Experience Café: Cooper Hewitt Museum 19 April 2018

by Carene Lydia Lopez on April 21, 2018

violaleeblue had two tickets for Experience Café, which she could not use and rtb and I snapped them up. The event was to call attention to a current exhibit — The Senses: Design Beyond Vision — at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. It’s an interesting museum that I have only seen a little of years ago, so I was looking forward to seeing more of it. For many years, I did sound for a summer concert series in their courtyard. Since the courtyard is on the corner, it was interesting to work there because it was open to the sidewalk/public on two sides.

I got there just as the speakers in the front lobby were wrapping up and they were assigning people to groups (named after fruit) to see five presentations. I thought it was going to be more of a free-for-all and was not expecting to be rushed off because everything was timed so that different groups did not overlap. Just as I was about to leave for one group, I saw that rtb had arrived and was at the coatcheck. I told two of the women in charge that I was waiting for her and one brought us up to the third floor (and many stairs) to join with Group Plum, which was already listening to the first presentation.

Elia Life Technologies and San Francisco’s Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired had, like everyone else, a fascinating presentation. Braille is difficult to learn, especially for those who become blind later in life. Elia Frames are learned in hours instead of months and are read faster than a raised Roman alphabet. Housed in a circle or square are a few lines or dots that are similar to the familiar Roman alphabet. But the best part was the technology. A regular HP printer has been converted that using special paper will print the Frames so that they are raised. There is also a keyboard cover with the Frames.

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Using the same printer and technology, maps can be created. At this point you can only have one point of interest (raised point on the map) and the streets are raised on the paper with the names of the streets at the edges so that they do not interfere with your being able to move along the streets with your fingers. You can connect two points with a line but the technology is not at a place where you can have multiple points of interest on one map (which would be of use to rtb).

After a few questions were answered, we were rushed downstairs. The lecture hall was still occupied, so we went to the other room, for a presentation on cross-modal correspondences – senses that overlap. Bruno Mesz (Universidad Nacional de Tres de Febrero, Argentina) mentioned synesthesia, which is different. Cross-modal correspondences are nearly universal while synesthesia affects a small percentage of the population and affects each person differently. For example, he showed how two famous composers, who associated certain notes with certain colors, painted two totally different circles of colors while listening to the same piece of music. An example of cross-modal correspondence was showing us two blob drawings – one with rounded curves and the other with sharp points. Asked which drawing is named Kiki, everyone in the room agreed that Kiki was the blob with sharp points. rtb and I did disagree with the crowd when asked if a piece of music was sweet, sour, salty, or bitter – rtb said salty, I said sweet, and the group said sour, which is what apparently most people say. We did a test (and I’m sure I threw the results out of whack), where he played four pieces of music and for each we had to pick up a piece of chocolate (in order), chew a bit, let it melt on our tongue, and answer some questions – whether the chocolate was sweet, sour, salty, or bitter and whether it went with the music being played. It seemed like chocolate pieces 1 and 3 were similar and 2 and 4 were similar. It turned out the pairs were exactly the same. Yet, I did not answer the same because they each tasted slightly different to me. Was it the music? I do not know. Bruno did not really discuss real-world applications except for one – music in restaurants. Specifically pairing music with wine. He showed some photos of people drinking wine where both the wine and the people were hooked up to a piano and each sip would play different notes. I especially liked this presentation (and not just because I found Bruno charming and cute) because I am very conscious of sound and music around me and it definitely will affect me in different ways.

Next, we went next door for a presentation on anosmia by the Monell Chemical Senses Center. Anosmia is the lack of the sense of smell. Some people are born that way and others lose that sense because of an infection, disease, or injury. Is being able to smell important? Very much so. It plays very much in our social interactions. For instance, I cannot imagine not being able to smell a romantic partner – not to be able to sniff the pillow after he’s gone to work and let all the emotions and feelings from the night before flood my brain. Smells brings back memories – whenever I smell wet grass, I am instantly transported to my mother’s hometown in Puerto Rico. And when I smell something burning in the distance, I am taken back to Managua in the early 80s when there was infrastructure so people burned their garbage in the gutter. But you also need to be able to smell if your odor is offensive, like if you have just come back from the gym. Or dangers like smoke, a gas leak, or rotten food. It also affects your taste. For this experiment, we were given four jellybeans – two licorice and two banana. Now I hate jellybeans. And even more, I hate licorice or anything that tastes remotely like licorice. But I was game, so I put on the nose clips, closed my eyes, and popped one jellybean in my mouth. All I could taste was sweet. This was not too bad. Then we removed the nose clips and the taste of licorice was immediate and overwhelming and I spit it out. I knew taste and smell were related but I had no idea how much you needed smell in order to taste.

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The other experiment sent a small fright through me. First we smelled some beads that contained an element found in raspberries and Pinot Noir. Not everyone can smell it and I could not. The next small bottle contained beads that would smell like a gas leak but I could not smell anything and neither could rtb. They asked who smelled anything and I did not notice if anyone raised their hand. Surprise! It was a trick. The last bottle did smell like Sulphur and it was strong. So Yay! I can smell a gas leak. Some things that they are developing are fabrics that will tingle and let the asnomic know that they need to change clothes.

Then a chef in the back of the room had two amuse bouche for us to try. The first was a pasta with melted anchovies. The second was candied lemon pie. Both were big on texture and strong flavors. The chef had lost her sense of smell because of a respiratory infection and she has developed recipes that are appealing for asnomics because the food is acutely flavored and/or the texture is appealing. Also, it is food that has a long shelf life.

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It was back upstairs for International Flavors & Fragrances and a perfume presentation. Senior perfumer Laurent Le Guernec (fragrances developed) and Anahid (cannot find last name) talked about scents. We were given two scents that Le Guernec had developed – the first was very neutral and had been used for a hotel smell. The other, which had a lighter smell, immediately brought to mind the woods to me and he said it contained musk and a woodsy smell. I have forgotten who it was, but there is a group of people (island? tribe?) who have a lot of words for different scents. They are trying to develop a more extensive English vocabulary for scents. One of the questions was about a library for scents, which they are also trying to develop. One of the problems is that many scents are volatile and do not last long. As in the previous presentation, scents bring forth memories, which is why there is a unique Maserati leather smell. Everyone knows “new car smell” and that scent is used in old cars before they are resold. Le Guernec complained that Millennials all want cotton candy smell so that is why it is ubiquitous nowadays. They also talked about synthetic scents and how much better they are – for instance, many people are allergic to natural scents (flowers) and you increase the life of a scent by using synthetics. Le Guernec smokes, which Anahid scolded him for, but he says that it does not affect his nose because he is used to the smell. Just as we do not smell a perfume we wear all the time.

Part of their exhibit were some pillars, where you pressed a button on the side and it would light up and a scent would arise that matched words written on top. I only got a chance to smell two of them and they did not smell like much. Plus the sentences did not make a lot of sense to me – not exactly this but something like “a broken heart left in the woods.” First of all, I know what a broken heart smells like – old sweatpants, salty tears, and Ben & Jerry’s – and the scent did not say broken heart to me.

The last presentation was by Skylar Tibbets from MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab, a woman from Steelcase, and another woman from Designtex. These were programmed materials and the most surprising thing to me was that none of them had really thought much about the applications despite one working at an office furniture house and the other with a textile manufacturer. When one application was suggested by someone in our group and someone else in another group, they marveled at the ideas. Tibbets especially seemed to enjoy research and invention for its own sake and did not look to see how his invention would work outside of the lab. The materials – somehow fused with another material like leather – would curl or twist in heat or the pores would open with moisture. It was very cool to look at and we passed around small squares of some of the materials to touch. Tibbets put a hot lamp over one paper with small squares and each opened slowly, which rtb captured on video.

The evening was a lot of fun and I may even trek up to Cooper Hewitt and look at the entire exhibit, which features a lot more experimental works and over 65 design projects.

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Poundcake: Rockwood Stage 3 12 April 2018

by Carene Lydia Lopez on April 13, 2018

While standing on line, the people behind me noticed the performance video on the wall of the bar at Rockwood Music Hall’s Stage 3 bar and were wondering if that was taking place in the room below us. I told them that was Stage 2, which is around the corner and can be accessed through the glass doors in front of us. And the talk about Stage 2 led to talk about Stage 1 and Stage 0 and then about seeing live music in NYC and favorite venues like City Winery. They’d seen Poundcake many times as well as Teddy Thompson performing solo. We also had a discussion about how musicians will come out to see their friends, so at any concert we could be treated to a special guest performing.

Then Peter showed up and we were talking and I saw this older man walk towards the front of the line and something about him (I could only see the back of his head) made me think he was someone special when the woman in front of me turned around and excitedly said, “Richard Thompson is here!” and then I excitedly turned around to the people behind me and said, “Richard Thompson is here!” Would we be lucky enough to see him perform also?

Rockwood’s Stage 3 is a small intimate room without a bad spot and great sound. And it’s all chairs and tables or counters, so you can sit throughout the show. The band was tuning while we were getting our seats and as soon as they started playing, everyone in the room shut up. The first song was an instrumental that sounded very familiar but I can’t remember the name of it.

For those not in the know, drummer (and singer) Ethan Eubanks told us the story of Poundcake. Ethan and Jeff Hill (electric bass/singer) played in Teddy’s (electric and acoustic guitar/singer) band and while on tour they would play Buddy Holly songs during soundcheck. When the tour was over they decided to form a band that would only play rockabilly, old rock and roll, and country covers. It’s been a year since they’ve performed (Jeff; “I missed you guys.”) but it’s difficult to tell if when they went up on lyrics or missed cues if that was because of lack of playing together or if it was just them. Because in the past they often went up on lyrics and missed cues.

Sometimes they seem like a comedy troupe that plays music and other time they’re like a musical group that does comedy. Ethan will sometimes ad lib during songs will even make Teddy crack up. Other times, Teddy’s voice and their beautiful harmonies will bring you to tears. And they are all great musicians.

After the first song, Teddy said he had worked his way up from playing gigs in the basement up to the first floor and now here he was back in the basement again. Ethan joked that it was the opposite of the Beatles. And then said Cavern Club for those of us not versed in music history. There was a lot of joking about a car that Jeff just bought at a police auction that looks like a car that was bought at a police auction. It has no fender and is dented. Jeff thinks Armour All will take out the dents. Ethan joked this time that when he’s stopped by the police that night and asked, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” that Jeff’s response will be, “So many reasons.”

They did surprise me with a couple of very politically incorrect jokes – we all laughed but I felt guilty doing so (they had to do with women and rape). “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” was proceeded by Teddy telling us that the song literally spells out the subject matter. Ethan was set up on the floor next to the stage (it is not big enough for three of them plus the grand piano) and Teddy told Ethan that he had been offered the piano to play and Ethan said he lack of ability on the instrument is the only thing that stopped him.

Teddy only played the acoustic guitar for a few songs and he sang most of the leads. Jeff took lead on two songs (“Bye Bye Love” and “Cupid”) and Ethan sang lead on “Act Naturally” and was going to sing lead on another but then the sound guy informed them that they only had 10 minutes left (which elicited a lot of boos and noes) and Ethan said he knew why we had spent our entertainment dollars and it was not for him and he deferred to Teddy.

Teddy announced that they were going to play an Eddie Cochrane song and he said there was a special guest in the audience and those of us who knew were already applauding and when he walked up to the stage we started cheering and when Teddy said, “Richard Thompson!” the others in the audience started applauding and cheering too. Richard, of course, blew us away with his solo on “Cut Across Shorty.” And he rejoined them (“I can see you guys struggling”) for the encore and “Little Sister.” There were two moments I loved (besides the guitar playing) – Richard took out a zippered key case and removed a pick (“You never know when someone is going to ask you to play and need to be prepared.”) and after “Cut Across Shorty” he leaned over and gave Teddy a kiss on the forehead. Teddy said he had grown up listening to these songs in the car during trips with his family to Scotland (Ethan: “That’s like driving to Pennsylvania.”) so it made sense that his father should join them in playing some of the songs.

You can never go wrong with Poundcake.

Set List (names are those who famously sang the songs and not necessarily the songwriters)

Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochrane)
Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line (Waylon Jennings)
Brown Eyed Handsome Man (Chuck Berry)
Bye Bye Love (Everly Brothers)
Important Words (Gene Vincent)
Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)
Act Naturally (Buck Owens)
D-I-V-O-R-C-E (Tammy Wynette)
I Put a Spell on You (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins)
It’s So Easy (Buddy Holly)
Daddy Sang Bass (Johnny Cash)
What Do You Think of Her Now? (Willie Nelson)
Hey, Porter (Johnny Cash)
Cupid (Sam Cooke)
That’ll Be the Day (Buddy Holly)
Why Can’t He Be You? (Patsy Cline)
Cut Across Shorty (Eddie Cochrane)
To Be Loved (Jackie Wilson)

Encore (didn’t actually leave stage but blacked out lights for a second)

Little Sister (Elvis Presley)
Lonesome Town (Ricky Nelson)




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Greater Gotham: A Talk by Mike Wallace: Open House New York 21 February 2018

March 30, 2018

Open House New York was having an event at the SVA Theatre, where many New Yorker Festival events are held (sometimes the same weekend as Open House New York when they unlock the doors of many of New York’s famous buildings). This was a talk by Mike Wallace, one of the co-authors of Gotham: A […]

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kd lang: Beacon Theatre 26 March 2018

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Des Moines Art Center Museum: Des Moines, IA 11 March 2018

March 17, 2018

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Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus: Drake Sheslow Auditorum, Des Moines, IA 10 March 2018

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Lucero: Wooly’s, Des Moines, IA 9 March 2018

March 14, 2018

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Latin History for Morons: Studio 54 18 February 2018

February 20, 2018

After a run at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the La Jolla Playhouse, and then the Public Theater, Latin History for Morons starring John Leguizamo finally came to Broadway last fall and I thought I wasn’t going to get to see it because of finances but then that changed for me and I got a ticket […]

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Ben Nichols: Crossroads, Garwood, NJ 10 February 2018

February 12, 2018

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Refuge in Music: Global Solidarity: St. John the Divine 9 February 2018

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The Cathedral of St. John the Divine is one of the most beautiful houses of worship. I’ve visited to see the art exhibits in the main chapel and in rooms around the chapel but also to see the beauty of the cathedral itself. They hold events there all the time – two of the most […]

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