminent professor of chemistry.

Here’s one of his playlists.  Fair warning – the language can get salty at times.

Youtube Channel: Flammable Maths

So, is he a wunderkind, discovered young and educated for future Math Olympiads and a Fields Medal?  Nope.  He’s trained as a baker and hopes to teach school.