Music Professor Examines Composer Charles Ives and the Shifting American Identity
Posted: June 06, 2013
With growing immigrant populations, industrialization, and colonial ventures changing the country, America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was bustling and chaotic. Composer Charles Ives gave voice to these dramatic transformations, creating pieces in which traditional classical music and musical Americana collide. In his new book, Charles Ives in the Mirror — American Histories of an Iconic Composer (University of Illinois Press, 2013), David Paul, assistant professor of music, describes Ives's music as "full of familiar tunes that have been radically distorted," and "often haunting and dissonant."
"Although Ives's music has always fascinated me, I find the stories Americans have told about the composer equally engaging," said Paul. "Writing this book, allowed me to explore how Americans talk about themselves." The book details how Ives and his music have figured in shifting discourses about American identity, from the beginning of the 20th century to the beginning of the 21st century.
Born in 1874, Ives became iconic during the early Cold War period, when his music and biography were hailed by supporters such as Leonard Bernstein, who toured the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe with the New York Philharmonic and made Ives out to be the archetypal American individualist — a man whose venturesome music was a testament to the cultural vitality made possible by free, capitalist society.
By contrast, as the New Left came into its ascendancy in the 1970's, Ives scholars reimagined him as a tragic figure who had not been free at all. Instead, Ives was perceived as a prisoner of American culture.
Ives's persona was as contradictory as his music, according to Paul. What Ivesians emphasized reflected their own convictions about American culture. Charles Ives in the Mirror explores these convictions and the social contexts in which they have arisen.
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Ethnomusicologist Studies Noise Music in Japan
Posted: June 06, 2013
Noise music is a difficult phenomenon to describe. With no rules about structure, and no definitive provenance, it falls outside conventional ideas about music. It has little or no monetary value, and it hasn't been assigned the status of art in any cultural institution. We can't learn it the way we learn typical music, nor is it composed or played or judged like most other forms of music.
So when David Novak, assistant professor of music, set out to write his book, Japanoise: Music at the Edge of Circulation (Duke University Press, 2013), what he found and drew upon was the world of contradictions, violated expectations, and unresolved questions that make up the Japanese underground music scene. Noise performance relies heavily on technology, using a variety of equipment from electronic gear to heavy machines, to make sounds that many would describe as unpleasant, distorted, loud, and even painful. But there are no hard and fast rules about what can or can't be used to make Noise.
"Noise is a word for sounds that aren't considered beautiful or meaningful," said Novak, an ethnomusicologist with a research emphasis in modern Japan, popular music, and media and technology. "So the idea that there could be a genre of music called ‘Noise' is what interested me in the first place."
Following longterm fieldwork and interviews in Japan and the U.S. (which included many nights of excessively loud and extreme performances), Novak's book explores Noise and its technology, the artists who make it, as well as the transnational feedback loops that sustain the subculture. There are stories of performers who are salarymen by day, avant-garde musicians by night; descriptions of equipment engineered to make the most intense sounds possible; and even an account of an audience that out-noised the "Noisicians."
"It's interesting because Noise captures some of the most important ideas about our time," Novak said. "What are the effects of globalization? How do people in other places understand each other, how do they relate to one another? How does music capture people's concerns about technology or the outcomes of transcultural exchange?"
Global media networks were essential to the evolution of Japanoise. Unlike many music scenes, Noisicians generated interest in their music by distributing recordings to far-flung audiences, who might never have a chance to see them perform live.
© Sonia Fernandez
Roshni George, left, and Don Graves
Cinnamon Compounds May Help Prevent Alzheimer's Disease
Posted: June 06, 2013
Can cinnamon, the red-brown spice with the unmistakable fragrance and variety of culinary uses offer an important health benefit as well? According to as study by scientists Roshni George and Donald Graves, the common baking spice might hold the key to delaying the onset of — or warding off — the effects of Alzheimer's disease. Their research was highlighted recently in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.
The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease is a neurodegenerative condition that progressively worsens over time as it kills brain cells. No cure has yet been found, nor has the major cause of Alzheimer's been identified.
However, two compounds found in cinnamon — cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin — are showing some promise in the effort to fight the disease. According to George, a graduate researcher, and Graves, adjunct professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, the compounds have been shown to prevent the development of the filamentous "tangles" found in the brain cells that characterize Alzheimer's.
Responsible for the assembly of microtubules in a cell, a protein called tau plays a large role in the structure of the neurons, as well as their function.
"The problem with tau in Alzheimer's is that it starts aggregating," said George, a graduate student researcher. When the protein does not bind properly to the microtubules that form the cell's structure, it has a tendency to clump together, she explained, forming insoluble fibers in the neuron. The older we get the more susceptible we are to these twists and tangles; Alzheimer's patients develop them more often and in larger amounts.
The use of cinnamaldehyde, the compound responsible for the bright, sweet smell of cinnamon, has proven effective in preventing the tau knots. By protecting tau from oxidative stress, the compound, an oil, could inhibit the protein's aggregation. To do this, cinnamaldehyde binds to two residues of an amino acid called cysteine on the tau protein. The cysteine residues are vulnerable to modifications, a factor that contributes to the development of Alzheimer's.
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Analysis of Impact Spherules Supports Theory of Cosmic Impact
Posted: June 06, 2013
About 12,800 years ago when the Earth was warming and emerging from the last ice age, a dramatic and anomalous event occurred that abruptly reversed climatic conditions back to near-glacial state. According to James Kennett, emeritus professor in earth science, this climate switch fundamentally — and remarkably — occurred in only one year, heralding the onset of the Younger Dryas cool episode.
The cause of this cooling has been much debated, especially because it closely coincided with the abrupt extinction of the majority of the large animals then inhabiting the Americas, as well as the disappearance of the prehistoric Clovis culture, known for its big game hunting.
"What then did cause the extinction of most of these big animals, including mammoths, mastodons, giant ground sloths, American camel and horse, and saber- toothed cats?" asked Kennett, pointing to Charles Darwin's 1845 assessment of the significance of climate change. "Did these extinctions result from human overkill, climatic change or some catastrophic event?" The long debate that has followed, Kennett noted, has recently been stimulated by a growing body of evidence in support of a theory that a major cosmic impact event was involved, a theory proposed by the scientific team that includes Kennett himself.
Now, in one of the most comprehensive related investigations ever, the group has documented a wide distribution of microspherules widely distributed in a layer over 50 million square kilometers on four continents, including North America, including Arlington Canyon on Santa Rosa Island in the Channel Islands. This layer — the Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB) layer — also contains peak abundances of other exotic materials, including nanodiamonds and other unusual forms of carbon such as fullerenes, as well as melt-glass and iridium. This new evidence in support of the cosmic impact theory appeared recently in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences.
Study Shows Where Scene Context Happens in the Human Brain
Posted: June 06, 2013
In a remote fishing community in Venezuela, a lone fisherman sits on a cliff overlooking the southern Caribbean Sea. This man — the lookout — is responsible for directing his comrades on the water, who are too close to their target to detect their next catch. Using abilities honed by years of scanning the water's surface, he can tell by shadows, ripples, and even the behavior of seabirds, where the fish are schooling, and what kind of fish they might be, without actually seeing the fish. This, in turn, changes where the boats go, and how the men fish.
Though a seemingly simple and intuitive strategy, the lookout's visual search function — a process that takes mere seconds for the human brain — is still something that a computer, despite technological advances, can't do as accurately.
"Behind what seems to be automatic is a lot of sophisticated machinery in our brain," said Miguel Eckstein, professor of psychology. "A great part of our brain is dedicated to vision."
Over the millennia of human evolution, our brains developed a pattern of search based largely on environmental cues and scene context. It's an ability that has not only helped us find food and avoid danger in humankind's earliest days, but continues to aid us today, in tasks as banal as driving to work, or shopping; or as specialized as reading X-rays.
Exactly where in the brain the search for objects using scene and other objects occurs is little understood, and is for the first time discussed in a paper published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience.
"Since contextual guidance is a critical strategy that allows humans to rapidly find objects in scenes, studying the brain areas involved in normal humans might help us to gain a better understanding of neural areas involved in those with visual search deficits, such as brain-damaged patients and the elderly," Eckstein said. "Also, a large component of becoming an expert searcher — like radiologists or fishermen — is exploiting contextual relationships to search. Thus, understanding the neural basis of contextual guidance might allow us to gain a better understanding about what brain areas are critical to gain search expertise."
Political Motivations May Have Evolutionary Links to Physical Strength
Posted: June 06, 2013
In the animal world, it's pretty easy to predict who will come out on top when, say, a pair of lions go head to head over food or an attractive female. The he-man who most values the resource in question and has the brawn to fight for it will, in all likelihood, emerge victorious.
Researchers at UCSB and Aarhus University in Denmark have found that general concept also applies to humans when issues of resource distribution are on the table. Their findings appeared in a recent issue of the journal Psychological Science.
"The link between body size and aggressiveness is everywhere in the animal kingdom," said Daniel Sznycer, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Evolutionary Psychology and co-author of the paper. "It's there among invertebrates, vertebrates, non-human primates, and human primates — us."
At the level of individuals, redistribution involves a conflict over resources, so the human mind should perceive issues of economic redistribution through that lens, Sznycer continued. "We humans are also primates and mammals and vertebrates — heirs to the selective regime on conflict. And so, this study predicts that our human minds will use estimates of fighting ability — in this case, upper body strength — to calibrate one's own stance in such conflicts."
In the days of our early ancestors, decisions about the distribution of resources weren't made in courthouses or legislative offices, but through shows of strength. With this in mind, Sznycer, along with colleagues Michael Bang Petersen of Aarhus University, and Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, professors of psychology and anthropology, respectively, and co-directors of the Center for Evolutionary Psychology, hypothesized that upper-body strength — a proxy for the ability to physically defend or acquire resources — would predict men's opinions about economic redistribution.
The researchers collected data on bicep size, socioeconomic status, and support for economic redistribution from hundreds of people in the United States, Argentina, and Denmark. In line with their hypothesis, the data revealed that stronger men are more likely to assert their economic self interest.
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Research Into Carbon Storage Yields Unexpected Insights
Posted: June 06, 2013
When doctoral student Seeta Sistla and her adviser, environmental studies professor Josh Schimel, went north not long ago to study how long-term warming in the Arctic affects carbon storage, they had made certain assumptions.
"We expected that because of the long-term warming, we would have lost carbon stored in the soil to the atmosphere," said Schimel. The gradual warming, he explained, would accelerate decomposition on the upper layers of what would have previously been frozen or near-frozen earth, releasing the greenhouse gas into the air. Because high latitudes contain nearly half of all global soil carbon in their ancient permafrost — permanently frozen soil — even a few degrees' rise in temperature could be enough to release massive quantities, turning a carbon repository into a carbon emitter.
"The Arctic is the most rapidly warming biome on Earth, so understanding how permafrost soils are reacting to this change is of major concern globally," Sistla said.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers visited the longest-running climate warming study in the tundra, the U.S. Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research site at Toolik Lake in northern Alaska. This ecosystem-warming greenhouse experiment was started in 1989 to observe the effects of sustained warming on the Arctic environment.
What they initially found was typical of Arctic warming: low-lying, shallow-rooted vegetation giving way to taller plants with deeper roots; greater wood shrub dominance; and increased thaw depth. What they weren't expecting was that two decades of slow and steady warming had not changed the amounts of carbon in the soil, despite changes in vegetation and even the soil food web.
The answer to that mystery, according to Sistla, might be found in the finer workings of the ecosystem: Increased plant growth appears to have facilitated stabilizing feedback to soil carbon loss. Their research appeared in a recent edition of the journal Nature.
Top: Air ram intake valve on the RV. Bottom: Gas chromatograph in the RV.
Scientist Studies Methane Levels in Cross-Continent Drive
Posted: June 05, 2013
After taking cross-continent drive in a rented camper outfitted with special equipment to measure methane, Marine Science Institute researcher Ira Leifer and his team have found that methane emissions across large parts of the U.S. are higher than currently known, confirming what other more local studies have found. The results of their study appeared recently in the journal Atmospheric Environment.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, stronger than carbon dioxide on a 20-year timescale, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, though on a century timescale, carbon dioxide is far stronger. "This research suggests significant benefits to slowing climate change could result from reducing industrial methane emissions in parallel with efforts on carbon dioxide," said Leifer.
Joining Leifer on the road trip were two UCSB undergraduate students. They drove from Los Angeles to Florida, taking a primarily southern route through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, and along the Gulf of Mexico. They used specialized instrumentation, a gas chromatograph, to measure methane. The device was mounted in the RV, with an air ram on the roof that collected air samples from in front of the vehicle.
"Someone was always monitoring the chromatograph, and when we would see a strong signal, we would look to see what potential sources were in the area, and modify the survey to investigate and, if possible, circumnavigate potential sources," Leifer said.
The researchers meandered slowly through areas of fossil fuel activity, such as petroleum and natural gas production, refining, and distribution areas, and other areas of interest. The wide range of sources studied included a coal-loading terminal, a wildfire, and wetlands.
New Book by Historian Elucidates, Celibrates 'Visioneers'
Posted: June 05, 2013
In his new book, "The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future" (Princeton University Press, 2013), history professor W. Patrick McCray offers an examination of radical innovators who never quite got the recognition they deserved. The book is a history of — and, in turn, an homage to — these "modern utopians" who believed their technologies could transform society.
Equal parts visionaries and engineers, McCray's visioneers were futurists, ace self-promoters, and indefatigable optimists. Their schemes were not pie-in-the-sky; these Ivy-trained experts had hard science on their side. Yet their grand plans were never fully realized, impeded by skeptical colleagues, staid politicians, and, perhaps, their own zeal.
"Visioneers want to find the one thing that's going to fix the problem, and they're often trying for the grand slam home run rather than trying to hit singles," McCray said. "They want to hit the ball out of the park, which is maybe not the best approach to dealing with the problems that society faces. But the futures they envisioned are not failed futures –– they had an influence and an impact on where we are today."
The book focuses primarily on two key figures — physicist Gerard O'Neill and his onetime protégé Eric Drexler — whose paths briefly crossed, and whose fates would take the same course a decade apart.
Mapping the Online Lansdscape to Predict, Prevent Digital Tipping Points
Posted: May 06, 2013
If somebody in a remote corner of the world sets fire to an American flag, but no one else is there to see it, did it really burn?
Absolutely. And thanks to social media, it will keep burning — figuratively, anyway — as news and images of the desecration fan the flames across the internet. Given the reach of today's ever-connected global society, the online outcry could quickly result in a real-world uprising. Writ large, think Arab Spring.
But could such an occurrence be prevented if we better understood —and could even predict — when, why, and how something will go viral? What if we could identify digital tipping points before they induced potentially massive chain reactions?
The answer may lie in network modeling, a way of mapping the digital landscape in order to more readily identify when a new highway is evolving — or when something, or someone, is about to go metaphorically off-road. Call it cartography 2.0.
Such hypothetical solutions may soon become reality, courtesy of an ongoing project in which a group of UC Santa Barbara computer scientists is playing a key role. Hoping to enable advanced intelligence for the digital age, the U.S. Army-funded initiative aims to model different types of information networks and discern the shared dynamics that could make predictions possible.
Singh and fellow computer science professors Tobias Hollerer and Xifeng Yan comprise a team that has received an approximately $1-million-per-year grant to continue work on the endeavor that is four years into its 10-year timeline. The interdisciplinary undertaking has involved a number of students and postdoctoral researchers.
To explore these questions of network dynamics and behavior, the group is examining data from Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia, as well as from transportation and communications networks, looking for shared patterns across multiple networks. The intent is to predict potential end results by tracking beginnings –– whether it's the first post about a flag burning, or the first cluster of searches about an illness or pharmaceutical side-effect.