May 30th, 2012

December 2014, by PNH

Another Little Variorum of Joys and Pleasantries...

Hi. This is partly an experiment, to see whether crossposting is working correctly.


1) As far as I’m aware, there is one (count it, 1) US grower of Australian finger limes [Microcitrus australasica or Citrus australasica; I can’t recall which name is current and which is out of date], Shanley Farms. They are out of season now, but will return in the fall. Germination of seeds is reported to be erratic and unreliable, but I got two seedlings from the three seeds I planted:

Spiky little critters, but you expect that with citrus.

2) I have my hands in mud again, which makes me very happy.

2A) I am working on reproducing several Song dynasty glaze effects, which is a ton of fun. I am not generally interested in directly copying the work, but if I can get lovely glazes I will be happy to use them. Here is a photo of a bowl with a particularly lovely oilspot glaze, which is currently on display at the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian:

It is easy to make an oilspot glaze; it is not easy to make one like this. Working on it.

Here is a photo of a different Song dynasty glaze pattern, something called Tortoiseshell. (This is from Alain Truong’s old blog, Eloge de l’Art.) Tortoiseshell varies all the way from quite pale, sometimes with flamy blue bits, to the golden orange you see in Alain Truong photo, to peculiar things like this [caution: large file].

There are other variants of Tortoiseshell, including some where they clearly laid down little papercuts, sprayed the wash over them instead of dripping or painting it on, and then removed the paper before firing the piece.

Perhaps fortunately, Tortoiseshell is relatively easy to do, so rather than struggling to achieve it at all I’m struggling to get versions I particularly like. This is very different from something called Yohen (sometimes Youhen) or Inaba Tenmoku, which is extremely difficult. There are only three Song dynasty examples, all of which are National Treasures in museums in Japan and cannot be messed with or analyzed, and nobody knows precisely how they were made. Here is a photo of the interior of the best one.

Several people over there are doing modern equivalents, some of which are really lovely (albeit somewhat over the top). The odd thing is that no two of these folks are doing work that is precisely alike, and nobody seems to be doing anything that is quite the same as the Song dynasty originals. I think this set of photos is of a bowl by a fellow named Hayashi.

This variety of results appears to be an example of something I was discussing with Bill Phillips and Stephen Granade at BaltiCon this past weekend (see #3): if you know that something can be done, you probably have a fair shot at doing it; but if you don’t know how it was done you may come up with a novel method.

A few weeks ago, a potter in Denmark named Lauge Brixvold sent me some information about how the people in Japan are creating these effects, which has me extremely excited. I have been firing glaze tests, and although I’m not even close yet, I am definitely seeing some suggestive things. We’ll see how far I get.

3) Within the past few weeks I have been privileged to meet several remarkable people.

3A) I encountered Josh Simpson and his brother [or cousin?] Kim at the Smithsonian Crafts Show, where I also saw various friends including Olen Hsu, Eric Serritella, and Hideaki Miyamura. Josh does amazing work with glass, and we got into the expectable Vulcan Mind-Meld about colloidal colorants. Kim is a potter, and I expect to be having a protracted conversation with both of them. It turns out that Josh is married to Cady Coleman, who had recently returned from 3 months on the ISS, which leads me to the fact that a few weeks later I went to small bits of the recent Nebula Awards weekend, where I met Mike Fincke. When I asked him if he knew Cady Coleman, he said "We're buddies! I've been in space with her!" The world is a very tiny place, simultaneously shrinking and expanding at large rates.

3B) This past weekend I attended BaltiCon, one of the local science-fiction conventions, where I saw many friends, and where I got to meet their Music Guests, Heather Dale and Ben Deschamps (who are very cool), and their Science Guest, a friendly fellow named Bill Phillips who does ultralow-temperature work at NIST. This is exceedingly geeky and quantum-mechanical; it involves rather special lasers, and dilute gases that are composed (at least typically) of alkali-metal atoms, things like sodium and rubidium. He also gives insanely great lecture-demos. Among folks who do advanced work there are not all that many who can bring the joys of physics and engineering to a relatively nontechnical audience, and particularly to kids. Bill Phillips is especially good. (He also happens to have a Nobel Prize, about which he is extremely modest.) One afternoon he was interviewed by Stephen Granade and John Ashmead, who did a fine job of it, and I am becoming acquainted with them, too.

4) As I understand it, a little over a year ago Bapak Salman al-Farisi, who was then Deputy Chief of Mission at the Indonesian Embassy, seems to have concluded that the Embassy’s Central Javanese Gamelan ensemble needed to be replaced. This was accurate; the old set has some serious problems. Bapak Salman set in motion some diplomatic machinery that resulted in the Embassy asking Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X of Jogjakarta whether he might be willing to donate a new set of instruments. The Sultan said yes, and the new gamelan arrived about two months ago. It is larger and more thoroughly instrumented than the old set, and it has very fine tone.

Here is a photo of the new set. A few of the instruments are not really visible here, but at least you can get a sense of what a Central Javanese gamelan looks like. I hope I’ll eventually be able to give you a sense of what it sounds like, which is somewhat more important.

(The instruments at the lower left corner and the ones sitting in the windows at the rear are from the old set.)

At this point we need to recruit a bunch more people who want to play or to learn to play, because we were already short-handed, and now we have even more instruments. If you are in the general vicinity of Washington DC and you are interested in playing Javanese gamelan, or if you know (or know of) someone in the DC area who is interested in playing Javanese gamelan, please (!) contact me. Gamelan, in all its variations (of which there are quite a few), is quite different from Western music; but at the beginner level this music is fairly easy to pick up, and although we don’t have a specific beginner class we can assist new people in getting started.

5) I hope to issue, eventually, a video about one of the room-pressure nitrogen lasers I’ve been working on, with some demos showing things you can do with such a device. The video is nearly complete; I’m working on the voiceover. Unfortunately, this has been taking me a lot longer than I wanted. (Sigh.) When it’s done I will put it up on YouTube, and I will post a loud squeal of relief here.

Best —