In the 1970s, composer, inventor and software engineer Stephen Malinowski had a hallucination. He envisioned an easier, more visual way of reading music scores. A friend of his suggested he animate the bar-graph scroll and another proposed doing it with a… gasp… computer. In 1985, Malinowski created the first version of the Music Animation Machine and, a quarter century later, it remains a treasure trove of mesmerizing music visualizations. From Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugarplum Fairync to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Major, the project brings an intuitive, visceral, almost synesthetic understanding to some of the most musically complex masterpieces in history.
Music moves, and can be understood just by listening. But a conventional musical score stands still, and can be understood only after years of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges this gap, with a score that moves — and can be understood just by watching.” ~ Stephen Malinowski
Malinowski has made the MIDI player available as freeware (sadly, Windows-only) so you can download it and create your own visualizations.
You can support the project by buying a DVD of the visualizations, but Malinowski has kindly offered the DVDs free of charge to any public schools, libraries, music schools and educators of music theory, appreciation, or history. Many of the animations are also available on the Music Animation Machine YouTube channel.
As a hidden treat, the site also features a free visual harmonizer for iPad — a wonderful educational tool exploring the relationship between pitches.
Flowcharts have risen to pop culture notoriety with their delightful intersection of geekery, design and humor. Today, a pinnacle of the flowchart cult makes its debut: Everything Explained Through Flowcharts by standup comedian and book designer Doogie Horner goes by the tagline “All of Life’s Mysteries Unraveled” and flowcharts the way to everything from world domination to getting laid to the religion that offers the best afterlife.
From a taxonomy of heavy metal band names to an illustrated matrix of WWF finishing moves, this gem of a book contains over 200 illustrations, 40 gargantuan flowcharts and various supporting materials — essays, graphs, annotations — bound to fill your semi-secret inner geek with glee.
We were particularly impressed with the clever review pitch, which also came in — you guessed it — a flowchart:
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What coffee beans, dinosaurs and lakeside picnics have to do with Isaac Asimov and formalized figments.
Since yesterday was 10.10.10, we’ve decided to celebrate this cosmic alignment of numerical symmetry by illuminating the measurements of magnitude. Today, we are taking five different looks at one of the most difficult concepts for the human brain to quantify and understand: The size and scale of the universe.
POWERS OF TEN
What better way to celebrate 10.10.10 than with Charles and Ray Eames’ iconic Powers of Ten film, an adventure in magnitudes circa 1977?
The film opens with a lakeside picnic in Chicago and branches outward into the universe, jumping to a vantage point ten times further out every ten seconds until our galaxy becomes a mere speck of light among many, then speed-zooms back to Earth, magnifying the view tenfold every ten seconds. The journey ends inside the proton of a carbon atom within the DNA molecule of a white blood cell.
Powers Of Ten is among our absolute favorites, a beautiful intersection of design heritage and scientific curiosity — we highly recommend adding the DVD, companion flipbook and breathtaking photography hardcover to your collection of cross-disciplinary cultural trophies.
From Primax Studio comes this interactive infographic illustrating the scale of the universe, inviting you to zoom from the quantum foam of Einstein’s space-time theory to the outer limits of the cosmos an estimated 900 yotameters away.
Isaac Asimov aptly captured our muddled relationship with size and scale he said that “a single particle of sand is a large 32km-by-32km room.”
Universcale is a fascinating interactive infographic by Nikon, exploring the measurement units of the universe, femtometers to light-years. From historical background on when and why the different units of scale were created — because, let’s face it, none of this is absolute and “objective” but, rather, a set of mutually agreed upon conventions that humanity has crafted — to recent scientific developments to near-philosophical insights, Universcale is a treasure trove of knowledge.
The site was created five years ago — which feels like a previous era in the scale of life of the digital universe — and though it’s still a treat, we think it lends itself brilliantly to an iPad app and we’d love to see it as one.
HEAT SCALE OF THE UNIVERSE
Take a visual tour of what’s hot or not in the universe, from the strictly theoretical concept that is absolute zero to the 141,679,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000ºK of Planck, the temperature immediately after the Big Bang.
XKCD GRAVITY WELLS
The wonderful xkcd gets educational with this map of the universe’s gravity wells — from Titan’s feathery pseudo-gravity to Jupiter’s powerful suck — scaled to Earth’s surface gravity so that you can visualize the energy it would take to escape from each planet’s gravity. The deeper the well, the stronger the pull.
Though not related to the universe in the cosmic sense, this fascinating interactive exploration of cell size and scale from the University of Utah does glean an understanding of our living world that is very much a part of the universe.
As the best of information visualization does, it uses what’s familiar (a coffee bean, 12-point Times New Roman font) to depict what’s hard to grasp (a carbon atom) and, in the process, illuminates the magnitude of difference between these sizes.
Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.
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