Monday, March 28, 2016

Musical Monday - Marble Machine by Wintergatan

This video has been circulating on the geeky parts of the internet for a few weeks now, so chances are that you've seen it already, but I'm not necessarily interested in the music video as I am interested in what this says about the importance of both art and technology.

This machine is a fairly impressive piece of engineering. It is designed to produce music. Without the engineering, the music cannot exist, but without the music, the machine is pointless. This, I think, encapsulates a reality of the modern world that is often forgotten. One hears a lot of commentary talking about the importance of encouraging kids to study in the "STEM" fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and those are definitely important. But without the humanities, such endeavors are stunted, and in a sense, almost pointless.

We are creatures with needs. Physical needs, like the need for food and shelter to be sure, but also the need for art and beauty. We don't just throw the bare minimum of the required nutrients onto a plate - well, some people do, but they are rare - rather we usually take time and effort to prepare food with herbs, spices, and other flavorings, and sometimes we even present the food in a visually pleasing manner. Eating isn't just for sustenance, it is for pleasure. We could turn over the design of all buildings to structural engineers, but we don't. We have architects, who are praised for their artistic abilities as much as they are for their technical knowledge. Buildings that are built without an aesthetically pleasing design are frequently regarded as being somehow wrong, even though they serve their functional purpose just as well as attractive buildings do.1 And so on.

Science and engineering make the modern world possible, but they aren't enough. We need the lessons taught by the humanities to make the society that science and engineering produce into something that is worth living in. Engineering can make the complex box, but it takes music to make the box worthwhile.

1 As an example, the University of Virginia is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful universities in the United States. The Rotunda and the Lawn are famous historical landmarks because of their beautiful architecture, and most of the other buildings on the University Grounds are built to reflect the same design aesthetic. There is one notable building on Grounds - Gilmer Hall - that does not fit, and is actually a fairly bland and boring building. It isn't actually that unattractive and it does its job as a classroom building perfectly well, but it sticks out, and, at least when I was there, was the butt of a fair number of jokes. It was, in fact, the subject of a story line in the student-written comic strip Hoover in which it is revealed that Thomas Jefferson designed the building, much to Jefferson's embarrassment (Jefferson was a character in the strip). Because Gilmer Hall is not as beautiful as the rest of the buildings on Grounds, it is regarded as a lesser building, and is subjected to a fair amount of criticism.

Previous Musical Monday: Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) by Stary Olsa
Subsequent Musical Monday: Arwen's Song by Peter Hollens

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