Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Freelance Whales, Pigeon Holes, and a Wooden Bowl of Apples

What could be more footloose than a Freelance Whale?

These Freelance Whales, they're unpigeon-hole-able. The New York quintet call themselves and have been called: 'Indie' 'Rock' 'TechPop,' and, dismissively, 'fuzzed-out synths with raw Americana,' but together, what they are is an exuberant tumble of glockenspiels and banjos, harmoniums, cellos, and something called a waterphone that I had to look up* all plinking innocence, green-as-young-wine in a children-in-sun-and-grass home movie flicker. But, it's the bones, the infrastructure, holding it all up - the girders and cable of microKorg layers, MOOG lilt, and piles and piles of drums that saves these whales.

To me these two songs, Generator First Floor and Generator Second Floor, help conjure a whole Green and Pleasant place full of on-the-loose childhood with not a guardian in sight, just long days playing dress-up in uninhabited manses, parading over meadows, roaming overgrown gardens, with all the dark possibilities of lace curtains in sunny nurseries blowing from windows carelessly left open far above the gravel drive.

This is, of course, is a neighborhood peopled with playmates like Cymbals Eat Guitars (who probably live in the woods), pianist and erstwhile computer engineer Vienna Teng, The Fruit Bats, even The Weepies, who, like countrified cousins, would have come for a visit worrying they don't have the right high-top Converses, or enough JP-8000s, but they connect with the city kids through the candid vigor of musicality that they all have.

And it's against modest poets like the Weepies, though, that the Whales sink. Weepies' lyric beauty, while more rough-hewn, honest as the notebook paper it's written on, with the frankness of a wooden bowl of apples.

*A waterphone has its own colorful history involving B. Franklin and Tibet. It is related to the nail violin, says its Wiki.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Secret Life of Scientists: Pea is for Peer Review

The American Institute of Biological Sciences is a small, peer-review group. We're biologists - we know about birds, cows, soil, traumatic brain injury, and wolves. Many of us can perform autopsies if given something sharp. While tongues and pencils are often the sharpest and easiest to hand, on warm afternoons in early spring, we plant peas.

Small Biological Sciences NonProfit Linked to Mysterious Global Movement

Last week, the Director of AIBS, Dr. O'Grady, sent us the following, seemingly light-hearted email that said,

"Because when all of sudden there are no more olympic highlights on TV in the evening, you have to do something:

And the following message."

We thought nothing of it.

Until this report on NPR:

"This spring, in a tremendous cult-of-personality wave surrounding a pleasantly professorial avatar with Stephen Hawking's voice, ET's head, and the fashion sense of an Oxford don, named, it is rumored, "Vavilov," or just "V," people all over the planet are adopting ranunculus-yellow bow ties, loam-brown suits, enormous Petri-dish glasses, and polishing their foreheads to a lunar gleam.

Sending a message of "simply doing good in this world," "facilitaing peer review," with the mantra: "We Press on Together," V is thought in reality to be the nom de guerre of Gregor O'Grady, a reclusive author, political poet, adroit humorist, and an outspoken opponent of the balkanization of the world's scientists. But V's true identity remains tantalizingly unknown. Tracking O'Grady to a canopy zip-line in a Costa Rican rainforest as he collected bromeliad demographics, reporters, clamouring in the under story, falling down, getting muddy, and scaring some tapirs, called up to him, "Is V with you now?" O'Grady yelled down "Yes!"

In fact, V seems as ubiquitous as mycelium in an aspen grove. His name has been linked to Jennifer Aniston; Neytiri, with becomingly downcast eyes, says they're "just friends"; and Colbie Caillat says she likes him to wash her hair. Folk rock harpist Joanna Newsom's song, "You have Long Fingers. I Like That," and Patty Griffith's 'Messenger Salamander' are said to be dedicated to him. John Meyer and Alec Baldwin are sporting V-tribute comb-overs. iPhone is launching an app. Congress, the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and the eight most powerful nations, now called the "V8," are opening their sessions with a gavel-hammer and the shout "So, how about it?!"

Looking back, there were hints of him throughout the winter, like a secret handshake in a dangerous place, like a swelling bud under ice. A lift of a brow that could be a flirt, a crazy graffiti tag that wasn't there last night, a lunatic-poet's street corner howl, murmurs from the coffee shop girl touching your finger hard as she gives you your cup, or that lady on the bus. Were they saying, "I see you"? No. All along, they were saying, "I V U."

What a relief. And it's spring.

Diversity in the Workplace: At SPARS We'

Because when all of sudden there are no more olympic highlights on TV in the evening, you have to do something: