Happy Pi Day

It’s a spectacularly beautiful day in south Louisiana, the sun is bright, the air is still crisp, there’s a bit of pollen in the air. It can only mean one thing. It’s Pi Day, the annual celebration of that magical number that helps figure out how to do pretty much everything.

And why today? Because it’s 3/14 (at least in the US, in Europe it’s 14/3 – they have no pi day – pity). And while my son and I can both recite the number to the eighth decimal place by heart, one of my colleagues can ramble it off for hours (or so it seems).

Why do I like pi so much? Maybe it’s just the inner nerd in me coming through. Maybe it’s because I use pi every time I compose electroacoustic and computer music.

But what really appeals to me is a reduction of Euler’s formula in which the variable x is set to pi. When this happens, you get what is called Euler’s Identity.

And while this may seem somewhat innocuous or trivial, it is probably the most elegant mathematical formula ever conceived. In the formula, you have the three fundamental mathematical operations (add, multiply and exponentiation) each used just once, and you have the five fundamental constants (0, 1, e, π, i – the square root of -1) each also just used once. There are no variables in the equation, only constants.

It is not useful for anything other than the beauty and elegance of itself. It is art manifest within math. It is a reflection that world around us is filled with intrinsic beauty. Whether we are admiring the birdsong on a sunny spring morning, or the color green as it radiates from the leaves of water oaks in the Louisiana bayous during the summer. Whether we are admiring the beauty of the Milky Way in the starlit night sky or the curved arc of a frisbee thrown long across the field to your friend at the other side.

Pi is with us wherever we go, whatever we hear and whatever we see. It is all around us always, in ways we see and not see.

That is why I like pi.


Ideas Abounding « Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana

Our recent “preview performance” of the LOLs has given rise to some provocative discussions within our group.  Some ideas are interesting, others are downright silly.  The more salient issues are discussed on the LOL blog.

Ideas Abounding « Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana.

Laptop Orchestra Preview Concert

On Tuesday, my new ensemble, the Laptop Orchestra of Louisiana, held its very first full concert at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, LA. We wanted to have a friendly venue for trying out our new pieces, trying to figure out how to move about the stage, how to keep the software current on all the computers, etc.

As things go, it was pretty successful.  The things we thought would go well did.  The things we were unsure about still went pretty well.  We still had an audience at the end, and they seemed to like it.

Many thanks to Jeremy Sagala for his help in organizing the event, and to the staff and students at SELU.  We had a great time.

The LOL (as we like to call it) has it’s own web/blog, and we’ve posted some pictures from the concert.  You can also follow the LOLs on Facebook and Twitter (@LaptopOrchOfLA)


Music is good for you at any age – LA Times.com

As a professional musician and professor of music, I certainly can attest to the value of music at any age.  But there is so much about how our brains connect with musical language that we still do not understand.  What I do know (and I’ve seen it directly in action) is that music reaches a primal zone deep within our brain that connects to our intellect at an absolutely fundamental level.

Music is good for you at any age – latimes.com.

My grandfather died of Alzheimer’s disease many years ago.  At the time of this incident, he was living in what would now be called an “assisted living” facility designed for people with this disease.   As he was entering a phase of complete disorientation and even a lack of speech, my mother brought him home for what would be his last Thanksgiving with us.

When he saw me, he thought I was my uncle. Although he was somewhat disoriented, he did know he was with family.  After a while, I decided to play some piano for him.  As I started playing some old jazz standards, he started to hum along.  Humming became singing, and all of a sudden he became completely cogent.  For the rest of the evening, he was alert and aware.  It turned out to be a very nice evening.

Unfortunately, he continued to decline, and never really returned to the kind of awareness we saw that night.  But that episode showed me something that I had always known – music truly touches the soul in ways we value greatly but barely understand.