Sunday, January 29, 2012

Breaking News: Higgs Bison Detected

Nerd Metal Show on KUCI 88.9 FM (UC Irvine Radio)

It's actually called Nerd Metal. I mean how can it not be great just from that name. Saturdays 8-10pm on KUCI 88.9 FM. Last night they had some interviews with Orange County metal bands Cerebellion and Sorizon, along with playing some Devin Townsend, Synchestra, and other firm meaty chunks. Here's the show's website.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finally, Chemistry from Vesta

No data released yet but we know they're working on it. This is geochemistry they're looking at with a gamma and neutron instrument. Interesting, now that we know the temperature and sunlight is right at the poles for at least solid water to exist. Why interesting? If there are intelligent aliens, there are von Neumann probes. If there are von Neumann probes, they're probably already here in the solar system. If they're here, they're most likely to be on lower gravity bodies, like asteroids.

Temperature map of Vesta's surface. NASA / GSFC / UMBC

Friday, January 20, 2012

Look for Dust: Singularities and the Great Silence

Assumption: if such a thing as the technological singularity is inevitable, then any tool-using intelligence should follow the same pattern, if at different rates based on their own biology. (Admittedly in this the Singulatarians, often accused of preparing for the nerd Rapture, sound a bit more like Marxists than Harold Camping.)

Image NASA/JPL-Caltech

If the Singularity is coming in our near future, then we should expect it's already happened multiple times around our own galaxy. If Singulatarian arguments are to be taken seriously in their strongest form, and events post-singularity are in principle unpredictable to us as we are presently constructed, then those alien singularities could look like anything, including nothing. This would explain the Great Silence, but it would be an unsatisfying explanation: "something happens to everyone that turns them into something we wouldn't understand even if we were looking right at it". It's been supposed that post-Singularity intelligences would want to deconstruct large bodies (like planets) to allow more particle interactions and increase computational abilities. Therefore we might look for strangely dusty systems, like 59 LY-away Eta Corvi, which is not by any stretch a still-forming system but has two belts of dust: a Kuiper Belt analog, and a warm dust belt within 3.5 AU that should disappear within 20 million years - and the age of this F-class star system is about 1.5 billion. More mundane mechanisms have been advanced (here in the Astrophysical Journal) to explain the persistence of the inner dust belt, which is chemically very interesting - but again, in the strongest interpretation of the Singularity, there's no point in trying to guess what any anomaly is, because we couldn't understand it.

A better alternative is to assume that we just don't know what we're listening for (yet, but that eventually we might), or that the absence of electromagnetic signals detectable at Earth doesn't mean no intelligence, or that we haven't looked in the right places, which especially applies to the search for von Neumann probes, which may seek out material agglomerations in low gravity (comets and asteroids). An artifact may be worth many signals.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

This Might Be Too Intense

You think you like heavy? You think you like extreme? I don't think you're ready for this. Don't blame me for the severe brain damage that will result from your weakness.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chinese Metal Is Here to Save/Destroy Us

Seriously. Driving back up to San Francisco over the New Year I asked my handy co-pilot to do a little Spotify searching while I was driving to see if there are any solid Chinese metal bands. And you know how that goes: typically it's novel to find a band or two from a non-traditional metal country, but they're unimaginative, badly produced, and don't introduce any local elements.

But that's not what you should expect to find in a country with a three-millennium history of music, a population twice the size of the U.S. and Europe put together, and plenty of things to be pissed off about. The Chinese metal scene is fucking amazing, it preserves and extends the best of metal, and how it hasn't so far penetrated the rest of the world more is beyond me. (Here is a Youtube channel for Chinese metal, and another one; also a Chinese metal wiki and here's a blog; as Mirai Kawashima of Sigh says, help spread the plague of Eastern terror.) Sure, many of the bands are technically outstanding versions of metal sub-genres, including those which Western bands seem to have abandoned, but some of them bring in an East Asian melodic sensibility, and some traditional elements like the erhu and throat-singing in more than just a "look, non-traditional instruments" sense. (Of course Taiwan's Chthonic has used erhus for a while.)

#1: Filter (from China, not the 90s American one.) Bands keep saying they're going to record the next Metallica album, because Metallica isn't, but they keep not doing it. I explicitly proposed a bunch of bands getting together to record "the next Metallica album" before, but you can forget about it because Filter has done it. I never knew until now what James Hetfield would sound like if he sang in Mandarin. I love these guys. Someone is finally writing Justice songs again, although there's a healthy dose of Load sensibility too. Here is Filter's No way:

#2: Last Successor is another fantastic band that's described as progressive metal, although they're better described as a very Chinese metalcore band with progressive leanings. And that said, I'll commit sacrilege against John Huntsman's favorite band, Last Successor are a better progressive metal band than Dream Theater. Know why? They don't let their work get bogged down in unexciting, non-metal displays of musicianship, though their chops are clearly there. (Ever miss blistering leads from the old days? Try these guys; their soloist is quite Skolnickian.) They use a lot of keyboards and aren't afraid to put them right in front; despite the keys' prominence, they never lose that drum-plus-rhythm guitar alchemy that metal is about. A good intro is this song from/about World of Warcraft (just "World"):

Abyss also has a lot of nice erhu, as does Release, which takes off right away. If Last Successor has a flaw, it's that in their ballads they veer off a little into schmaltzy East Asian pop land (as in See Jasmine Again), but the same can be said for Western metal ballads wading into sappy lighter-holding territory.

#3: Die from Sorrow is pretty much the Chinese Avenged Sevenfold (which is fine with me). Here's Andromeda:

#4: Hell Savior - Imagine a faster, thrashier Judas Priest with the offspring of Greg Graffin and Axl Rose singing, and somehow working. Here's Guardians of Glave:

#5: M-Survivor - A solid metalcore band like As I Lay Dying. Here's Don't Give Up:

#6: Tiefutu has some nice crunchy bits but you find yourself humming the electronic parts more than anything. (Deceptive, guys. Nice.)

#7: Samans sounds like a more electronic Rammstein. Here's Death March:

#8: S.A.W are the most crunchy bastards ever. Again in the vein of As I Lay Dying, but with some cleaner stops.

#9: Suffocated - aside from the vocals, these guys are the most thrash-like of all the bands I've posted here, and they get right into on this one, When Dreams Entwine:

#10: Ego Fall. I promised you throat-singing and here it is. (Here's some on this blog from before; traditional Western death metal singing is essentially just sloppy vestibular vocal cord vocalization anyway.) Throat-singing is usually done in a tempo and rhythm that has a real gallop to it and this ("Sounding the Horn") is no exception.

#11: Nightmare - Self-destruction

You might also want to check out Dark Haze and From the Red.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Kill All Hipsters: The Obscurometer

Okay, maybe don't kill them, but use an objective measure to scrutinize their claims to liking obscure bands. Put in any band to the obscurometer and get a % obscurity back. If you're registered as a user it can tell you how obscure your tastes are - this is where you send the hipsters to see whose is bigger. If they're cool enough they'll be into Lobster Toilet Death, which is the fifth most obscure. Coldplay, Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers are the least obscure.

Of the Big 4 thrash bands, the obscurity in increasing order was Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer (almost same as Megadeth) and Anthrax. If you want to know the basis for the measurement go to the damn site.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Music Has Something You Can't Measure!

In fact, it's SO immeasurable, even professional violinists can't tell the difference between a Stradivarius and a not-Stradivarius! (That's a nice way of saying THERE ISN'T ONE.) We often, or usually, can't separate our experiences of art and food from what we know about their creators and history, or their context.