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Maggie Chok

The Great Dying

Permian Mass Extinction

This happened: 248 million years ago
End of the Permian period
Start of the Triassic period

The Permian mass extinction has been nicknamed The Great Dying, since a staggering 96% of species died out. All life on Earth today is descended from the 4% of species that survived. The event turns out to have been complex, as there were at least two separate phases of extinction spread over millions of years. Marine creatures were particularly badly affected and insects suffered the only mass extinction of their history.

A lot of theories have been put forward about why and how, exactly, the vast majority of Earth life went belly up 252 million years ago, but the new study, published in Science, offers some compelling evidence acidification was a key driver.

A team led by University of Edinburgh researchers collected rocks in the United Arab Emirates that were on the seafloor hundreds of millions of years ago, and used the boron isotopes found within to model the changing levels of acidification in our prehistoric oceans. Through this “combined geochemical, geological, and modeling approach,” the scientists say, they were able to accurately model the series of “perturbations” that unfolded in the era.

They now believe that a series of gigantic volcanic eruptions in the Siberian Trap spewed a great fountain of carbon into the atmosphere over a period of tens of thousands of years. This was the first phase of the extinction event, in which terrestrial life began to die out.

(Source: Vice Motherboard—The Last Time Oceans Got This Acidic This Fast, 96% of Marine Life Went Extinct, BBC Nature—Big Five Mass Extinction Events)

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Scenes of mist in this one

Olfactory White

Neither pleasant nor foul-smelling, and in no way overwhelming: this is how researchers sum up the smell they are calling “olfactory white”.

The smell was uncovered during experiments that mixed aroma molecules from across the scent spectrum. Even if two mixtures had no components in common, they tended towards having a similar scent as more aromas were added. By the time they contained about 30 components, most mixtures smelled alike1, and could mask other distinctive smells.

The researchers say that the resulting smell, which is unlikely to occur naturally, has parallels with both white light and ‘white noise’. These are produced by combining the wavelengths of the visible spectrum and different sound frequencies, respectively.

Given that our noses contain hundreds of different odour receptors, the phenomenon is counterintuitive, says Noam Sobel, an neuroscientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, who led the work, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “One might imagine that the more odours are added, the more ‘special’ the odour would become,” he says, “Yet what we show is the opposite.”

(Source: Time Magazine—Researchers Discover ‘White Noise’ of Smell, ‘Olfactory White’)

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The Charm of Strange Quarks

The charm quark or c quark (from its symbol, c) is the third most massive of all quarks, a type of elementary particle. Charm quarks are found in hadrons, which are subatomic particles made of quarks. Example of hadrons containing charm quarks include the J/ψ meson (J/ψ), D mesons (D), charmed Sigma baryons (Σ
c), and other charmed particles.

It, along with the strange quark is part of the second generation of matter, and has an electric charge of +2⁄3 e and a bare mass of 1.29+0.05−0.11 GeV/c2. Like all quarks, the charm quark is an elementary fermion with spin-1⁄2, and experiences all four fundamental interactions: gravitation, electromagnetism, weak interactions, and strong interactions. The antiparticle of the charm quark is the charm antiquark (sometimes called anticharm quark or simply anticharm), which differs from it only in that some of its properties have equal magnitude but opposite sign.

The 1974 discovery of the J/ψ (and thus the charm quark) ushered in a series of breakthroughs which are collectively known as the November Revolution.

(Source: Wikipedia—Charm Quark, The Charm of Strange Quarks—Mysteries and Revolutions of Particle Physics)

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Duck; Oboe


Peter and the Wolf is scored for the following orchestra:

Brass: 3 horns in F, a trumpet in B♭ and a trombone
Percussion: timpani, a triangle, a tambourine, cymbals, castanets, a snare drum, and a bass drum
Strings: first and second violins, violas, violoncellos, and double basses
Woodwinds: a flute, an oboe, a clarinet in A, and a bassoon

Each character in the story has a particular instrument and a musical theme:

Bird: flute
Cat: clarinet
Duck: oboe
Grandfather: bassoon
Hunters: woodwind theme, with gunshots on timpani and bass drum
Peter: string instruments (including violin, viola, cello, and bass)
Wolf: French horns

The duration of the work is approximately 25 minutes.

(Source: Wikipedia—Peter and the Wolf, Op. 67)

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Blanket Octopus

Tremoctopus is a genus of pelagic cephalopods, containing four species that occupy surface to mid-waters in subtropical and tropical oceans. They are commonly known as blanket octopuses, in reference to the long transparent webs that connect the dorsal and dorsolateral arms of the adult females. The other arms are much shorter and lack webbing.

Young individuals carry broken tentacles of the Portuguese man-of-war (jellyfish) on the suckers of the dorsal four arms. The borrowed tentacles, which have stinging cells, presumably have a defensive and/or offensive function.

Males are dwarfs (15 mm ML), often reaching only 5-10% of the female size. The females carry numerous (100,000 to 150,000) small eggs (0.9 X 1.5 mm in size). The eggs are attached to a secreted sausage-shaped rod held at the base of the dorsal arms and carried by the female until hatching. The hatchling has the arm bases in a cuff as in Argonauta.

(Source: Tree of Life Project—Tremoctopus)

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The Dark River to Antares

The Dark River to Antares
Credit & copyright: Jason Jennings

Explanation: Connecting the Pipe Nebula to the colorful region near bright star Antares is a dark cloud dubbed the Dark River, flowing from the picture’s left edge. Murky looking, the Dark River’s appearance is caused by dust obscuring background starlight, although the dark nebula contains mostly hydrogen and molecular gas.

Surrounded by dust, Antares, a red supergiant star, creates an unusual bright yellowish reflection nebula. Above it, bright blue double star Rho Ophiuchi is embedded in one of the more typical bluish reflection nebulae, while red emission nebulae are also scattered around the region.

Globular star cluster M4 is just seen above and right of Antares, though it lies far behind the colorful clouds, at a distance of some 7,000 light-years. The Dark River itself is about 500 light years away. The colorful skyscape is a mosaic of telescopic images spanning nearly 10 degrees (20 Full Moons) across the sky in the constellation of the Scorpion (Scorpius).

(Source: NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day—February 22, 2015)

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My life is strong. It is worth asking for.

What happens when a wolf wanders into a flock of sheep and kills twenty or shirty of them in apparent compulsion is perhaps not so much slaughter as a failure on the part of the sheep to communicate anything at all—resistance, mutual respect, appropriateness—to the wolf. The wolf has initiated a sacred ritual and met with ignorance.

This brings us to a second point. We are dealing with a different kind of death from the one men know. When the wolf “asks” for the life of another animal he is responding to something in that animal that says, “My life is strong. It is worth asking for.” A moose may be biologically constrained to die because he is old or injured, but the choice is there. The death is not tragic. It has dignity.

Consider the Indian again. Native American cultures in general stressed that there was nothing wrong with dying, one should only strive to die well, that is consciously choose to die even if it is inevitable. The greatest glory accrued to a warrior who acted with this kind of self-control in the very teeth of death. The ability to see death as less than tragic was rooted in a different perception of ego: a person was simultaneously indispensable and dispensable (in an appropriate way) in the world. In the conversation of death is the striving for a death that is appropriate. I have lived a full life, says the prey. I am ready A die. I am willing to die because clearly I will be dying so that the others in this small herd will go on living. I am ready to die because my leg is broken or my lungs are impacted and my time is finished.

The death is mutually agreeable. The meat it produces has power, as though consecrated. (That is a good word. It strikes us as strange only because it is out of its normal context.)

(Source: Of Wolves and Men—Barry Lopez)

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The Hand of Evening

And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes-how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art.

What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world. Were I to trace its entire relief with my finger, I should not know any more. And you give me the choice between a description that is sure but that teaches me nothing and hypotheses that claim to teach men but that are not sure. A stranger to myself and to the world, armed solely with a thought that negates itself as soon as it asserts, what is this condition in which I can have peace only by refusing to know and to live, in which the appetite for conquest bumps into walls that defy its assaults? To will is to stir up paradoxes. Everything is ordered in such a way as to bring into being that poisoned peace produced by thoughtlessness, lack of heart, or fatal renunciations.

(Source: Albert Camus—The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays)

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Loosely Based on Bees

A In The Absence Of Gravity Please Note The Position Of The Sun
Recorded By [Original Performance] – Simon Bainton 15:44
B Loosely Based On Bees 14:53

Illustration [Drawings] – Gigi Chew

“In The Absence Of Gravity…” is based around a live recording of a solo performance in Brighton, UK 06/04/08.
The piece was edited and added to April-June 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

“Loosely Based On Bees” is based on recordings of Bees made on a rooftop in downtown Philadelphia.


(Source: Koen Holtkamp on Discogs)

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