L. E. T. S. D. A. N. C. E.

A colorful medley of inventive type animations puts the alphabet in motion
Designer Ben Huynh submitted animated letters for each day of the open call which he combined into a short film. The video presents his three-dimensional type in the form of Mephis-style office supplies, modern furniture, and abstract neon light installations, all set to the song “Sunshine” by Gym and Swim.

36 Days of Type 05

Behavioural tricks within Japanese train stations

An interesting look at some of the behavioural tricks and nudges that have been designed into Japan’s train stations. The millions of commuters that move through them aren’t just helped by things like reliable trains or better signage, but by their own unconscious actions triggered by light and sound.

The amazing psychology of Japanese train stations
Compounding the stressful nature of the commute in years past was the nerve-grating tone—a harsh buzzer used to signal a train’s imminent departure. The departing train buzzer was punctuated by sharp blasts of station attendants’ whistles, as harried salarymen raced down stairs and across platforms to beat the train’s closing doors.

To calm this stressful audio environment, in 1989 the major rail operator JR East commissioned Yamaha and composer Hiroaki Ide to create hassha melodies—short, ear-pleasing jingles to replace the traditional departure buzzer.

Not all of the aural additions are as melodic, though.

To address the Japanese fear of loitering and vandalism by young riders, some train stations deploy ultrasonic deterrents—small, unobtrusive devices that emit a high-frequency tone. The particular frequency used—17 kilohertz—can generally only be heard by those under the age of 25. (Older people can’t detect such frequencies, thanks to the age-related hearing loss known as presbycusis.) These devices—the brainchild of a Welsh inventor and also used to fend off loitering teens in the U.S. and Europe—have been enthusiastically adopted in Japan.

Standing outside one of Tokyo Station’s numerous exits on a recent summer day, it was easy to see the effectiveness of this deterrent in action. Weary salarymen and aged obaachan passed under the sonic deterrent without changing pace. Among uniform-clad students, however, the reactions were evident—a suddenly quickened pace, a look of confusion or discomfort, and often a cry of urusai! (Loud!) None appeared to connect the noise to the deterrents placed almost flush in the ceiling panels above.

Strange to contemplate a sound that I’ll never hear. The article links to a YouTube video of the hassha melodies, but there’s nothing about that 17 kilohertz one, unfortunately. (Or maybe there is and I just can’t hear it.)

But it’s not just the built environment that uses these behavioural tricks. The train conductors, drivers and platform attendants do too.

Why Japan’s rail workers can’t stop pointing at things
Known in Japanese as shisa kanko, pointing-and-calling works on the principle of associating one’s tasks with physical movements and vocalizations to prevent errors by “raising the consciousness levels of workers”—according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Japan. Rather than rely on a worker’s eyes or habit alone, each step in a given task is reinforced physically and audibly to ensure the step is both complete and accurate.

キレキレ指差呼称で安全確認キレキレ車掌The conductor of metro who to confirm safety by a splendid pointing and calling.

Something I should try myself, perhaps?

*points to keyboard, mumbles something about e-mail*

How to engineer comedy

Khoi Vinh uses this wonderful Rube Goldberg video from Joseph Herscher to discuss important points about the value of aesthetics and narrative in good design and engineering.

Valuable lessons from pointless machines
Though the Cake Server relies on precision execution and basic physics and engineering principles, it’s clear from watching the behind-the-scenes video below that there is a real artistry at work, too. In comments that will sound familiar to any designer, Herscher talks about the importance of the viewer’s experience and how certain components of a Rube Goldberg help create a sense of expectation and narrative for the audience.

These machines are ingenious but, as Khoi points out, and as reiterated by Joseph in his behind-the-scenes video, a lot of the joy and humour comes from our own expectations and reactions. Like that off-screen sound at 1:15!

The Cake Server – Joseph’s Most Complex Machine Ever
I hate waiting for dessert, so here’s a Rube Goldberg machine to streamline dinnertime. It lets me keep eating, with no break before cake. It’s my most complex yet and took 3 months to make so I hope you enjoy it!

Everything, all at once

Repeat viewing is obligatory with these videos.

1.000.000 Frames / Candice Drouet
“It’s funny how much memory, hidden, is instantly conjured up with just a few familiar flashes. I’ve been rebooted. Amazing piece.” “You’ve watched a lot of great films. Thanks for putting this together.” “You certainly deserve lots of credit for all the work you have put into your outstanding production.”

Classical Gas – 3000 Years of Art
CLASSICAL GAS was written in August, 1967; recorded for THE MASON WILLIAMS PHONOGRAPH RECORD album in November, 1967; released as a single in February, 1968, and became a hit six months later in the Summer of 1968. It was also one of the earliest records that used a visual to help promote it on television, which probably qualifies it as one of the earliest music videos.

A jaunt through five millennia of art history in just one minute
This meticulously animated short by the Chinese new-media artist and educator Cao Shu traverses some five millennia of art in a single minute. As flickering images move chronologically, in flipbook fashion, through a parade of styles and artistic movements – from Ancient Egypt, to the Impressionist era, to the 20th century avant-garde – a gender-shifting character makes a series of simple movements, seemingly ambling through the history of art.

Mii, myself and I

Our kids are getting a little older now, and are happy to let the Wii gather dust, so we don’t hear this catchy little tune half as much as we used to.

Mii Channel Music but it’s played by a saxophone quartet
My arrangement of the Mii Channel Music for a saxophone quartet. Uses one soprano, one alto, one tenor, and one bari. Video was compiled in Premiere Pro and audio was compiled in Audition.

Compare that with this, something that can generate random variations on the original Mii theme. Not quite Elgar, but fun nonetheless.

Mii Channel Theme Markov
Made with Band.js and my own markov generator, Markov.js. All transcribing of the original music was done by hand, with help from Pianoletternotes. Not completed yet.

And here’s how it sounds with a fuller orchestra.

Mii Channel Theme Band Prank
The Liberty University Wind Symphony decided to prank our band director by playing the Mii Channel Theme instead of a Bach Chorale.

Michael Nyman's new (to me) stuff

Ok, so these aren’t new but I’ve not heard them all before. To mark Michael Nyman turning 70, the Guardian’s picked five pieces that we may well be less familiar with:

Michael Nyman: five of the best
For those who know him only through music such as this track from The Draughtsman’s Contract, Chasing Sheep is Best Left to Shepherds, with its Purcell-based hi-NRG, or the serene/soporific/instantly-memorable/instantly-annoyingly-catchy theme music for The Piano, now’s your chance to delve deeper into Nyman’s many soundworlds and the huge range of his output.

So here they are, but scroll down for some exciting news.

So yes, Michael Nyman’s complete catalogue is now available physically and digitally (in MP3 and FLAC format) from mnrecords.greedbag.com, including this from 1981.

stroll a for Out

Video of a man walking backwards through Tokyo played in reverse
When first thing that strikes you when watching this video of a man walking through Tokyo is that every other person in the entire clip is walking backward. The opposite of which is actually true: the man, Ludovic Zuili, is the one walking backward but the video is being played in reverse.

What you’re watching is just a short preview of a 9-hour movie that was aired in its entirety in France called Tokyo Reverse, part of a bizarre TV programming trend called Slow TV that has been regarded as a “small revolution.”

How strange, why has no one else thought of this?

To the stationery cupboard!

A girl named Elastika: an animated adventure in office supplies
Animated by Guillaume Blanchet, this new stop-motion short called A Girl Named Elastica tells the brief story of a girl who leaves her home to adventures around the world. Probably the most notable aspect is the ingenious use of thumbtacks and rubber bands to create the majority of the animation which takes place entirely on a small bulletin board.

I love the holey tracks the pins leave behind on the paper, footprints in the sand, form following function and so on. Interesting play on scale too.