Saturday, October 02, 2010

The future has arrived, and it has a stupid name. (The Best Underated Instruments, 7)

It's a Minibest!

What a week for science this was! Window lasers, the declaration by scientists that they've actually FOUND alien lifeforms... if ever there was a week that we should celebrate science, this was it. And I'm going to celebrate science in the most obvious way -- by selecting a musical instrument created not by the aimless wanderings of art but by the goal-driven demands of pure, hard, science: the eigenharp.

But first those lasers and aliens: The news was abuzz this week with the revelation by scientists that they'd found a "Goldilocks" planet. Settle down, fans of fairy tales and cosplay: they're talking about a planet that exists the right distance from its sun ("not too hot, not too cold") to have water, and therefore life, because, as scientists always tell us, where there's water, there's life. (People who fish Lake Erie can testify otherwise, maybe, but let's ignore them.)

The "Goldilocks" planet orbits around a star scientists call "Gliese 581," because scientists suck -- when they aren't simply claiming that hobbits exist, they're determined to bore the rest of us to death by doing things like calling stars "Gliese 581," instead of calling them cool things like "Aldebaran." The Goldilocks planet itself is called either "Gliese 581g" or "Zarmina's World," (after the scientist's wife)(and that actually is an okay name, so good job, Zarmina's husband), and it's a mere 14 million miles away from its sun -- about 1/6 as far away as we are, so the year there only lasts 37 days. Which means it's never too long until summer arrives again -- and you'll love summer on Zarmina's World, with its 160-degree temperatures.

You may not be so crazy about the fact that because the planet barely rotates, then depending on where you are it's almost always dark, or almost always light... except for the part where it's almost always sunrise. There's a part of the planet where the sun is perpetually rising, something that might be cool until you get sick of it, around the time you're seeing your 3,164,473rd consecutive sunrise.

The other thing you might not be so crazy about is the fact that you're very definitely certainly going to be sharing your planet with alien life forms. This is the part of the story that for some reason -- probably to avoid panic over the inevitable alien invasion -- is being played down: The fact that scientists have said that there is, for sure, 100% sure, alien life. Says Zarmina's husband:

"[the] chances for life on this planet are 100 percent."

100%. Not almost 100%. Not 99%, or very certain. 100%. That's all the percents there are -- so Mr. (Dr?) Zarmina's Husband announced to the world that there very definitely certainly 100%edly is alien life.

And the AP led with "Goldilocks?"

Luckily, in a related story that nobody except me realized was related, scientists also have discovered a source of protection against the Zarminans who are probably on their way here right now: window lasers.

Previously, death rays powered by pure light were so expensive and complicated that they could only really be owned by the Grand Moff Tarkin and Bill Gates' buddies. But thanks to "environmentalists" who wanted to "save" the "environment," we now all have the power to destroy our friends, neighbors, tourists at the pool, or the odd Zarminian who wanders by asking to be taken to our leader: window-based death rays, as were recently discovered at a Las Vegas resort.

That resort, the "Vdara," is in Las Vegas and it doesn't just lead the world in stupid names -- it also brings a new level of commitment to the service industry, promising to pamper you in luxury with its fancy rooms, high-level room service, quality buffets, and scorching heat rays that will burn you to a crisp.

That's right: It seems that once again saving the environment is going to require a sacrifice, and this time the sacrifice is you. Or at least, your lawyer

Bill Pintas, a Chicago lawyer and businessman, recently was sunning himself by the pool when he became so uncomfortably hot that he had to move. "I actually thought that, Oh my God, we've destroyed the ozone layer because I am being burned," Pintas told NBC's TODAY show. "My head was steaming hot. In fact, my hair felt like it was burning ... I could actually smell my hair burning." Pintas sought refuge away from the sun's rays, where he described what happened to hotel employees. "I said to the staff, 'I don't know if you know what's going on out here, but I was being burned,' and they're like, 'Yeah, we know. We call it the "death ray." ' "

As an aside, what kind of lawyer talks to hotel busboys about the ozone layer? Did he think they could help? "I don't know if you know what's going on out there, but if you could get me another pina colada and help pass a worldwide treaty cutting carbon emissions by 33% in the next five years, I'd probably leave you at least five bucks for a tip." Did the hotel staff maybe include the head of the UN? Or Al Gore?

When contacted, a spokesman for the hotel said that the hotel actually preferred that employees refer to the phenomenon not as a "death ray" but as a "solar convergence," and added: "We're just trying to create a pleasant, relaxing pool experience for our guests." They have a funny notion of what "pleasant" and "relaxing" mean; perhaps they're Zarminian? After all, a solar death ray might seem pleasant to someone who constantly basks in the glow of a 160-degree sunrise.

The death rays are apparently caused by the heat-resistant, reflective windows installed in the hotel, which reflect the sun to such a degree that it becomes concentrated and lethal (at least to lawyer's hairlines.)

But, lest you think that death rays are still only for those rich enough, foolish enough, or mobster-connected enough to go to Vegas, take note that even common folks can now afford to melt their neighbors. The energy-efficient and highly reflective windows Vdara uses to create its solar-converging-death-ray come standard on many a house now. Building inspectors in Massachusetts blamed energy efficient windows for the blowtorch-like melting of neighbors' siding. Noting that temperatures from the window reflections reached as high as 248 degrees, the experts added that "Any double-pane window can cause this effect."

Even yours.

So how does this all tie into the eigenharp? Consider what the eigenharp is. Here's a picture of it:

That's right: It's a musical instrument that looks like a gun. So now you have a Second Amendment right to rock out, one that even Scalia can't take away from you. Open carry for musical instruments? You betcha.

But more importantly, the eigenharp is, as I began this post so long ago by noting, a musical instrument created by science. Science doesn't just find alien life forms and name them after science's wife. Science doesn't just accidentally vaporize humanity in order to save $50 on heating bills each year. No, science also contributes in other ways, like creating musical instruments such as the Eigenharp. Forget the 16th century. Forget craftsmanship. Forget strings and wood and varnish and brass and all that old-school musical stuff. The eigenharp is a thing of modernity, a thing of technology and, possibly, a thing that has a breath-alyzer attached, judging from that picture.

For a more accurate description, let's hear from the creators themselves. According to Eigenlab, the Eigenharp is...

A professional level instrument which allows the musician to play and improvise using a limitless range of sounds with virtuoso skill. The unique design of the keys makes this the most expressive electronic musical instrument ever made. The Alpha can play and record loops, change scale and key, transpose, alter tempo, program beats, create arrangements, switch and layer multiple sounds, all while the musician is performing live on stage.

It also, they note, requires a computer to play. Or these guys:

The Eigenharp, in the truest spirit of science, manages to outmusic every other instrument. Your piano has 88 kesy? The eigenharp has 132. Plus two "strip controllers." Are you a fan of wind instruments? The eigenharp has a breath pipe. Like pipe organs? There are "numerous" pedal inputs. The only thing it's missing is a miniature Davey Jones playing a tambourine. (That option is extra.)

Plus, it's the first musical instrument ever based on the Star Wars movies. Aside from the "Jar Jars." But the less said about those, the better.

Sure, you say, that all seems neat, but the real question is, can it make music? Of course it can. Has science ever let you down? (Other than this? And this? And this?) Just listen to it:

And listen to this, too, in case you're not into techno and maybe want something more classical and a little oriental sounding:

By now, you may be asking yourself, how did the Eigenharp come into existence? And then you may be adding to yourself I bet it was a bar bet, wasn't it? All the greatest inventions, like the space shuttle and that gum with candy in the center and the gum is shaped like the fruit that the candy is the flavor of, all that stuff came from bar bets. Especially because it really does look like that thing from the cantina scene. So what's the truth? Did these guys get drunk in a pub one night and make a bet that one could make an instrument identical to the cantina scene?

Well, you'd be wrong if you thought that. Not about the space shuttle and the gum; those were actually the result of bar bets. But the eigenharp, as much as it seems to simply be a guy living out his Live Action Star Wars Fantasy, actually comes from a much purer place: The dream of a guy named "John Lambert."

John, according to the Eigenlab website, had a vision of making "the world's most expressive electronic instrument," and, more importantly, a musical instrument that could best play the Cylon theme from Battlestar Galactica:

Instantly, that video is the single best remnant of Battlestar Galactica. If they'd ended the show with that, instead of this, it would be remembered fondly.

That's all the history that Eigenlab gives about the Eigenharp, so maybe I'm wrong; maybe it really was a bar bet. Maybe next, Eigenlab will come up with an actual Boba Fett life sized flying suit that people can use to get to work (and shoot missiles at cars on the way, to pass the time.)

There are actually three kinds of Eigenharps, including the Pico, which Eigenlabs boasts can be played by anyone. I'd like to put that boast to the test, and to be honest, I'd like very much to own an Eigenharp of any kind, because the more I listen to it, the cooler it sounds, and I also believe it to be the newest instrument in the world -- it's only been around since 2009, after all, while all our other instruments were invented in the 16th century.

But I'm kind of intimidated about buying one; the website has FAQs about the various instruments, and my question was going to be How easy is it, really, to play? so I checked the FAQs to see if that question was there. It wasn't, but this question was:

Does the Eigenharp Pico have the drum sequencer featured?

The answer to that was no, not yet, and then something about downloading. Since I don't even know what a drum sequencer is, I figured it best not to go find Sweetie's purse and steal a credit card and order an Eigenharp Pico yet.

In fact, the only thing I don't like about the Eigenharp is the name; keeping in the tradition spawned by the Internet, Lambert and crew named their instrument in the silliest way possible, combining familiar old words in stupid new ways. (See also "blog", "vlog" and "Tweet.") Why invest billions (I assume/made up just now) in creating the instrument of the future and not at least give some thought to a better name?

And there's no doubt that it is the instrument of the future. Check this out:

That's what they're watching on Zarmina's World's version of MTV, right now. Get used to it.

Previous Instruments:

1. Tuba

2. Harp.

3. Triangle

4. Glockenspiel.

5. Bassoon

6. Jaw harp.

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