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mathematics, poetry and sound

red numbers

yesterday afternoon I went to Sticky to see ∏O (Pi O) speaking about his mathematical poetry - a maths class of sorts. I had seen him ‘perform’ once before – with a couple of other shit hot poets in Wollongong (namely my gorgeous friend Alana who is the rockinest poet/writer this side of Excene Cirvenka).

But today it was a far more intimate affair and we got to hear some of the machinations behind his works - generally geek out to poetry, mathematics and sound – all so interwoven through rhythm and patterns.

There were some quotes that I would love to include here, but stupidly didn’t write them down, so apologies if they’re misquoted:

“If there is a pattern in a number, the mathematician always seeks to find out why – to discover the hidden function, its meaning”

“..we can imagine small numbers, but it takes a poet to imagine the huge numbers. Whilst the world becomes more complex, the numbers become more complex. But they are never infinite. Mathematics and poetry helps make sense of these huge numbers.”

One of the works I loved hearing about was his Ode to Arthur Eddington.

Eddington was a ballsy astrophysicist from the early 20th C who was one of only 3 to fully grasp Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. He’s been famously quoted as saying ‘so, who are the other 2?’. swoon!

∏o’s work was based on a quote of Eddington's, which stated that “you can’t square root a sonnet”.
Which of course prompted ∏o to prove him wrong.

It is a work about a vast nothingness – an existentialist equation, where the final number also equals but a tenth of a sonnet.
We listened to ∏ read the poem and heard the ongoing rhythm of nothingness (as a train passed overhead) and, as he said himself, it was like some strange appropriation of John Cage’s 4’33” – a mathematical formula of a silent composition.

Believe me, I was geekin’ out hardcore.

And then we talked about Pythagoras.

Whoa, nelly! I haven’t done a whole lot of research into Py, but based on what I do know, in my book, the man is king. He influences a whole bunch of stuff I do – my secret crush on mathematics (and my subsequent day-job), my psychogeography stuff, through the rebellion of the diagonal in traversing the straightened pathways through the city. And of course being the father of music and composed sound, through his research into harmonics. Put it this way - without Pythagoras, we wouldn’t have Slayer. And, if we didn’t have Slayer. Well, that’s just too much to grasp in one day.

As ∏ said, there is more poetry in Archimedes than in Homer.

I would have loved to hear more of his works and to chat more about the relationship between mathematics, patterns, art, poetry, sound, but I had to catch a sodding train down south and had to leave after the debaucherous Office Banquet (x3).
But if you get a chance to see his work, or get his books, please do – the man is a legend in Australian poetry and as tech-punk-rock as they come. Nice work Sticky.

UPDATE: and then the Plump performance, at Liquid Architecture was all sound and tonal responses using angular tubes and wires.. straight outta the early atonal stuff from Pythogoras! awe....

red number planet image by sidelong. on flickr.

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At 23 July, 2009 02:06, Blogger Rob @ Cynic said...

You know this is something I am both interested in and doing something with at the moment ...

It pains me, but sound and mathetmatics are so closely alligned, I'm surprised they don't make calculators that don't assign different tones on each key.

I love this post and I hope you explore more in this area - if only so it helps me with my project, ha!

At 23 July, 2009 11:11, Anonymous lauren said...

thanks rob - i would love to explore more in this area, but i fear that many greater have gone before me and i have not the time to make such a diversion at the moment.

for maths/sound/art geeks, check out john cage, iannis xenakis and marco fusinato. all do a marvellous maths/sound crossover.


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