World Music Day with a jolt of Maths

World Music Day is the brainchild of American musician Joel Cohen, who first proposed the idea in France in 1976, while working at a French radio station.  His idea – an all night festival of free music on summer solstice – won favour with the French Minister of Culture, and the first Fête de la Musique took place in 1982.

Now in its 30th year, the celebration has grown into a huge international celebration of free music.  On 21 June, musicians the world over take to the streets and share their art in public spaces, shop-fronts and side-streets to create a beautiful global noise – the only ‘rule’ being that the performances should be free of charge.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world!
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If you’re scientifically inclined, of course, a global celebration of music also happens to be a celebration of mathematics. Yes indeed, when you celebrate the beauty and emotion inherent in music, you are also acknowledging the beauty of mathematical theory and logic.

Simply speaking, rhythm, musical notes and chords can all be explained mathematically, defined in terms of numerical patterns, scales and equations. At a deeper level, composers are often drawn (consciously or not) to mathematical structures – Bach made use of mathematical symmetry, Debussy employed fibonacci number sequences, Erik Satie used the golden ratio in several of his compositions, and many more. Complex, atypical rhythmic structures, as employed in the work of modern minimalist composers like John Cage and Steve Reich, has found favour in a modern rock music sub-genre known as math-rock, where musicians employ complex rhythms, odd, asymmetrical time signatures, angular melodies and dissonant chords.

Where there is music, mathematics is never far away.  In the words of Igor Stravinsky, “Mathematics swims seductively just below the surface.”

So when you’re out enjoying your free musical fix on World Music Day, you may just get a little jolt of maths in the process – enjoy it!

Music = Mathematics + Magic
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Fascination of Plants Day

So today, 18 May 2012, is the first ever official “Fascination of Plants Day”, launched under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO).

In a way it is sad that there’s a need for an official day to get us humans to appreciate the many wonders of plants and the natural world around us. Expounding at length on the virtues of plants would fill volumes, so I’ll just touch on one aspect that leaves me forever fascinated.

Mathematical marvels

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A feast of Fibonacci – this marguerite daisy flaunts its mathematical side by not only sporting 21 petals (a Fibonacci number), but also displaying some intricate Fibonacci spirals in the flower head.
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Plants are truly the physical embodiment of mathematical precision.  The more time we devote to the study of the mathematical structure of our flora, the more fascinating it becomes.  Ferns curve according to the golden section, fibonacci numbers appear all over the place, in the patterns of leaves, the number of petals on flowers, and the wonderfully intricate spirals appearing on flower heads. Then there’s the uncanny fractal structures created by veins of leaves, and beautifully displayed on the broccoflower.

So go on, spend some time in the garden – its good for you, not just physically, but mentally as well!

The lovely little Manuka flower. Not only does it provide another lesson in fibonacci numbers, with 1 stigma, 5 petals, 5 sepals and and 21 anthers, but its also a little medical miracle, source of an abundance of naturally-occuring antibacterial and anti-fungal constituents.
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Natural fractal patterns in the broccoflower.
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Even a garden thistle is a marvel of mathematical structure.
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