Sunday, June 26, 2011

Kadochigai - mistaking a door

 One euro was enough to buy me this Japanese dictionary in the Rotterdam book market. When I have to wait, while my computer boots or while my scanner scans, I browse its contents. Each time I'm surprised how language and culture are intertwined. My latest discovery opens a whole Murakami-like world.

"Mistaking a door" was a concept that had never entered my world. But this simple phrase contains a universe of possibilities. One moment you mistake a door and the next moment your whole life has changed.


And this single page contains even more cultural treasures like:
  •  Kadobi - A funeral fire.
  • Kadomatsu - Pine trees set up for the New Year's decorations.
  • Kadotsuke - A strolling shamisen player.
For the Japanese these words are ordinary words. For me they are very exotic and poetic. They show a glimpse of a foreign Haiku-like world. A world that enlarges my horizon even though I can never become a part of it. I may not be able to go through that door, but I can peek inside.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The sound of paintings

I have to admit that this is not my own idea. Several years ago one website presented a large collection of famous paintings and their sounds. When I found the website, it was not maintained anymore and the sound didn't work. Then the site disappeared or I could not find the right search keywords.

But I found the idea fascinating and decided to recreate it on a smaller scale.

It is an interesting experience to stand in front of a picture with your microphone. People look at you strangely and they lower their voices when they notice the recorder. But the exercise forces you to spend some quality time with a painting. You look better and remember more afterwards.

The combination of sound and vision has added value - like a cut-up by William Burroughs or a random juxtaposition by John Cage. The tower of Babel resonates with chaotic language fragments and the Mondriaan has a more abstract sound. 

Pieter Bruegel   1525-1569
The tower of Babel 1565

Piet Mondriaan  1872 - 1944
Composition nr. II 1929


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Analog database

city as an analogue database

I am very happy that I've seen this poster, because it changed my perception of the city. In my translation:

Inside the "global village" the city is an analog database. All urban architecture and all architectural elements, from bus shelters to transformer houses are potential carriers of information, images and adventure. Logo's, brand names, billboards, marquees, murals, graffiti and stickers have transformed the city into a mass medium.

Amidst its overkill of media and information the metropolitan area requires a new talent from its users: the ability to learn to read the city. Information must be filtered from the noise: how do we "hack" the codes of public space? How do we transform the noise into pink noise?

But my interpretation of this text by Siebe Thissen is slightly different. The original meaning of the text is that the city surfaces have become carriers for human-created information. My personal interpretation is that the city itself is a storage vat of regional history that can be decoded by practising deep topography (1).

For example, below are two pages from the city's stone book of recorded events (2). The writing is beautiful, asemic (3) and reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy. Does it contain a message from the city? Is it decodable? Can we learn to read it?  Or is it only accessible through the imagination, like Kafka's message from the emperor (4):

But you sit at your window and dream to yourself of that message when evening comes.

De Hofbogen - the poster series containing the analog database
De bekladde stad  - the original text of "the besmirched city" by Siebe Thissen - PDF format
Analog computer - the "analog database" does not really exist in practice, but it is a beautiful idea
[1] The concepts of "storage vats of regional history" and "deep topography" have been coined by Nick Papadimitriou. Video clip here and here.
[2] A shameless rip-off of the "stone tape theory".
[3] Some examples of asemic writing: thenewpostliteratewikipedia asemic writing.
[4] Kafka: an imperial message.

Conic sections

Since early spring I've been hunting conic sections in the wild. Let me start with some examples and not bore you with the mathematics:
Hyperbolas are the easiest to find and to notice - at least if you're looking for conic sections of light cones.
Ellipses are more difficult to find. In real life people don't often aim their spotlights at walls. And I've never found a parabola. The mathematics picture explains it in one look:
Conic sections with plane
An infinite number of dissecting angles produce ellipses or hyperbolas. Just one specific angle produces a parabola. So the chance of finding a parabola is infinitely small.

There are many - more complex - situations that produce conic sections. Marcel Minnaert describes one of them - the interference pattern between vertical fence-posts and their shadows. Actually - I seemed to remember that Minnaert had proven these to be hyperbolas - but when I searched his writings I didn't find the proof.

An even more complex situation occurs at a train station I know. A Quonset hut made from corrugated steel lies behind a fence with a rectangular mesh. The interference of these line patterns creates curved lines that might be conic sections - but I'm undecided it they are ellipses or hyperbolas.

How often do these conic sections occur in nature? One simple experiment is to count their occurrence in the works of Marcel Minnaert, on Flickr and on Google picture search. This yields the following results:

Source Minnaert Flickr Google
Circle 81 1.197.208 51,500,000
Ellipse 29 10.875 1,200,000
Hyperbola 16 244 1,010,000
Parabola 5 6.572 95,800

Conic sections - Wikipedia

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Atmospheric perspective

There is a remarkable colour difference in objects photographed at different distances. Not just the object itself, but also its background have very different colours. Of course Marcel Minnaert has something to say about that.
Ouderkerk aan den IJssel - Dorpskerk - Nederlands Hervormd - 1200-1600
Seen from a distance of approximately 5 km.

The change of colour of the object is explained by atmospheric perspective:

173. Atmospheric perspective
A forest in the distance forms an excellent dark background to observe the scattering of light by the atmosphere. The further away we are, the more it looks hazy and bluish.

The deep column of air between us and the forest, illuminated from the side by sunbeams, scatters light in our direction and this light is superimposed on the dark background, just like the light scattered by a veil covers the objects behind it. In front of this background the contrast between light and dark areas is weakened, the colour is smoother and more blue.

Involuntarily we estimate the distance of trees by the amount of atmospheric perspective. A tree at a distance of 100 meters  already has a more bluish tint than a tree next to us. The green of meadows in the distance turns blue-green surprisingly quickly and then blue. Check this in the landscape!

And the tint of the low sky is explained in this manner:

178. When is the distant sky orange? When green?
We have seen, that in cloudless air the sky at the horizon should exhibit the same color as a sheet of white paper, illuminated directly by the sun (chiaroscuro). It is also clear that at sunset, when the sun colours everything with a warm orange glow, we will notice this same tint all along the horizon.

Waddinxveen - Sint Victorkerk - Katholiek - 1880
Seen from a distance of approximately 1.5 km.

And also the change of colour of the background is explained:

There is also another sky colour effect ... the light intensity increases from the zenith towards the horizon, and at the same time the colour changes from blue to white ...

... layers close to the ground contain more suspended dust particles floating above the ground. These increase the scattering of light and make the color whiter. Where the sky is the darkest, it is also always the bluest and its color is most saturated.

A somewhat controlled experiment

I wanted to experiment with this atmospheric effect and during a trip to Leeuwarden I found a suitable place for this.  The Tesselschadestraat is a 600 meter long street with two black buildings at either end. I walked from one building to the other and made photographs in both directions. Here are the pictures taken at both ends of the walk.
Top left is start of the walk - bottom right is end of the walk.
Top right and bottom left is the view of the opposite building, at the start and end of the walk.
Even at this short distance the color and hue difference is visble. When viewed from a distance the building looks lighter and bluer than when viewed from close by. The contrast is also quite different. But the experiment is not entirely objective - I forgot to use a fixed aperture and fixed shutter speed. So the results are distorted by the automatic adjustments of the camera.

I tried to focus on the atmospheric perspective by selecting the color of the building at the same spot. This does only work in one direction. The lower series of colors corresponds with the building on the left - the upper series of colors with the building on the right. Only one of two color series shows a clear atmospheric effect. I don't know what causes this - it's not caused by the direction of the sunlight, because the sunlight came from a direction perpendicular to the line of sight.