Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bach and Webern - Jacaranda Music

My jaw dropped last evening when I heard and saw Tereza Lucia Stanislav's rendition of Bach's "Chaconne" from Partita for Violin No. 2, which he wrote sometime between 1717-1723.  It is arguably one of the hardest pieces that had been written for the violin at that time.  It is a very challenging piece to master and is divided into five movements, where the concluding movement Ciaconna (English Chaconne) enjoys a disproportionately larger chunk of time.  The audience were on their feet the moment Tereza Stanislav's violin hit its last note.  The applause was deafening!  My jaw was still wide open.  

I was at the Second Presbyterian Church on Second Street, Santa Monica, continuing my musical adventure from classical into modernism with the help of Jacaranda.  It is such a delight, and joy to have music of this quality and variety in Los Angeles.  For the last one year Jacaranda (Patrick Scott and Mark Alan Hilt) has been organizing a series of concerts based around Olivier Messiaen's works which they dub, "The OM Century."  Last night's program was a roller-coaster ride between classical music and modernism.  The evening both opened and closed with Bach.  In between we heard Anton Webern's quirky, atonal masterpieces.  The pieces were performed by the highly talented Denali Quartet lead by Timothy Loo who did a phenomenal job in Webern's Two Pieces for Cello and Piano (1899).  I also enjoyed a Webern piece that was performed by Sarah Thornblade on the violin accompanied by Gloria Cheng on the piano.  

The concert lasted for over two hours with an intermission in between.  During the intermission, while I was sipping on some coffee, I wondered what Bach would have thought of, had he been sitting in the audience and listening to Webern's pieces.  Would he have been able to trace his musical genes to Webern's atonal masterpieces?  

The second half opened up with Webern's Five Movements for String Quartet, Op. 5 (1909).  The five movements alternate between slow and lively rhythms.  Some of them are quite dark and none of them are too long.  To appreciate Webern you have to understand that he packed so much in so little.  His power of distilling notes and ripping the notion of classical quartets into just a duet between a piano and a violin or into a string trio is what one must look for.  

I had been looking forward to this concert for two months and I came out of last evening's performance with a big smile, light-headed and brilliantly mesmerized.  I thank Jacaranda and the Denali Quartet for putting up such a deeply moving program.  

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jake Lee-High @ Fringe Exhibitions

After finishing up my quota of Saturday reading, I felt like socializing with friends and strangers and so I jumped into my car and headed toward Chung King Court in China Town, downtown Los Angeles.  While I love doing things on a whim, my excursion to China Town was a planned one. My friend Matt Harmon who is a student at SCIARC (Southern California Institute of Architecture) had sent me an invite to an art installation opening called "Rain Field" over at Fringe Exhibitions in China Town by Jake Lee-High.  

By the time I arrived at Chung King Court, I had inhaled a very healthy dose of ash and smoke that had been infesting the air in southern California due to the Sylmar and Yorba Linda wild fires.  The galleries are all lined next to each other, but if you wander a few feet away, you will run into restaurants, and stores selling Chinese junk jewelry and souvenirs - touristy, commercial stuff.  I entered gallery 504 and was immediately enveloped in darkness, humidity, and a very earthy, raw smell.  The room was completely empty, except for a 12 feet by 12 feet black platform on the floor which was lined by a foamy plastic material.  Underneath the foam the platform was lined with 117 piezoelectric metal points.  A piezoelectric material expands and contracts as you apply a voltage across it.  The platform was doused in suspended subdued lighting from the ceiling.  I felt as if I was in some Ray Bradbury sci-fi novel or on some alien technology in a distant part of our galaxy ready to be teleported back to Earth.   

The idea of this installation was to give the audience a feeling of the dynamics of a weather system.  There were UV cameras and fans installed high up in the corners of the various walls that detected the motion of a person while he/she would be walking on the platform.  This motion would cause the piezoelectronics to respond which would in turn create sounds of rain droplets, slight rumble of clouds and the humidity that I felt in the air when I walked in.  I talked to Jake Lee-High and he explained to me that the inspiration for this project was his childhood memory of watching rain storms in Virginia.  He wanted to recreate that experience, and I think he did a marvelous job. 

I think there were too many people standing on the platform, and too many people surrounding it to completely enjoy the experience of what Jake had created.  But then again it was opening night and you couldn't possibly ask people to go inside one at a time.  I think it will be a marvelous idea to go to the gallery on a weeknight when there is no one about and just walk slowly on the platform or sit and meditate and enjoy the idiosyncrasies of the simulated weather systems.  

Here are the details on the exhibition:

504 Chung King Ct, Los Angeles, CA 90012
phone number: 213.613.0160
Exhibition Dates: November 15 – December 20, 2008
Gallery Hours: Thursday – Saturday, 12 – 6 PM and by appointment

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Breaking Quantum Encryption

My advisor, Todd Brun, and colleagues Jim Harrington, and Mark Wilde recently uploaded a paper on arXiv that shows how one can break quantum key-distribution using closed time-like curves.  Their method allows one to distinguish perfectly between non-orthogonal states which is the key (no pun intended) to break quantum key-distribution protocols.  An article in the recent Science News explains the result.   
The arXiv paper is here.