Archived entries for David Edelman

magic & techno

This past Thursday, a magician visited the Neurosciences Institute. I heard rumblings of his presence over lunch, but I had failed to cross paths with him until I went on a hunt for the owner of some unattended, unrecognized items in the conference room. I needed to do some sound testing in that room but didn’t want to inconvenience the person whose stuff was there, so find the owner I did. And I’m glad I did.

Enter Mark Mitton.

I found him in the office/lab of robotics engineer Donald Hutson, the mastermind behind the speaker apparatus for the music therapy study. After a few moments of creepily lurking in the doorway and eavesdropping on the conversation the two were having with John, I joined in the fun. Mitton’s friend and NSI contact David Edelman, a Swarthmore alum, walked in the room with a handful of brown paper lunch bags and hands one to each of us. Mitton taught us how to throw up an imaginary ball and have it land in the paper bag. He even taught us how to play catch with these imaginary balls. Amazing!

Even though this was the only trick I saw Mitton do and the secret was revealed, I know that Mitton is a good magician. Between his wit, intelligence, and energy, he could outsmart the curls out of my hair! He also tends to switch from topic to topic, as one word of a conversation reminds him of story, experience, or article. His voracious thirst for knowledge combined with his composed excitement manifest with full commitment to the amazing questions, phenomena, and truths that pervade his(/our) world.

As Donald, David, John, Mark and I were tossing around the imaginary ball, we eventually started to sync up. Mitton noted that once, at a conference, a woman approached him after the ball-throwing activity saying that her partner-in-catch was exuding all kinds of good chemistry her way: he caught every ball she threw. Here, the sensorimotor experience led this woman to feel an emotional connection. Indeed, this is not an isolated incident. John mentioned a line of research in group cooperation where people are more likely to cooperate successfully in problem-solving tasks if they first tap the same rhythm together. Mitton noted his experience singing in the chorus as an undergrad, where his school’s group would combine with the other two in his consortium and he would come out of the experience feeling truly connected to everyone, even the people he didn’t know. (P.S. What consortium was this? None other than the Tri-Co, where Mitton was a graduate with the Haverford Class of 1982 with a B.A. in Economics. Cool!)

Appropriately, the conversation skipped to DJs, who draw upon their ability to sense, understand, and interact with the audience in a large-scale, macrocosmic version of the bag trick-induced sensorimotor effect. While many concerts are a give-and-take between artist and audience, DJ performances seem to come with greater expectations. Just as early disc jockeys spun records based on the mood of the audience or the mood they were trying to instill in the audience, current DJs like Tiesto and deadmau5 have the ability to align and extend electronic blips in ways that make overjoyed puppets out of the audience members.

For an example of what the magician was talking about and what I’m trying to reiterate here, compare the first video to the second. The first shows Nosaj Thing, an LA-based electronic and remix artist, performing a DJ set by himself in a room at the Seattle radio station KEXP. The second is a live recording of Nosaj at the Low End Theory Club in LA. There are obviously other variables aside from audience that differentiate the videos (i.e., venue and presence of video projection), but it is pretty clear how Nosaj is reacting to and manipulating the audience.

the worth of viral infection

The other day I walked into lunch thirty minutes late and sat at table with some familiar faces. They promptly left, and I met some new folks. One of them, David Edelman, went to Swarthmore, and we had a great conversation about the liberal arts experience on the Main Line. I also met Geoffrey Owens, whose most recent work (as I understand it) concerns extracting photosensitive genes from bacteria and using viruses to infect rats’ brains with them. He uses fiberoptics to shine a light onto the area of the brain where the gene is expressed and observes how it affects their behavior.

Today at the hospital, I mentioned this to one of the fellows and she was like, “Oh, that sounds sort of like gene therapy.” I’ve spent the past ten minutes on the Wikipedia page for gene therapy, and I’m pretty much in awe. It is essentially the insertion of genes into cells and tissue to treat conditions where a mutant gene is causing problems. Many of the vectors for this gene insertion are viruses, which have perfected the art of infiltrating cells with their own genetic  material. Most notably, gene therapy has been quite a successful cancer treatment, but it is not yet widespread.

In recent history, when you hear “virus,” it is either being discussed in regard to H1N1 or some computer bug that managed to wipe away years of documents (and, if really unlucky, gigabytes of songs).  Yet another popular application is the “viral video,” or a video that has gathered a substantial amount of Internet fame and on occasion, infiltration into other forms of media or intellectual engagement.

A perfect example of this “infiltration” is marked by one of Ani and John’s recent research forays. They came across the video of the cockatoo Snowball dancing to “Everybody” by the Backstreet Boys.

They noticed that it seemed to be keeping the beat as it danced and wanted to determine whether it actually was. As I noted in a much earlier post, vocal learning is the ability to produce complex sound patterns based on auditory input. This phenomenon also exists in songbirds, hummingbirds, whales, dolphins, bats, and seals.

Last Sunday, CBS Sunday Morning had a feature on Snowball and this research:

They left out an important finding, though. John and Ani changed the tempo of the same song to see if Snowball would be able to synchronize to the altered tempo, and he was! The study results have been published in several places, authored by Ani, John, a UCSD affiliate named Micah Bregman and Snowball’s owner Irena Schultz. One of them, “Experimental Evidence for Synchronization to a Musical Beat in a Nonhuman Animal,” is available here.



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