Riffing on Books and Life – Arts & Sciences Literary Blog by interactive new media author & artist Terry Bailey

29Jun/17

AI Challenges: Image Recognition Patterns

AI Image Pattern Recognition Animation

AI Image Pattern Recognition Animation

Artificial Intelligence and Image Recognition Challenges

Everything's Coming Up Roses!

One of the methods used by image recognition algorithms is to "see" things by noting patterns in an image. This can be very effective, but can also create challenges.

In the tea animation here, watch how the AI software sees the numerous roses in the bouquet, and, making a note of that rose pattern, then assumes there must be other roses in the image - when there are not!

So, the end of the folded napkin becomes a rose. Rose patterns are seen in the blank back wall. And even the lavender bouquet decoration on the tea pot becomes a rose!

While this might make an interesting surrealist work of art, we certainly would not want our autonomous car seeing roses where, in fact, there is a dog, or other vehicle, or fallen tree - or nothing!

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29Dec/16

From My Cultural Landscape Series

So this morning I was looking for the vintage car rally event held in Pasadena every year the day before the Rose Parade, and this is what I discovered under "Events." In 2008 a few of my female college students "explained" to me that it is not like back in the day when their moms and I were growing up; they told me that they had equality. I wept a little inside at their words. What might help awaken a new generation of girls and women? "Maybe a Cultural Landscape Series," I thought this morning.

art: Sexism in My Environment, from my Cultural Landscape Series - Terry Bailey

Sexism in My Environment, from my Cultural Landscape Series - Terry Bailey

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4Dec/16

My Review of Merlin Snider’s New Album – “One Light Many Windows”

image of Merlin Snider's "One Light Many Windows" CD, released November 2016

this essay was first published on November 29  in Folkworks Magazine

 

TITLE: One Light Many Windows

ARTIST: Merlin Snider

LABEL: Barking Dog Music

RELEASE DATE: November 21, 2016

By Terry Bailey

Years ago I visited painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser in his Venice (Italy) studio. I was surprised to see canvases lining the walls in all sorts of styles – not just the colorful spiral and raindrop paintings he was well known for at the time.

“My gallery owner prefers that I stick to one style. He believes that is what art buyers want from artists: a consistent identity,” he explained to me. “Sadly, I cannot even bring these other works of mine into the gallery.”

This marketing identity demand bleeds over to all art forms: too often writers, filmmakers, composers, songwriters – all creators – are pressured to create in one style and stick to it.

When Merlin and I first chatted about his new album, One Light Many Windows, our conversation began with his expressed concern about the diversity of song styles on this his third CD. But Merlin has transcended the need to write folk music in one style with a traditional song structure. That transcendence is who Merlin is. And we can be thankful that he has the courage to display his many canvases.

“I think that good music is at once familiar and original,” he shared with me.

As long as Merlin writes music, he will continue to move his audiences into new musical realms – and we will travel with him safely and happily.

With One Light Many Windows, Merlin has built a musical safe-house for his fans. A sanctuary from which we all can commune, looking inward and outward through the mirrored views and communal vistas of his windows.

Fresh Dirt is a reflective window, from which Merlin the builder shares the wonder of turning a shovelful of dirt into a place to shelter us from the storm, a place where one day tears and laughter will make the place a home. And Merlin the poet follows his house as shelter with an ironic metaphor: what’s to shelter us from the storm inside?

One window, Cold Rain, calls us to feel our world, like the cold rain pounding on our nerves, and to witness, in sacred Thoreau-like fashion, the poem of creation. Another window, Fly Away Sail Away, finds us singing along, stomping our feet and clapping our hands as we peer out at all the people who leave to find their home, and acknowledge that, indeed, everybody wants to feel at home.

Near Merlin’s musical home rooftop is a window of Memory. It looks over everything that has come and gone before. The listener at that window may find herself weeping at first listen, and experiencing the greatest of joy the next time around on the dance floor with it. The song is a waltz.

Merlin shares that some of his favorite writers, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, and the early Randy Newman, have the ability to be both melancholic and joyful, sentimental without resorting to saccharin. He admits it is a difficult trick to pull off, but something he strives for. With Memory, he accomplishes it to the moon and back.

Many of Merlin’s windows open to, in his own words, “a search for transcendence.” Unlike so many songwriters, Merlin’s songs are not about his personal bouts with the intricacies of living, but a way to get out of himself and into our shared existence, “to connect with something much larger.”

“Can I forgive?” (Sea of Forgetfulness). “Can I get out of myself and create something that allows others to see and laugh at themselves, ourselves, together?” (Procrastination Blues). Each of Merlin’s songs reveals a fresh perspective on transcendent possibility. This is true of his previous albums as well. And it is the key to why those of us who have discovered his music relish it, and flock to commune with him and each other at his concerts. Merlin’s musical home encourages us to come together to reflect, grieve, share, laugh at our foibles, forgive, throw off our regrets, love, be with our true feelings and then cast them aside to dance, sing and celebrate in the warmth and safety of our oneness.

All the music of One Light Many Windows is memorable, beautifully produced and performed. Merlin has assembled a first-class cadre of musicians and singers. Ed Tree has co-produced and engineered recordings that are of the highest professional caliber. Merlin and Ed have arranged each song lovingly and to musical perfection. Each track is “just right.”

One song deserves special note, and that is Abraham’s Light. We are transported to Lincoln’s era with a masterful arrangement that includes only instruments that existed during Abraham Lincoln’s time. Our eras are especially bridged with the consistent sound of cornet horns and a marching drum beat throughout. And with lyrics that bridge generations: a hateful virus is multiplied, I say bounce it back with Abraham’s Light.

Merlin says of the song: “I am very moved by the way Lincoln stood courageously (out of an empathy born from tragedy and depression) for preserving the Union as a place where all people are equal in their right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, and yet at the same time he saw the humanity of his enemies enough to leave the door open to reconciliation. Lincoln lived in a time when our country was even more divided than it is now, and I think we could stand to be instructed by his life and words.”

Another great poet-songwriter, Leonard Cohen, departed our planet the day before our infamous November 8, 2016 US election, gifting us with his last song, You Want it Darker. The following day we got it darker, and Cohen’s masterpiece calls on us to face that darkness. But we must not get mired in it. Merlin’s One Light Many Windows will surely be a tool to help us transcend the darkness, to guide us in remembering that for all our diversity, we share one light. As we gather together in Merlin and friends’ musical home, “in this night, may we read by Abraham’s light.”

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6Nov/16

You Want It Darker – Honoring Leonard Cohen

Illustration for my upcoming book, Pasadena Tales, but painted to honor one of my greatest muses, Leonard Cohen, in celebration of the release of his latest album, You Want It Darker

Illustration for my upcoming book, Pasadena Tales, but painted to honor one of my greatest muses, Leonard Cohen, in celebration of the release of his latest album, You Want It Darker

Update November 12, 2016:  the web page where the interview podcast of Leonard Cohen about his new album, You Want It Darker, appeared has now been updated to be a wonderful homage to Cohen with links to many videos, podcasts, audio files, biography information etc. I learned on this page that he had suffered from cancer for some time, and that he actually recorded this entire last album sitting in a medical chair in his apartment's living room, And it is clear now that this album actually was Leonard Cohen saying his final words, and putting his house in order. Click here for the link.

Update November 10, 2016: I  started this post on November 6. I have another painting finished for Part 2 and had planned to post the second half of this essay a couple of days from now. But, this evening word came that Leonard Cohen passed away. We thought he passed on the 10th, since that is when the news was published, but it turned out he passed on November 7, the day after I listened to the interview with him and began posting my essay. I am very sad about his passing. And I felt perhaps I should re-write this post's part one, because at the end of it I talk about his future; I have decided to leave it as is, as it came from my heart, having no idea that by the following day Leonard would no longer be on this planet. -- Terry

November 6 , 2016:  The first Leonard Cohen song I sang was Suzanne. I was a teen-ager. I changed an A chord in it to an A major 7, embarking on a musical career of "interpreting" songwriters' songs for myself. It was kind of a big deal at the time. Before that, I studied songs by listening to the albums and learning to play and sing them exactly as originally performed. If it was a folk song, I sang the melody precisely and learned the same fingerstyle guitar technique used on the record - I even memorized the exact little guitar riffs the original players played in the songs' introductions and breaks. If it was a jazz song sung by Carmen McCrae or Anita O'Day, I practiced their phrasing by singing along with the records a hundred times so I could imitate their arrangements and singing styles precisely.

When I started practicing Suzanne, something pushed me, inspired me, to break out of the "as-written" mold and to throw in an alternate chord. A major seven just seemed more appropriate, more ethereal, more spiritual, more awe-inspiring, more question-mark to me. And that also seemed more Leonard Cohen to me. Suzanne and so many of his songs have such a spiritual, religion-of-some sort sense to them. I was not religious. But his poetry always spoke to me in that realm of human spiritual need. I don't even like to say "spiritual" because that implies "spirit" and takes us back to religion, doesn't it? We need new vocabulary for that need, for that aspect of human reality that speaks to our place, our values, our connections, our essence beyond the molecules that compose the matter that makes our human physical being.

I listened to an interview of Leonard Cohen on the radio last week and learned that he is not religious. That his choice of religious, biblical, spiritual vocabulary has to do with the fact that it is the vocabulary he grew up with, not because he has a religious leaning. That's important. Really important. I think the fact will resonate with lots of Leonard Cohen fans - who for decades have felt a deep human need fulfilled by his words, but were confused as to the why and the how of the religious bent to his songs.

I am going to put it down to poetry. Leonard Cohen's poetry speaks to the essence of what it is to be human, what it is to be surrounded by other humans, what it is to be mired or lifted by the human condition on any given day. What it is to wonder. Successful poetry is the most essential form of communication. It reduces its subject matter to the core, the essence, the critical. It throws away those superfluous words and meanings to get at the heart of whatever it is.

As a journalist, I learned to start an essay with a mind flush - anywhere from 2000 to 5000 words on my subject. Then I would edit to remove my digressions. I would edit again to establish a logical form. Both those edits reduced my essay to 1500 to 3000 words. At that point in the process I would despair for a time: there was no way I could cut any further and still say what I needed to say! A day or two later I would re-read and laugh at myself for thinking so many of my thoughts were so precious, and scratch out another thousand words by removing whole phrases. Eventually I would get to the level of eliminating unnecessary sentences, then words. Finally my column would be the requisite 750 to 1000 words, and I would submit it.

A few years later I studied poetry as part of my MFA college writing program, and began to learn what essence communicating was really about. The path I had learned as a journalist was a good start, but I still had writing roads to travel. Although my major was creative nonfiction and interactive media writing, the greatest ah-ha moments for me as a student of writing at Antioch were in the poetry lectures, readings and courses I took as part of my program.

Poetry, I found, is the pinnacle of pure communication.  Great poetry not only reduces an idea to its absolute irreducible essence, it does so while drawing from, and appealing to, all our human senses, not just our intellectual perception. It also does so while appealing to our senses of place and time and history and humanity and aesthetics and wonder and . . .

Leonard Cohen is a master of poetry. You Want it Darker is a tour de force of a poetry collection that sends to the darkness the media pushed message that any artist over 40 is past her/his prime. Leonard Cohen said recently that at 82, he is ready to die. In the radio interview, he took back that statement. I am glad, for You Want It Darker is a necessary reflection on the human condition for our age. And with it Leonard Cohen has just hit his stride. He must continue.

(next, my review of the album coming soon)

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