Architecture Monday

Jean-Michel Jarre is no stranger to incorporating architecture into his concerts.  Whether the office towers in Houston, or at La Defence in Paris, or the great pyramids of Giza, his epic outdoor concerts (sometimes with audiences in the millions) the buildings all become part of the show, both as more obvious backdrops for projections and lights and fireworks and as also acting as giant prosceniums, creating the very container for the concert itself.

So, even beyond my love of his music, it was with great excitement that I learned that he’d been invited to host a New Year’s Eve concert inside none other than the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris… well, sort of.  The concert was held inside a virtual version of the famed cathedral, which allowed both for way more people to inhabit the space (plus, the cathedral is of course still under repair) and it allowed for his signature visuals to push beyond the boundaries of reality and physics to create effects that interacted with the building in amazing and novel ways.

And boy did they ever!  The best effects were definitively the ones that played with the building, either interacting with the architecture or inhabiting it in a way that changed the experience of the space:  boxes of light that enveloped the columns of the nave, long ribbons of light that hugged the form and changed the emphasis from the vertical to the horizontal, glowing orbs and objects that hovered high above amongst the stained-glass windows.  All along with the usual bevvy of effects including projection mapping, shafts of light, and the video blocks that surrounded the virtual Jean-Michel on his stage at the central crossing of nave and transept.

Unfortunately… the official replay of the concert by Unesco and the City of Paris, both of whom were the generators of the concert, which I myself watched, is no longer available for viewing on Youtube.  Not sure why they made it such a limited run engagement to view it, but they did.  Fortunately, some who attended ‘in person’ (in VR) captured their experience and have made their recordings available:

An amazing concert, well worth watching.  For me this was an extra amazing experience on several levels, for almost exactly 23 years earlier I’d visited Notre Dame de Paris on Christmas eve, getting to experience the architecture, the organ, and the choir all acting in glorious unison in the run up to Midnight Mass.  To “be in” the cathedral again for a concert that was integrally tied and inseparable from the architecture was just fantastic.  A celebration on so many levels.

Wonder Wednesday

I always loved the back of the Canadian 5 dollar bill from the “Birds of Canada” series of bills.  Something about the light blue colour and the stillness of the scene really did it for me.  A restaurant I used to visit in Ottawa even had a giant version reproduced on the wall.

But… somehow… I never knew of the practice of Spocking the bills!  A few choice scribbles turns Sir Wilfred Laurier into the famous Vulcan:

Which continued in the next version of the bill:

I knew even less that some slightly different scribbles could turn him into Snape:

Who knew that Laurier was so versatile in his acting roles?

(Apparently, alas, his rendition on the latest series of bills is such that he isn’t so easily disguised anymore…)

Check out more on the Canadian bank notes at this link here.

Philosophy Tuesday

“Aside from the animals, there are nearly a thousand abstract signs and shapes we cannot interpret and also several negative hand stencils, as they are known by art historians. These are the paintings that most interest me. They were created by pressing one hand with fingers splayed against the wall of the cave and then blowing pigment, leaving the area around the hand painted. Similar hand stencils have been found in caves around the world from Indonesia to Spain to Australia to the Americas to Africa. We have found these memories of hands from 15,000 or 30,000, or even 40,000 years ago.

These hand stencils remind us of how different life was in the distant past. Amputations, likely from frostbite, are common in Europe and so you often see negative hand stencils with three or four fingers. And life was short and difficult. As many as a quarter of women died in childbirth. Around 50% of children died before the age of five.

But they also remind us that the humans of the past were as human as we are, their hands indistinguishable from ours. These communities hunted and gathered and there were no large caloric surpluses so every healthy person would’ve had to contribute to the acquisition of food and water.

And yet somehow, they still made time to create art, almost as if art isn’t optional for humans.”

John Green

(from this episode of his great podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed)

(which was animated into this amazing video by Kurzgesagt)

Wonder Wednesday

It may seem incongruous to see a congratulatory text at the bottom of a screen showing a big pile of flaming wreckage… and indeed, this first flight test of SpaceX’s new Starship did end in one of their patented Rapid Unscheduled Disassemblies, aka a RUD, aka “A loud boom and parts everywhere.”

BUT! This was in so many ways an amazing test and a crazy success.  The thing took off, held aloft by three fully burning Raptor engines (making this the first flight of a Methane/LOX engine, perhaps?), soaring upward to 12.5km or nearly 8 miles in altitude (the view from the downward camera was intense), then “skydiving” gracefully back down towards the landing pad before, in the ultimate pièce de résistance, flipping itself back vertical with an engine relight, all well aimed for a pad touchdown.  Not everything went perfect (looks at the image above again… clearly) but for a first try this was incredible.

Unfortunately, I missed watching it it live (I watched live yesterday when they had their last second abort, and I swear earlier I saw that the next attempt wasn’t going to be today but apparently it was) but I’ve watched the replay a couple of times now and it was still intense.  WordPress tends to strips out the proper time link, so go to about 1 hour, 46 minutes into the video to arrive just before the launch :

Even if you’re not interested in space and rockets I still invite you to check it out, it’s impressive enough and there are a couple of moments that’ll make your brain try and figure out what crazy thing it is watching.  And if you really aren’t interested, then I submit to you at least to watch the landing flip, which is captured even more amazingly from this on-the-pad camera:

As for the destruction of the test vehicle, well, not a problem.  They’ve got the next one just about complete, and two more readied right up behind it.  I can’t wait to see them hit orbit.

Wonder Saturday

Wow, it turns out that the Kurt Vonnegut quote I posted on last Tuesday’s philosophy post was, indeed, an actual quote by Kurt Vonnegut!  (There’s so many miss-attributed or just plain fabricated quotes out there, one never can quite be sure…)  Even better, here’s a reading of the whole letter in which it was contained by none other than Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen!