Friday, August 26, 2005

Robert Moog

Dr Robert Moog, the inventor of the electronic synthesiser, aged 71, died of brain cancer on 21 August 2005

Adapted from the BBC obituary:

His synthesiser, which bears his name, revolutionised music from the 1960s onwards, and was used by bands like the Beatles and the Doors. Today, the electronic manipulation of sound is a ubiquitous feature of popular music. This was not always the case, and Moog was one of the pivotal pioneers of synthesised sound. His instruments transformed pop music during that most revolutionary and experimental of times, the 1960s.

Alongside his hobby, Moog was studying hard. From the Bronx High School of Science, he went on to Queens College, before graduating in electrical engineering at Columbia University and earning a doctorate in engineering physics at Cornell.

Although RCA had already built a musical synthesiser, it was a vast beast, and never intended for sale. What Moog did, in 1964, was to produce and market a practical instrument, a small keyboard synth which could be used with relative ease. Hollywood soon expressed an interest, but it was Wendy Carlos' 1968 Grammy-winning album, Switched-On Bach, which brought the Moog synthesiser to spectacular prominence. Before long many musicians and groups, including the Doors, the Grateful Dead, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, were using Moog synthesisers. Keith Emerson, of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, was the first musician to use one for live concerts. These two photographs show the monstrous Moog synthesiser used in Switched-on and the other the Minimoog model.

But the boom days were not to last. Even though the Minimoog, a stripped-down version of the original instrument and beloved by artists like Rick Wakeman, made waves when it came out in 1970, the writing was on the wall. With interest in purely electronic sound falling, and huge competition from other synthesiser manufacturers, most notably ARP Instruments and Electronic Music Studios, the bottom fell out of the market.

Synthesisers evolved from the analog model of voltage control to digitally controlled model, and then to the wave table model of the modern machines.

Bob Moog sold a controlling interest in his struggling company and, more important, rights to the Moog Music name to a venture capitalist. In 1978, he started a new company, Big Briar, building custom instruments and sound-effect boxes. Even so, many musicians, including Brian Eno, Frank Zappa, The Cure and Fat Boy Slim, sought the Moog sound, keeping it alive, even as analogue synthesisers were wiped-out by their digital cousins. After a lengthy legal battle, Moog reclaimed the rights to the Moog brand in 2002 and began selling instruments bearing his name for the first time in more than two decades.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I Ching 天行健,君子以自強不息

我經常聽到人們互相勉勵,說要自強不息。有時有些人要拋 書包,改說天行健,君子以自強不息。究竟自強 什麼呢?是體魄?是知識?還是修養?這和天又有什麼關係?不如問問無所不知的互聯網。

〝天 行健,君子以自強不息〞 出自《易經》,其在周朝已流 行,主要作占卜之用。《易經》之第一卦 乾 乾為天 龍示變化之象 萬物資始之意。【 象曰 】:天行健,君子以自強不息。大哉乾元,蔭覆無偏,玄運造化,萬物資始,雲行雨施,變化不言,東西任意,南北安然。

乾宮之卦,乾者健也, 健全、健壯,不停地活動。宇宙是不停地活動,不停變化,把原本當作為乾,而六爻作為龍。此卦乃是龍一向潛在池中,剛剛得到了時節,要 登天之象,已往很為困窮,憂愁勞苦,會漸漸轉好,可以升到成功之階段去了,并且此卦是易中第一卦,所以是很尊重的卦,凡貴顯高位之人,或正直而平常對業務 勤勉之人,占此卦都很相宜,但身份下賤或平日怠惰虛偽的人,乃是凶卦,所以得此卦之人,向來正直或熱心業務的,那便上司提拔,可得意外之成功。

雖然易經歷史悠久,但占卜之言,信不信由你。但另 一篇文字卻較為有用:

清 華校訓《天行健,君子以自強不息;地勢坤,君子以厚德載物》。這兩句話是《易經》裡的。比較費解的是《君子以自強不息》。很多人都把它理解成《君子當自強 不息》, 一字之差,差之千里。〝以〞在古文裡是〝用〞的意思。應該是《君子 以之自強不息》,就是君子用了它以後就會自強不息。這裡的〝之〞,就是〝天行健〞。直接翻譯過來就是,天道的運行 是最健康的,君子通過順應這種規律,使自己變得強壯,生生不息,而不是讓君子埋頭苦幹不鬆勁兒的意思。這種處世之道,在古時候幾乎人人都懂,老子不是也說 嗎〝人法地,地法天,天法道,道法自然〞。天道運行的規律是什麼呢?做人的規範,可以說是天定的,比如說仁、義、禮、智、信等等。人要真能做到這一點,可 能身體就會很健康。如果能做得更好,就會超越人一般的健 康程度。

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Carpe Diem

I often heard the term Carpe Diem, on many occasions from the religious, and also friends and colleagues. This is a common term which means seize the day, but there is much philosophy behind. Seize what, that is the question. On one hand, it encourages people to treasure time to do meaningful things. On the other, some adopt the attitude of not doing anything but to play for the day. So I ask the almighty Internet for an answer.

Carpe diem is Latin for "pluck the day," meaning "enjoy the moment". It has been translated into English as "seize the day," but carpere means "to pluck." This rule of life can be traced back more than 2000 years and be found in the "Odes" (I, 11.8) of the Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC), where it reads: Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero ("pluck the day, never trust the next") It is quoted accordingly either as a demand not to waste somebody's time with useless things, or as a justification for pleasure and joy of life with little fear for the future.

Roman culture and literature had declined thereafter and Europe underwent the medieval period for over 1000 years. Then came the Renaissance with an enthusiasm in the rediscovery of ancient classical texts and learning and their applications in the arts and sciences. Horace's Odes became fashion and influenced poetry of the day. This idea carpe diem was popular in 16th and 17th-century English poetry, made famous by Robert Herrick and William Shakespeare. To go with the culture of the feudal system where kings and nobles were exploiting the mass and lived in luxurious way, carpe diem in poetry also portrayed hedonism.

The most recent fad on carpe diem came from Robin Williams' character as a teacher of a boys' boarding school in the film "Dead Poets Society". Powerful and famous lines were spoken by Robin Williams to the students when he introduced the dead poets to them: "But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? - Carpe - hear it? - Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary."

The moral of Dead Poets Society reminds us to seize each day and cherish them dearly. Every day opportunities await us and we must decide whether to take the chance or play it safe. The main theme was an encouragement to the students to take the risks, for nothing is gained without them. Risks were taken; the result was extraordinary; the film has a sad ending.

To me, the message is simple. If life is short and there may not be tomorrow, then we must seize the day and do the most valuable thing. The most valuable thing is a valuable personal value judgement. While sky is the limit, I think the most immediate valuable thing is to complete the task at hand in the most satisfactory manner.