Language is obviously one of the most sophisticated cognitive skills that humans possess, and one of the most obvious differences between the human species and other animal species (and, so far, also between humans and machines). No surprise, then, that language is often considered the main clue to the secrets of the mind. After all, it is through language that our mind expresses itself.
We'll discuss the state of the art in linguistic research, in the language of music (and perhaps the music of language), in the language of cinema and the visual arts, and in the various layers that constitute "language".
Languages are rapidly disappearing in the globalized world.
Language is also being challenged and/or expanded by email emoticons like :-),
"texting" abbreviations ("2deep4me"), and a "machine language" that is
increasingly forced on us by automated customer support, ATMs, etc.
The visual and sound arts frequently dispose of literal/figurative
representation in favor of abstract constructions.
Science looks at music and art as waves and materials.
The many conflicts of language might lie at the very core of 21st century cultural development.
Amy X Neuburg:
Kate Bush: "The Dreaming"
(What to listen for: between the thick British accent and the obfuscatingly airy vocals, you can barely understand a word of this, and yet the use of the voice as a percussive and emotional instrument comes across very clearly);
Robert Ashley: "Foreign Experiences" (Scroll down to the bottom for audio sample. What to listen for: Ashley weaves a hypnotic listening experience out of what appears to be absurd text, but it's all quite meaningful, even if only to him. I love the boldness of such a use of language, and the specifically American qualities of it in both content and delivery. I highly recommend buying the whole opera with booklet and following along with the lyrics);
From "The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T" by Frederick Hollander and Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel): "Dress me dress me dress me" (What to listen for: Very Dr. Seussy nonsensical-ness. Lyrics have a built-in musicality. Children's songs and musical theater were very influential for me. Read more about this cult movie musical at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_5,000_Fingers_of_Dr._T, and try to watch the film sometime. It's delightfully bizarre);
XTC: "1000 Umbrellas" What to listen for: Beautiful inner rhymes and inner alliterations, but without cliche or cutesiness, not to mention the gorgeous string arrangement) and
XTC: "Shake you donkey up" (What to listen for: Made-up, grammatically incorrect language in order to flow musically and express a certain "country bumpkin" naivete. In the chorus, clever 5 beats of lyrics overlaying music in 4/4 seamlessly. And the always wonderfully desperate voice of Andy Partridge.)
The series of panels that we started in the 2011-12 academic year at Stanford University titled
"An Interdisciplinary Tour of the Human Condition in Three Stages: Time, Life, and Mind"
(see this page if you missed those panels)
will continue in the 2012-13 academic year with three more panels on "Space", "Body" and "Language".
We have renamed the series Stanford Multidisciplinary Multimedia Meeting of Arts, Science and Humanities... SMMMASH!
Again, our ambition is to provide "a multidimensional exploration of universal themes about the human condition by artists, scientists, thinkers and innovators of the Bay Area."
Here are the panels for 2012-13:
Space on October 18, 2012:
Chris McKay (Chief scientist at NASA Ames), Anne Fougeron (Award-winning architect), George Legrady (Director of the Experimental Visualization Lab in the Media Arts & Technology at UC Santa Barbara)
Body on January 17, 2013:
Antara Bhardwaj (Dancer of the Chitresh Das Dance company), Sarah Cahill (contemporary music pianist), Oussama Khatib (Director of the Stanford Robotics Lab), Ken Goldberg (Professor of New Media at UC Berkeley as well as Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research)
Language on Apr 18, 2013:
Lera Boroditsky (Psychology at Stanford University), Curt Frank (Chemical Engineering at Stanford University), Amy X Neuburg (musician) and Jeanne Finley (filmmaker)
What is a body, where does it come from, what is it for? The answers seem obvious until you focus and realize that there is a lot more than the superficial biological facts. For example, our bodies are also for dancing and for playing sports, activities that require incredible skills and practice. We spend an increasing amount of time in a disembodied virtual world of emails, websites, social media and even e-learning; and science will soon be capable of changing the genes of your DNA, of replacing your limbs with better prosthetic limbs, of augmenting your organs with microchips, of cloning your entire being, and of building robots that can do everything you do: what are the implications of a disembodied or "multi-embodied" life? Interaction among bodies is fundamental to shape human psychology: the brains of babies develop faster and better if they are held and cuddled than if they are left alone; and elderly people live longer and healthier lives if they have some kind of physical contact with others. Can surgery, drugs, etc replace the power of body contact?
Over the years, artists, scientists, engineers, and
humanities scholars have explored the grand
themes that define the human condition from radically
different perspectives. Too infrequently, they are given
the opportunity to listen to each other and engage in
conversations that cross boundaries and mix up
In each of the three quarters of this academic year,
we will host an evening program featuring some of the
most exciting thinkers in the Bay Area, inviting them to
talk together about one or another modest slice of the
human experience. We will start in the Fall with "Space,"
go on to "Body" in the Winter, and wrap up with "Language"
in the Spring. We have no idea in what directions these
conversations will go, but we can guarantee that they
will be mind-expanding and memorable. We hope you
will join us for all three.
Each presenter will provide reading, viewing, or
listening material that will be posted online before
the event and that will constitute "homework" for the
audience. A brief audio interview with each of the
presenters will also be posted on the web as an introduction
to the presenter.
Each of the panels will be complemented by an art exhibit
by distinguished artists who use different media to "talk" about
the topic of the panel. The art exhibit will start 30 minutes before the
panel and will continue after the panel. The audience can download a "catalog"
of the art exhibit from this website.
Panelists for "Space" on October 18 will be:
Chris McKay is Planetary Scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames. His current research focuses on the evolution of the solar system and the origin of life. He is also actively involved in planning for future Mars missions including human exploration. Chris been involved in research in Mars-like environments on Earth, traveling to the Antarctic dry valleys, Siberia, the Canadian Arctic, and the Atacama, Namib, & Sahara deserts to study life in these Mars-like environments. He was a co-investigator on the Huygens probe to Saturn's moon Titan in 2005, the Mars Phoenix lander mission in 2008, and the Mars Science Laboratory mission in 2012.
Anne Fougeron has provided architectural services in the Bay Area for over 25 years. Her firm's breadth of work is impressive, ranging from feasibility studies to building rehabilitation to new construction projects in the institutional, commercial, health-care and residential sectors. She is personally involved in all aspects of a project, from inception to completion, serving as the main client point-of-contact. As a result, her projects have been recipients of 45 design awards both local and national and have been featured in national and international publications. The firm's work has been featured in Fougeron Architecture: Opposition/Composition, a recently published monograph that showcases fourteen projects.
George Legrady is an internationally-acclaimed multimedia artist and Professor of Interactive Media at UC Santa Barbara. He has previously held fulltime appointments at the Merz Akademie, Institute for Visual Communication, Stuttgart, the Conceptual Design/Information Arts program, San Francisco State University, University of Southern California, and the University of Western Ontario. A pioneer of interactive digital art, Legrady's installations have featured in festivals around the world, from China to Europe, since the 1980s. A complete list can be found on his website http://www.georgelegrady.com His creative work has received numerous awards both in North America and Europe.
and moderated by cultural historian Piero Scaruffi
The "Body" program on January 17 features:
Antara Bhardwaj is a North Indian classical dancer of the Chitresh Das Dance Company, founded by Kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das, with whom she has studied since the age of nine. She has become a leading exponent of Pandit Das' innovation of Kathak Yoga, a mind, body practice that involves the dancer to become her own instrument, a combination of singing, playing the harmonium and dancing complex mathematical permutations all at the same time. Besides the USA, she has toured extensively in India, notably at the National Centre for Performing Arts (Mumbai), Birla Sabhagar (Kolkata), Shaniwar Wada Festival of Pune, and Kathak Kendra (India's National Institution of Kathak Dance). She is also an accomplished musical accompanist, trained vocally by Smt. Shweta Jhaveri (disciple of Pandit Jasraj). She is also a prolific filmmaker and producer. A documentary feature film titled "Upaj: Improvise" brings her two worlds of film and dance together.
Sarah Cahill is a pianist who has commissioned, premiered, and recorded numerous compositions for solo piano, and has performed chamber music with several chamber groups including the New Century Chamber Orchestra and the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble. She has recorded for the New Albion, CRI, New World, Other Minds, Tzadik, Albany, Cold Blue, and Artifact labels. She has a weekly radio show, Then & Now, in San Francisco. She is on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory and curates a monthly series of new music concerts at the Berkeley Art Museum. Her most recent project, A Sweeter Music, premiered in the Cal Performances series in Berkeley in January 2009 and continued to New Sounds Live at Merkin Hall, Rothko Chapel, and venues around the country, with newly commissioned works on the theme of peace by Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, Yoko Ono, Frederic Rzewski, etc. Composers who have dedicated works to her include John Adams, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Pauline Oliveros, Annea Lockwood, and Evan Ziporyn.
Oussama Khatib, Head of the Stanford Robotics Lab. received his Doctorate degree in Electrical Engineering from Sup'Aero in France in 1980. He is Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University. He is Co-Editor of the Springer Tracts in Advanced Robotics series, and has served on the Editorial Boards of several journals as well as Chair or Co-Chair for numerous international conferences. He co-edited the Springer Handbook of Robotics, which received the PROSE Award for Excellence in Physical Sciences & Mathematics and was also the winner in the category Engineering & Technology. He is the President of the International Foundation of Robotics Research (IFRR) and a recipient of the Japan Robot Association (JARA) Award in Research and Development.
Ken Goldberg, an inventor and multimedia artist working at the intersection of art, robotics, and social media, teaches and supervises research in Robotics, Automation, Art, and New Media at UC Berkeley. He joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1995 where he is craigslist Distinguished Professor of New Media. He is a Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, with secondary appointments in Electrical Engineering/Computer Science, Art Practice, and the School of Information. Ken also holds an appointment in the UC San Francisco Medical School's Department of Radiation Oncology. He is Editor-in-Chief of the IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering (T-ASE), Co-Founder of the African Robotics Network (AFRON), Co-Founder of the Berkeley Center for New Media (BCNM), Co-Founder and CTO of Hybrid Wisdom Labs, Co-Founder of the Moxie Institute, and Founding Director of UC Berkeley's Art, Technology, and Culture Lecture Series. Ken's art installations, based on his research, have been exhibited internationally. Ken was awarded the Presidential Faculty Fellowship in 1995 by President Clinton, the National Science Foundation Faculty Fellowship in 1994, the Joseph Engelberger Robotics Award in 2000, and elected IEEE Fellow in 2005. Details on artwork: http://goldberg.berkeley.edu/art
and moderated by cultural historian Piero Scaruffi
"Language" on April 18 will feature:
Lera Boroditsky, raised in Minsk in the former Soviet Union, is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University . Boroditsky's research centers on the nature of mental representation and how knowledge emerges out of the interactions of mind, world, and language. One focus has been to investigate the ways that languages and cultures shape human thinking. Her research has been widely featured in the media. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, from the Marr Prize by the Cognitive Science Society to the NSF Career Award, and was named one of "25 visionaries changing the world" by Utne Reader.
Curt Frank is a Professor in Chemical Engineering at Stanford. He was the founding Director of the Center on Polymer Interfaces and Macromolecular Assemblies from 1994 to 2010. He was also the Chairman of the Department of Chemical Engineering from 2001 to 2006. In collaboration with his wife Sara Loesch-Frank, a calligrapher, artist, and art teacher, Curt has taught an Introductory Sophomore Seminar on "Art, Chemistry, and Madness: the Science of Art Materials" for the past six years. Curt lectures on a series of historical palettes: Paleolithic art, Egyptian art, Greco-Roman art, Medieval art, Renaissance art, Industrial art, and Contemporary art.
Amy X Neuburg's career bridges the boundaries between classical, experimental and popular musics. Her 'avant-cabaret' songs combine her interests in poetry and language, expressive use of music technology (with an emphasis on live looping), and exploration of multiple genres using the many colors of her four-octave vocal range. She has performed at venues as diverse as the Other Minds and Bang on a Can new music festivals, the Berlin International Poetry Festival and the Wellington and Christchurch Jazz Festivals (NZ). Commissions for voices and chamber ensembles (often with looping electronics) include Robin Cox Ensemble, Present Music, Santa Cruz New Music Works, Solstice Vocal Ensemble, Christchurch Arts Centre chorus, Pacific Mozart Ensemble and Del Sol String Quartet. She has also composed extensively for theater and visual media, including Mondomedia's irreverent Piki & Poko web animations and numerous onstage collaborations with modern dancers. A classically trained vocalist, Amy has been featured in contemporary operas and recordings including works by Robert Ashley, Culture Clash and Guillermo Galindo. She performs regularly with her Cello ChiXtet, a cello trio with live electronics.
Jeanne Finley, a Professor of Media Studies at the California College of the Arts, is a media artist who works in experimental and documentary forms including film, video, photography, installation, internet, and site specific public works. Her work has been exhibited in international institutions including the Guggenheim Museum, SF and NY Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum and the George Pompidou Center. She has been the recipient of many grants including a Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, Cal Arts/Alpert Award, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships. Since 1989 she has worked in collaboration with John Muse on many installation and video projects including Flatland, 2007, Clockwork, 2006, and Catapult, 2005. Finley's film and video credits include: Lost, 2006, Loss Prevention, 2000, O Night Without Objects, a Trilogy, 1998, A.R.M. Around Moscow , 1993, Involuntary Conversion, 1991 and Nomads at the 25 Door, 1991. These tapes have won awards at international festivals such as the San Francisco, Atlanta, Berlin Video Festival, Toronto, and World Wide Video Festival.
and moderated by cultural historian Piero Scaruffi