Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 in Review

I suppose I'm not immune to the urge to look back and sum up.

This will be the 51st post to this blog in 2013. The majority came during National Poetry Writing Month in April, but there was a somewhat-steady stream of music, both originals and covers, and both informal and...less informal we can say.

There were also videos!  In fact, the two most-visited posts of 2013 both featured videos:

1. We Didn't Start the Science (for my 10,000th tweet)
2. The live solo acoustic preview of the song MarcoPolo

MarcoPolo was the only new Bandcamp release this year for the Gedankenband and I, featured along with its B-sides in this post:
3. MarcoPolo, the single!

And I was filmed performing MarcoPolo for a European planetary science audience, presented here:
4. MarcoPolo, live and under duress!

Other originals featured on the blog this year included (link to music, not the post):
5. Dear Kate Bush
6. Bisbee Blue
7. But Of Course
8. Congress St. Blues
9. I Still Reckon 
10. Solitaire: New Deal
11. Ceres Ferdinandea I: The Monk and the Prodigy
12. If I Can't Be
13. (I Couldn't) Keep Taylor Swift Happy

All the poems were pretty much collected in April, here in reverse order:
14. April 2013 on the blog

Though one poem snuck its way into May:
15. NaPoWriMo Bonus Poem

Thanks for reading, or listening, or whatever it is you're doing. I hope to bring you back for more in 2014!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Potentially Coming Attractions, and a Question for You

As 2013 starts looking for its coat and does a last round of goodbyes before heading for the exit, I'm thinking about another music release. While most of the visits to the blog come during National Poetry Writing Month, I do think of this as a music blog first. Since the last full-length album, The Cheese Stands Alone, I've put a couple of EPs up on Bandcamp (Local Technique and Not for Having, But for Tasting) as well as a couple of singles. And it's looking like the MarcoPolo single will be the only music released in 2013 on the Gedankenband site (though some bits and pieces are here on the blog).

So the question is whether to try another full-length album (Cheese was released in 2009) or do another EP in early 2014. I can collect 4-5 songs easily enough between songs I've been working on, songs I've posted here in demo form, and songs I'd like to record, but I could alternately compile the last two EPs with a bunch of newly-recorded songs and make a full album.

I recognize I don't get a lot of people reading this (which is fine), and I get very few comments. But if you do have an opinion, please chime in. Would you be more interested in a 4-5 song EP or a 15-20 song album (with half-ish of the songs having been on previous EPs)? 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

(I Couldn't) Keep Taylor Swift Happy

Time for an original. This one is admittedly quite goofy, inspired by pop music exposure over the past few years and imagining singers might actually be like their personas.  I'm not sure if this song will go anywhere, if so it'll probably need a re-recording from scratch-- this was done on two tracks, with the vocals needing several takes. Actually the vocals probably still need several more takes, and it could stand to be mixed better. And it maybe should just be the first verse alone.  But we are where we are.

So with no further ado: (I Couldn't) Keep Taylor Swift Happy

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A questionable tribute to Lou Reed

It's been a busy month but I hope to get back to some music in a (slightly) slower patch between now and late January. However, I would be remiss not to commemorate Lou Reed's passing somehow. I admit to only a passing knowledge of his music outside of the "hits", though he touched the lives of many of the musicians I hold in esteem. REM's Dead Letter Office, which I bought in '87 when it came out, featured 3 Velvet Underground songs, serving as my gateway, and the band did other VU songs at concerts I attended.

And my college band, Dr. Lüst and the Chiefs of the European Space Agency, did a VU song as a major part of our sets early on: White Light/White Heat was how we'd end our sets, with Doug the instigator and singer. He was a big David Bowie fan, and our version was based on Bowie's (inasmuch as it was based on anything). I just liked the "flip out on G7" at the end. After a year or so it dropped out of the sets as our repertoire evolved (or something).  I include below a version we did one night at WMBR when our friend got us access to the studios for some recording in 1990. We'd tacked it on to a band intro song called "Dr. Lüst on Safari", which I excised and from which faded in.  For the curious, I'm on drums in this band.

For the second song I decided I'd just record Sweet Jane, my favorite of Reed's, cliched choice or not. On Twitter I called it an "indestructible song" and there's no better way to test that than have me play it...

Once again:

White Light/White Heat (Dr. Lüst)
Sweet Jane (solo acoustic!)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Another silver anniversary: If I Can't Be

Song link at the bottom, just like it was fruit in yogurt!

I've written songs (goofy songs, at that) since I was a kid. I also got into the habit of keeping a journal relatively early on.  So I have a pretty good sense of when various songs of mine were written. As I barrel through my 40s, some of these songs are getting pretty old. It's not surprising, of course, living as we do in a universe where time passes.  Still, anniversaries are things it's been interesting (for me at lest) to keep track of, as I've done both in depth and in more cursory fashion.

This past Thursday (the 5th) was the 25th anniversary of one of the songs I associate most strongly with college. I'm writing this post on the day itself, but I'm not posting it until the weekend since I'm doing the Ceres Google Hangout with the Dawn E/PO team today and want to keep my Ceres post up for an extra day or so. So we'll celebrate this birthday over the weekend. :)

I was a drummer first and foremost (and really, only) when I got to college. I dabbled a little bit with a goofy Casio keyboard, but never had lessons. I couldn't sing (still can't) and couldn't read music (still can't, unless tabs count). But I did have the foresight to decide that if I was going to procrastinate in college I'd do it with something useful-- learning to play guitar.  The floor I lived on had a communal 3-string guitar, which no doubt led to bad habits I kept when moving on to a 6-string.

In any event, I wrote a couple of songs on the 3-string guitar, which I inflicted on my dorm-mates while sitting in the hallway trying to learn to play. Two of them, Katrina and the Zen Master and Beneath the Milky Way, have both been recorded a la Gedankenband. But the first song I wrote, 25 years ago this week, was this one: If I Can't Be.

I played it a lot in 1988-89, but as I came up the learning curve on the guitar and wrote other songs it fell out of rotation, so to speak.  It didn't help that the 3-string got "fixed" and became a 6-string, and while If I Can't Be is pretty easy with three strings, it gets daunting very quickly for a novice with six strings (at least this novice).

I have a couple of very early recordings of this song (from 1989 and 1990) but both are so cringe-worthy I can't imagine putting them up here.  Instead, here's a newly-recorded Gedankenband version, which may (eventually) end up on the next album/EP/single:

If I Can't Be

(Edited 16 Feb 2014, new pointer for If I Can't Be)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ceres, and the Ceres Series

The Dawn spacecraft is en route to the "dwarf planet" Ceres, with arrival in 2015. Ceres is a really interesting target, and we're going to learn a ton. It's of particular personal interest since I've been studying and writing about it a lot, especially in the last few years.

As part of the lead-up to Dawn's arrival, their EPO (education and public outreach) team has been organizing a set of Google Hangouts with scientists to share their impressions and expectations of Ceres. I'll be joining them for the hangout on 5 September, at 1 PM EDT, it should also be available in their archives. The event page (should be found) at  http://plus.google.com/events/cstdr6jkeceic04mkfomdbr3s8k

And, naturally, I've been working on a song about Ceres for a while. Unlike my song for Vesta, the previous target for Dawn, this one is more like a rock opera.  However, since there aren't individual parts to be sung I've been calling it a "rock narrative". The song is written, but I've only recorded the first part, which I present here in demo form:

Ceres Ferdinandea I: The Monk and the Prodigy

While I'm at it, I'll also link to the collected astronomy/geeky music I've made through the years.

I plan (hope?) to finish the entire Ceres recording in plenty of time for Dawn's arrival!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Newish and Acoustic

Two songs today, the shorter of which needs a bit of context.

First, the other one: I Still Reckon

This was written a few years ago when I was feeling old and creaky. I'm planning a Gedankenband version at the next available opportunity.  It was probably inspired content-wise by a Weezer song, and the Shakira reference is certainly intentional.

Now, then. Back in college I wrote a song called Solitaire about the end of a recent relationship. Turns out it was one of my better songs from that time and the band really liked it. So it became the opener at most of our shows through the rest of 1990 and 1991. The next band I was in liked it too, so Jury Rig also played it. The band after that, Science Diet, was less enthusiastic, thinking it was rather negative. I recorded it for In-Jokes With Myself and then didn't really think about it.

The relevant ex-girlfriend and I stayed in touch and are quite good friends these days.  It turns out she likes the song, too. And while I was pretty worked up at the situation 20+ years ago, I no longer associated the song with the feelings that inspired it.  Nevertheless, I felt kind of bad about it. So I decided to write a short sequel to Solitaire. I've played around with that sort of thing before, having written a few other sequels (to songs like Love at First Sight and Sally's Sister) but never released them. 

So here is the (very short) sequel to Solitaire: Solitaire: New Deal

Friday, July 19, 2013

Astropoetry: A bit of waving at Saturn (and Mercury)

I have a million things to do, but those can apparently wait a bit longer.  Inspired by Amee Hennig (aka Astropoet Amee), who's been collecting and posting contributed poems for today's "Wave at Saturn" event, I figured I'd collect some of the relevant poems I've written for National Poetry Writing Month in the past few years about the Saturn system, and a bonus one of Mercury for the concomitant "Wave at Mercury" event!

"In a field by Hook Mountain" (Saturn)
"You Exhale Ice" (Enceladus)
"Horseshoes but No Hand Grenades" (Janus/Epimetheus)
"Am I Not a Planet?" (Titan)
"Two Faced Orb" (Iapetus)

"An Alchemical Dream" (Mercury)

Sunday, June 30, 2013

One that didn't get away

I've definitely got a thing for pop songs by female singers.  Over the years I sang Over the Rainbow, She Bop, and It's My Party for bands I was in, and advocated unsuccessfully for Piece of My Heart. Since Science Diet has two female members they've been singing lead on songs by women (like Heartbreaker and that band's version of She Bop), but here on the blog I've kept up by covering Ke$ha and Blondie, and there's a version of Bad Romance I sent to some friends.

So in that spirit, here's The One That Got Away, originally by Katy Perry, banged out live in glorious unmixed mono for a wet Sunday.

The One That Got Away (solo, acoustic)

While I'm at it, I'll continue to plug the MarcoPolo single, latest release from the Gedankenband! I'd cleverly failed to allow downloads when I first posted it, but that should now be fixed.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Country Trucker (Take 0)

I should be working on something other than music, but I couldn't resist. On a Twitter dare of sorts, I wrote the first part of "an astronaut country song" with the first line "I called Houston to ask why". Maybe I'll finish it. But for now, here's the first verse and chorus:

Country Trucker Out In Space (Demo)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

MarcoPolo, Live and Under Duress

Here I am performing MarcoPolo to a kind crowd of planetary scientists at the "Science of MarcoPolo-R" meeting. I wrote the song for this meeting, though originally the plan was for Detlef's blues band to play it. A few days before I was told the band wouldn't play (which didn't surprise me) but that they'd like me to do it solo (which did). There's a call for Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese verses, but I'd clearly need some help on those (though I think a Portuguese verse should feature Henry the Navigator). 

Thanks to Supersimo Slimons (as he is known on YouTube) for the recording and posting!
I hope to post the Gedankenband single version on Bandcamp soon!

Friday, May 24, 2013

MarcoPolo, a solo acoustic live performance preview!

Not sure if I'll be able to update the blog much in coming weeks, so I figured I'd do something this evening. Here, then, is a performance video-- not something I've done much of (or any of, actually). The song is MarcoPolo, the Gedankenband version should be out before too long (hopefully), as detailed in my previous post!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Upcoming Single Release: MarcoPolo

With April and National Poetry Writing Month in the rear-view mirror, it's back to putting music in the Imperturbable Music blog. So I hope to get a single up on the Bandcamp site in the next few weeks.

The A-side (or what would have been the A side if there were such things any more) will be "MarcoPolo", a song written about the proposed European asteroid sample return mission MarcoPolo-R (MPR). It was a request of the MPR Principal Investigator, who liked Down on Vesta well enough to commission a song from me at a group dinner in Barcelona. Or maybe it was all the alcohol.  Regardless, I found someone to sing the French verse and the whole Gedankenband lends their vocal as well as instrumental...stylings to the song.

I'm planning on pairing two B-sides with MarcoPolo at this point. The first is a proper recording of Liara, my tribute to a fictional blue alien babe, which appeared here in a demo version just after it was recorded. The second is a solo acoustic version of OBAFGKM. That one, at least, is done.

I'm hoping to get permission to use some artwork from the MPR mission, so with luck that'll happen quickly.  We'll see if that'd be lucky for you or not. :)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Post-NaPoWriMo Bonus Poem

First, thanks for all the support during National Poetry Writing Month.  It's been wonderful to go through the experience with colleagues old and new and read some great new stuff.  As difficult as it was at times, I'm already looking forward to next year.

With that, I wanted to post one extra poem.  It seemed a bit too...something to end the month on, so I'll just start May with it.  After all, the point of NaPoWriMo isn't to write or post poetry in April alone. :)  So here's one I wrote early in the month, inspired by a friend's professional travails and a phrase she used in describing them.


science is a sometimes friend
the kind who'll encourage you
to sit down at the popular kid table
then laugh at you behind your back
for your pretension.

science is a sometimes friend
who'll poke you when you daydream
and tell you should be working harder
and ask you why you aren't Einstein.

science is a sometimes friend
who'll tell you that your'e not all that
and who'll drive away people
you really like
so that they wonder
if you'll still like them
even if they can't be friends with science
because it broke their hearts
too often.

science is a sometimes friend
who'll sneak into your dorm room
late at night
thinking you're asleep
and whisper "i love you"
but you hear and remember every word.


Again, thanks for your support! I expect to go back to mostly posting homemade music of varying quality until next April, hopefully you'll return to listen to that stuff here and at the Gedankenband website, too.  :)

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 Poem 30: Some Molecules

Uncounted septillions of molecules collide and jostle,
Each interacting with a group of neighbors.
We look at it all and reduce the aggregate to a number,
Whether we prefer Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin.

And we go through our lives, slouching or grooving,
Each interacting with friends or colleagues.
We look at it all and try to reduce it to a word,
History or society or fate or providence.

We don't know which specific molecule we'll breathe
And make a part of us for a little while.
We just know that it'll happen
As long as we don't put ourselves in a stupid situation.

Some molecules make their way to the edge of space
And break free the surly bonds of gravity.
Perhaps they'll impact the Moon and chill
Or head straight for the exits, lightborne.

Yet, the molecules have no agency, no curiosity,
No science to guide them.
How much better could we do, not just for a privileged few!
As long as we don't put ourselves in a stupid situation.

Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Poem 29: Scale

There are many solar systems,
some you can explore on foot.
Start at the Sun,
medicine ball or grapefruit
or a big circle on the ground.

A few paces takes you through
the habitable zone,
barely noticeable compared
to gas giants
sitting in South Station
or ringed in Westfield.

You may think you've gone too far
and missed the ice giants
but they're there.
Whether you find anything beyond
is perhaps more opinion than science.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 Poem 28: Cap Cloud

We write about the best nights
but we remember the worst ones.
Nights circled on the calendar with
hope and anticipation,
with full target lists and schedules
but ending with disappointment
and empty log books.

Like placeholder lyrics to half-written songs
or short stories amid writer's block,
with howling winds and freezing fog,
loose cables and bad ephemerides,
a cap cloud that sits over you alone.

Still, the best times do more than pay the rent.
When the sky is steady and the nights are long
you can feel the wonder in your bones,
as you watch the clouds pass by
on other planets.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

2013 Poem 27: The Blank Page

The blank page is perfect.
Full of possibilities,
free of mistakes.
But I can't put it on my CV.

The asteroid is affectless.
Doing what it has always done,
since before life began.
But that night we watched it.

The photons are reflected.
Collected by detector,
turned into numbers.
But I don't understand them.

The cursor is blinking.
The clock is ticking.
The co-authors are waiting.
The blank page is perfect.

Friday, April 26, 2013

2013 Poem 26: Science Fiction

I grew up liking
Luke over Kirk
and Han over Luke.
I preferred Buck to Flash,
but never took any calls
from the Doctor.

No Valentines for me
nor Hari Seldon,
but I was an aspirant
to the Baltimore Gun Club
and longed to fly over Magrathea
in its heyday.

And now I see
the pile of unread books
on the shelf,
the folder
of unread pdfs
and upcoming reviews
on the calendar.
How much science fiction
do I encounter still?


In case it matters, this is meant more playfully than accusingly. :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

2013 Poem 25: Oh Pioneers

Come my curious children,
Raised on Twitter, bred on YouTube,
We once explored with film and fixer
And vidicon.

Oh Pioneers,
We knew so little we were unsure
You would survive the asteroid belt
Or be smashed to bits

Two targets in one.
A trick shot like a bowman from a pool,
Bent by giants but never broken,
Offline you roll on.

You gave first glimpses
Of volcanic moons and cloudy titans.
We have much more to remember
than a plaque.


With apologies to Walt Whitman

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

2013 Poem 24: One, Six, Seven, Eight

There is more of one,
much more of one
than all others combined.
You might almost say
there is nothing else
(except for most of what surrounds us
in our lives).

Six is black or brilliant cut,
Methyl or ethyl or bucky.
The stuff of life,
save for all the poisons
it's also in.

Is God seven?
It dominates our atmosphere
and also Titan's,
and coats Pluto

Eight is sweetly like love
A fingerprint of origins,
a never-sleeping
maker of rust.
Its buildup was a catastrophe
but not for us.

One, six, seven, eight.
Subtract any of them
and subtract us all.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

2013 Poem 23: An Alchemical Dream

A bit of a word before today's poem. The budget for NASA-funded planetary science (which is most of planetary science) has been repeatedly slashed, jeopardizing important research as it sits on the verge of answering many fundamental questions about our solar system and our place in it. Congress has been very supportive of planetary science, and we hope to encourage their continued support. The Planetary Society is organizing public efforts to help planetary science, with background here. Please consider visiting the Planetary Society page linked here to thank Congress and ask for more help, or consider a letter or call to your Representatives and/or Senators on your own. 


An alchemical dream.
Not as good as lead to gold
but making water
from the thinnest of airs
is still pretty impressive.

Oh, free to wander
a molecule unbound
radically changing course.
Racing to find a shady spot
or a crystal palace
to ride out a sequester.

Monday, April 22, 2013

2013 Poem 22: My favorite planet

We tend to take it for granted.
When we get questions about
our favorite planets
we all too often wander off
about the glories of Olympus Mons
or the rings of Saturn
or shouldn't Titan count, too
or look at this neat lightcurve data
suggesting maybe there's something else like it
really really far away.
But too rarely does someone just say

It wasn't so long ago
that inquiry was met with
for suggesting Earth was a planet,
and even now we live in
our separate towers.
Yet we all move
through cataclysms and solar wind,
enduring deluges of water and ethane,
as dunes march in formation
across one plate or many.
Earth science
planetary science.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

2013 Poem 21: The solar system has a dust problem

Since it hasn't been cleaned
in billions of years
we shouldn't be surprised
the solar system
has a dust problem.

It's mostly the small
members of the family
of course.
Rough and tumble play
in the asteroids,
comets shedding everywhere
expecting the Sun to clean up.
And if you've got irregular satellites
in your system,
say goodbye to keeping
icy surfaces gleaming.

We are told that nature
abhors a vacuum.
But would it kill nature
to just tidy up a bit
once in a while?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

2013 Poem 20: No other sun

You are nothing like my mistress' eyes
Into which I find I stare for hours.
Compared to other stars in foreign skies,
You only have weak and middling powers.
No birth for you in a special cluster.
Your steady light still varies all the same.
Your storms rage with no especial bluster.
We do not call you by a regal name.
Although you are old, we know of older,
Your fire predated by some rocks and stones.
Although you are hot, you are much colder
Than giants who grow iron in their bones
    And yet we only live due to your light,
    No other sun will we all find as right.

Friday, April 19, 2013

2013 Poem 19: Lone and Level Sands

Spirits haunt the desert.
Colossal wrecks of travelers,
Russian, British, American,
those who sheltered in place,
those who looked for adventure,
those who never got to say hello.

Passions yet survive
for mightier and mightier works
to be placed on lone and level sands,
to climb sharp peaks,
to find a rock and bring it safely back to Earth
before the end of this century.

Other bootprints will last forever
but some of the tire tracks
may already be gone.
Fallen to the everyday
wind and dust
of an antique land.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

2013 Poem 18: Haiku

An oily shower
on the dimly lit landscape.
Parachute glistens.


Just a quick one today, but if I write any more I'll post it...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

2013 Poem 17: Neptune All Night

Summer after sophomore year.
Astronomy geek at engineering school,
unwise in the ways of anything.
You were a biology student
and a ballerina
but mostly just 
the most amazing girl I'd ever met.

Spring saw massacre in
Tianamen Square,
Fall saw the
Berlin Wall come down.
The summer was different.

And one night in August
found me in my tiny room
watching my TV
sitting on the tiny fridge
with its NASA sticker
as images from across the solar system came
down from the skies.
Cantaloupe terrains and ring arcs
Great dark spots.
The end of a great adventure.

I remember little from 1989, all told.
But those encounters are etched
like grooves in a golden record
I can't imagine anyone else playing.


A little poetic license.  Maybe it could have used more. ;)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

2013 Post 16: Dirty Water

aromatic leftovers
in unprocessed clumps.
blacker than coal,
older than sunlight.

adrift in the currents
of an ethereal ocean
wafting on hydrogen breezes.

soak up the sun and 
do laps, lazily. 
feeling indestructible enough
to ingest some cyanide
and methanol
but better keep plenty of water at hand.

physics and chemistry,
reason and rime.

Monday, April 15, 2013

2013 Poem 15: Massaging the Numbers

The numbers slide and pulse and writhe.
Some insist on strict identities
but others are content to be flexible,
submissively morphing as needed
to best meet a mate above or below
and leave their sides of the bar together.

We're not building bridges or designing planes.
We're not fighting disease or auditing books.
Two wrongs don't make a right
but π and e can make a ten.


This didn't end up where I thought it was going, but maybe it ended up where it needed to be.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

2013 Poem 14: The Sincerest Form

This is a page taken from R. A. Gray's "The Life and Work of Tycho Brahé", published in 1923 in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (vol. 17). This type of "redacted poetry" is something I've never seen before the last year or so, and only through the work of Christine Reuter aka "tychogirl" who ends up with some amazing visual and written components. It's really a whole lot harder than it looks (and I didn't do a terribly good job, requiring arrows and all), but I thought I'd give it a shot as an homage. She really does great non-redacted poetry too, and her fans and colleagues are all hoping she does more of that too (hint)...

Saturday, April 13, 2013

2013 Poem 13: A stoic, icy mask

Orbiting for eons at the edge of our consciousness,
how many astronomers saw you and dismissed you?
Losing you in the cacophony of faint stars
until an oboist picked out your melody and named you for his king.
Not the last time your name has met with giggles,
even now as it's like a Muse's.

In the last centuries we've found you to be ringed
but using a different jeweler than your showy brother:
You prefer darker, sleeker, thinner adornment,
though you show it off by bending at the waist.

Our first encounter showed a stoic, icy mask.
Spending time with Juliet and Desdemona and Ophelia
might have taught you to keep much inside in the face of tragedy,
even as challengers took to the heavens.
How many astronomers see you and dismiss you, still?
Still, the game is afoot for a return engagement.
Perhaps we'll make it back within a year of our first visit.

Friday, April 12, 2013

2013 Poem 12: Millions of unsampled asteroids

Millions of unsampled asteroids
in your neighborhood.

One weird tip
for scoring higher
with proposal reviewers.


Are you embarrassed
by the size of your
space program?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

2013 Poem 11: What made us fall in love

Come, my dear friend.
We suffer too much
and we're losing touch
with what made us fall in love.

Lay beside me.
The light from the stars
miraculous still,
informed by what makes them shine

Pore over maps
from such distant shores--
simpler times' relics.
Though some may think us relics.

Drink with me now--
tarry a moment.
The future will keep
and the planets still circle.


Doesn't seem relevant to planets, but it's very much inspired by planetary science...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2013 Poem 10: The Waterless Beach

Another day on the beach.
UV index at 11+
and the forecast calls for a drizzle
of  tiny stones at rocket speeds.

Even the sand is sweating,
beads of iron leading to an uneven tan.
The tide is out. The tide is always out.
Might be a good day to stay indoors;
I burn easily.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

2013 Poem 9: Unreflective and Blue?

Middle child,
your big sister's shape has been turning heads
can a team in her orbit be far behind?
And though your younger, fair-skinned sibling
inspired virgins to ecstasy,
she promiscuously sent her calling cards
hither and yon.

You take some time to get to know.
Water surged in your veins,
the stuff of life throughout your body.
Now with your family
you take a different angle.

And so you abide.
Found by accident, hard to reach.
You may be seen as unreflective and blue,
but the wisdom of the ages are carried in your bones.

Monday, April 8, 2013

2013 Poem 8: Doggerel #1

If we believe the whiteboard crew
(and we always cash their checks)
the solar system's early days
were full of massive wrecks.
Small bodies thrown from planets' paths
like RVs tossing gravel
No traffic judge but gravity
with impacts as her gavel.

The planets wandered to and fro,
sometimes resonating
with cataclysmic consequence
some people say they're dating.
Now looking back upon that time
of crashing rock and ice
I don't know how I'd feel back then
but I wouldn't call it nice.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

2013 Poem 7: In a field by Hook Mountain

In the field by Hook Mountain
chill suburban skies
were starry and cloudless,
yet the air hung with lush possibility
in the days when Pioneers
and Vikings explored
alien shores.

The telescopes at the party
would be dwarfed
by those I'd use a decade later
but they all looked giant to me.
And all were well-loved,
dobs and newtonians alike.

M13 and the Ring Nebula
held little appeal to me.
It was a different ring
that led to my engagement.

The first view was a jolt.
It really looked like  they said it would,
pale and perfect, ansa to ansa.
A platonic ideal of itself
even today.

(from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SaturnRuthCrisp18feb06.jpg)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

2013 Poem 6: विज्ञान के स्वर्ण युग अब शुरू होता है

Basaltic crunch
Hiss of valves
Sister starts to spill her secrets.

Shukra's greenhouse poisoned
acrid and arid.
Please teach us
how to maintain
our own.
Earth science is
planetary science.

Magellan and early mariners
blazed a trail
before they got distracted,
and thought the
of new worlds
only lay in gold and silver.

But a patient people
will find the true riches
of further Indies,
and gems assayed
from Lakshmi Planum.

Friday, April 5, 2013

2013 Poem 5: Limiting Magnitude

born in the big bang
an atom dies today
so light may be born.
it embraces the pressure at last
and in its metamorphosis,
a quantum conservation of

photon emerges,
bumps and jostles.
by the time it surfaces
it could have traversed the galaxy.
born before Lucy,
it finally makes its debut.

in a few hours or less,
the photon knows what we do not.
changed by its knowledge
of Europa or Titan
or Mars or Triton,
upon reflection it heads our way.

telescope waits with welcoming eye,
desert summer night,
thesis in the balance.
shoulders of giants eager to add
another luminary.

desert summer night,
a lovely night to pull out the driver.
it may cost a lot to light this course
so that it's bright as day
and the course a mile away
and the mini-mart across the street
and the billboards advertising botox
and the billboards advertising billboards
and the casino
and the casino parking lot
and the resort
and the mini-mart next to the resort
and the other casino with the outer space theme.
but it's so worth it.
it's not like there's any reason not to, right?

bottom: from http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/light-pollution-map/)

Thursday, April 4, 2013

2013 Poem 4: When things were retrograde

Sketch pad and pencil
Under starry vault.
Watch and wait.
Libya then Syrtis, Chryse then Arcadia.
Eye to lens, pencil to paper.
Count to 360, then start again.
All things to those who wait.

now paper seems so yestersol.
our arrays could spot a C8
on the surface
in hyper spectral superresolution
with 16-bit precision.
roll to yogi, sight to mermaid.
we go where we want, we see what we want.
why would we wait?
we hold whole worlds in dextrous hands,
forcing east and north to conform
to our fingers.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 Poem 3: Frost Line

We can say some worlds began in fire,
And other ones in ice.
When first circling in its gyre
Our Earth was on the side of fire.
But once Jove began to roll the dice
And comets flew to meet their fate,
Is this how Earth got water ice?
There is debate
To be precise.

(Image from http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2011/1213/Geminid-meteor-shower-why-spectacular-light-show-puzzles-scientists, credited to Daniel Aguilar/REUTERS/File)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

2013 Poem 2: Part of Something Larger

From broken homes they come.
Worlds apart
wracked by havoc,
torn asunder
by merciless bombardment

Families drift apart.
Cast aside by parents
and bullied by sunshine
some still seek the only lasting warmth
they've experienced
Like moths to the flame
the inward spiral begins.

Some refugees alight on our shores
at entry points like
Allende, Zag, Peekskill or Tagish Lake.
Here they go under the scalpel for science
Or sit admired in museums
Or again simply become
part of
something larger.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2013 Poem 1: Empty Space is So Intimidating

start at the beginning
it's made to sound so easy.
one moment a blank page
empty space
a few equations, then
a solar system.

dust from dust,
the charnel dust of stars
that spoke the deplorable words.
that shocking, divine hammer.
what would follow?

it's made to sound so easy.
but empty space is so intimidating.

a kilogram of dust
in a million cubic meters.
cairns for a trail
that could go anywhere.

an armful of oranges
scattered through the Astrodome
coming together to make a fruit basket.
six septillion fruit baskets
finding each other
to make our world.


OK, I kind of took a weird turn at the end. I had a few different ideas, combined a few, and mercifully left at least one out.  Still, it's a start.  :)

Sunday, March 31, 2013

National Poetry Writing Month 2013 (and an offer)!

It's just about that time again. For people who've followed this blog (hi!) or drop in occasionally after Twitter or Facebook prompting (hi again!) National Poetry Writing Month (or "NaPoWriMo") begins this Monday, 1 April (no foolin'!).  The idea is that you write a poem every day of April, in an effort to get people writing. I've done it for three consecutive years, picking a theme each year.  In 2010 it was baseball teams, 2011 was chemical elements, 2012 was solar system objects (but not planets). There's a lot to cover in the solar system, of course, and I plan to make 2013 another solar system year, including the planets this time.  I am once again going to try and keep to the ethic I've had for several years of not spending more than 15-20 minutes per poem (I've grinded them out before breakfast several days) and starting exactly one poem a day (I do allow myself to think about ideas ahead of time, though). I know some other folks will be joining me in NaPoWriMo with space themed poetry, most notably Christine Reuter (aka tychogirl) and Amee Hennig (aka astropoetamee), maybe you can too!

It's been a great year for planetary science poems. Not only have planetary scientists like Jennifer Grier and Michele Bannister had their work professionally published, but the tradition of haiku summaries of LPSC talks has received renewed attention, and apparently has spread to archaeologists!

So, I'm going to make an offer to you. Yes, you too. NaPoWriMo is about getting people to write without worrying about having it be perfect, which pre-empts the whole process. I encourage all of you to write something! In previous years I've come up with free verse, sestinas, sonnets, haiku, and a whole heck of a lot of doggerel. It doesn't need to be a poem every day, it doesn't need to be The Rime of the Ancient Mariner or Leaves of Grass. It doesn't have to be anything you share with others, it doesn't have to be about planets or space or science at all. But if you want to try your hand and are willing to share but don't have a venue to post what you want, I'm happy to do so here. I'll post it under your name or anonymously as you wish, with any accompanying text you like. If you can find this blog, you can probably find my contact information either in my profile here, or on Twitter (@ asrivkin) or elsewhere.

Get writing! :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Oldie and Oldier

But Of Course
Congress St. Blues

In the rush of everything, I seem to have let a couple of song anniversaries slip past me. A few years ago I commemorated the 20th anniversary of Wrong Place Wrong Time with a post here and some old and new versions of it. Today I'll just put on some new recordings I banged out for fun.  This will likely be the last post before National Poetry Writing Month and the annual conversion into a poetry blog, so be warned!

The first song I'll mention is Congress St. Blues, written back in February of 1993. It name checks various Tucson place names (and the never-quite-finalized lyrics sometimes mention The Chicago Store), and was born after an evening gig with Pez Con Pelo at a bar on Congress Street (but not the Club Congress, the First Avenue Entry of Tucson).  I never recorded it for anything but a friend's mixtape, as it never seemed to rise above other songs from that time period. So after 20 years, here's its moment in the sun (so to speak).

The second one is older still.  But Of Course turned 25 years old this month, which is frankly astonishing to me since I don't feel much older than that myself. It was one of the last songs I wrote on my old keyboard (which I never learned to actually play) before starting to write songs on the 41st West guitar (which I arguably never learned to play). I've recorded older songs "for real" (Some Of The Time is from a few weeks earlier, for instance), but I always had a soft spot for this one (as did my girlfriend at the time).  So it certainly merits a rerecording after this one!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Lost Original and Should've-been-lost Cover

Bisbee Blue (demo)
Your Love (cover)

How about another song or two?  That's rhetorical: you don't have any real choice in the matter, though neither are you required to download or listen. But, of course, you know that already.

I just did a little bit of recording to pick up my mood a bit. The first song is an original called Bisbee Blue. I'm not quite sure when I wrote it, other than "mid-90s". The song is named for the town of Bisbee, once one of the largest cities in Arizona but most recently something of a tourist/artist/old-timey attraction. Bisbee blue is a...you know, I'm not sure what it is.  A color, of course, but I'm not sure if it was in local pottery or jewelry or what.   It's the local turquoise.  It's also the name of a song by Tucson band Calexico, though my song was written first. I'd forgotten about it for ages, and only rediscovered it a year or so ago. I may rerecord it for real for the next EP, but I figured I'd bang it out now and post it.

And since heaven forfend I just post one song, I added a goofy cover of Your Love by the Outfield. Their version is better, of course, but they had the advantage of knowing what they were doing. Even though I either botched the ending or didn't botch it because you can't botch what you don't know, I thought I'd post it, too. 

Both songs are just me and my guitar. For Bisbee Blue I recorded them on separate tracks in serial, for Your Love I just did it live (obviously). 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dear Kate Bush

Songs at the bottom!

First a bit of near/medium term planning: Thanks to all for the positive response to the "We Didn't Start The Science" video! This post doesn't have any geeky rewritten pop songs, so be warned. :)  I plan to do National Poetry Writing Month again on the blog in April, and also to get a few music posts in before then. In particular, I'm hoping to post the first part of my Ceres rock opera (which is technically not an opera, I think). I've also been toying with a longer-term project of writing Schoolhouse Rock-style planetary science songs. The initial reaction has been positive, but of course that's entirely been from friends on Twitter. :)

OK, today I'm posting two versions of a song that I've been working on for a while but will clearly never put on a "proper" EP or LP like the ones on Bandcamp. I'm not sure exactly what started me writing a song "about" Kate Bush, but I started nonetheless. I wanted it to be a complicated, way-overproduced thing vaguely reminiscent of "Hounds of Love" (in fact, it was a cover of Hounds of Love that helped spur me on).  But I never could sing it worth a damn. I posted an instrumental version of it here (in fact it was one of my very first posts) and thought I'd figure it out later.

And so I did! I realized I should have Meredith sing it and that would work better.  Unfortunately, all of the techno wizardry needed for the various parts (including the 100% auto-tune that I think helps lend...something to the song) mean that the vocals sound odd in an unintended way.  On top of that, the sample of "The Man With The Child In His Eyes" means that I'm reluctant to put it on Bandcamp.  So I'm putting it here (and below) instead.

The second version is just me and my guitar.  I originally recorded it for a friend, and for completeness am putting it up here (and below). It's much much simpler than the way I imagine it (which is more like the "regular" version), so I don't want to put that on Bandcamp either.  And if it's not going to be on a proper release, I might as well put it here. :)

Dear Kate Bush: Meredith vocals, full Gedankenband
Dear Kate Bush: Andy and guitar

Monday, February 4, 2013

Video: We Didn't Start The Science

I do a lot on Twitter.  I'm probably use it more than any other social media site.  My handle is @ asrivkin, though you're much more likely to find this blog via Twitter than find me on Twitter via this blog. 

Anyhow, as I was approaching my 10,000th tweet I thought I'd do something fun. My 5,000th tweet found me at a famous landmark, but timing wasn't working out to do something similar for 10,000. So instead you get a video!  I did the "special effects" with Photo Booth-- it would likely have come out better if I'd allocated more time to the process and some effort into getting some better lighting, but perhaps it fits the DIY nature of things better this way.

"We Didn't Start The Science" appears a few times on this blog and elsewhere.  I of course didn't write the music. Because it's a cover it's not eligible to be on my Bandcamp site, but that doesn't mean I won't point to it and recent releases there anyway. :)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Back on Mars Hill

I've been traveling since, well, 2011 2012. The last few days have found me in Flagstaff, at Lowell Observatory staying in the chalet on Mars Hill. It's really a great place, sort of the Wrigley Field of American astronomy, and it still retains a lot of its late 19th/early 20th century charm. I've been lucky enough to spend two long stints here: a month in 1989 for Astronomy Field Camp, and the summer of 1995 for a graduate student program.

The 1995 graduate program coincided with the yearly undergraduate internships run by several Flagstaff-area astronomy institutions, and there was a group of about 10 of us (graduate and undergraduate, plus a high school intern) who hung out together much of the summer. At one point they heard me play guitar, and humored/cajoled me into playing a "concert" for them one night up on Mars Hill.

Since I'm staying on Mars Hill again, I thought I'd post a few of the songs that they recorded from that night.  They're not great recordings, plus Get Out of My Life is notorious for being a swear-filled monstrosity, but I don't think people listen to any of the songs I'm posting, so I think I'm in the clear. :)

1. Another Margarita
2. The Astronomers Song
3. Get Out of My Life (aka Psychopath) VERY NSFW!!

UPDATE: I should have included a link (or two) to the song I wrote that summer, Crunchy Granola Girl. I didn't perform it since it wasn't written yet, but I did record a 4-track version (one of the first posts on this blog!) when I got back to Tucson and it was the anchor song of Do Not Tip or Rock.

Bonus Anecdote: That summer was also the only time I played an open mic night (at least prior to the AGU one). Get Out of My Life was a crowd-pleaser, though of course the crowd was small. Near the end of the summer, Tim Spahr and I were bowling when a large, drunk-looking biker type aggressively came to our lane. I thought it was to beat us up since we kept having malfunctions, but instead he said "Hey, you're the guy who had that lunatic song!".