Cycling 74 announces Max 5

David Zicarelli has posted a preview of Max 5 on It looks like a significant upgrade in terms of the user interface and usability of the program. I’m looking forward to finding out more as the release date (sometime in the first quarter of 2008) nears. Thanks to Create Digital Music for drawing my attention to this announcement.

Some features that I find interesting:

Continue reading

Archimedes Screw Highchair

The bottom section of a highchair is a large archimedes screw, as if it were wearing a skirt with spiral pleats. Placing a child in the chair activates a motor that causes the screw to slowly turn, raising bits of dropped food to within the child’s reach.

Bike-friendly Plan Announced for 9th Ave NYC

NYC plans to reconfigure 7 blocks of 9th Avenue in Chelsea to make it friendlier for bicyclists. The plan involves positioning a bike lane between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars. (A buffer zone with barriers to prevent cars from entering the bike lane is also included.) See a New York Times article here. I wonder how these lanes will function at intersections, particularly with the pedestrian islands extending into the street? I’m in favor of more bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure, so I look forward to seeing this implemented–and one day riding it myself!

When It’s Bleepy-time Down South

The New York Times has an interesting piece on Louis Armstrong’s strong reaction to the Little Rock, Arkansas desegregation saga. My favorite part is when Louis addresses President Eisenhower as “Daddy” in an appreciative telegram. If only Armstrong and Mingus had gotten together on Fables of Faubus.

New Music Online: Part 1:

I’m writing about my experiences with as the first part of a series focusing on music distribution models on the internet. Other posts may cover, online radio services such as pandora and music networking sites like mog. I’m particularly interested in how these sites serve experimental music and musicians. My definition of experimental music is a broad one, covering 20th and 21st century classical music, avant-flavored jazz, fringe areas of pop and rock, and other non-mainstream varieties.

What is it? is a CD trading service. The site has recently expanded to include an online music player, but its functionality remains limited, so I’ll focus on the CD trading aspect of the service. I have found to be a low-cost, low-risk way to expand my music library.

How it works

Users post a list of CDs they own and are willing to trade. They also create a list of CDs they want. The database facilitates trades between users. These trades are not usually direct, one-to-one exchanges (e.g. I send you a CD you want in exchange for a CD from you that I want). More typically, User A sends out a CD to User B and receives a CD from User C. Each CD received costs $1.75 including shipping and handling. There is no charge for sending CDs.
Continue reading

Evening in the Adirondacks

Here’s a recording from a recent trip to the Adirondacks. Forest quiet just before dusk. Wind in the leaves. Some sudden squirrel or chipmunk activity. The occasional thump is the sound of a vine or branch knocking against a tree trunk.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Pork Pie Hat

A Bacon-themed Restaurant

Who doesn’t love bacon? (OK, except for vegetarians and those keeping kosher…) So how about a restaurant where every dish has bacon in it? Pork Pie Hat will serve the usual bacon-laced goodness for appetizers (bacon wrapped scallops), salads (spinach salad), sandwiches (BLT) and entrees (coq au vin); along with unusual bacon offerings such as desserts (apple pie with a woven bacon crust, bacon crrme brulee) and cocktails (the bacon-tini, or course!) Other popular dishes include a tasting platter of artisanal bacon varieties, bacon and melon, battered bacon rings, chocolate covered bacon bits (bacon-nets)…the list goes on. Diners may be asked to present a note from their physician or else sign a waiver before ordering.

How Did They Do It?

I’ve been playing with different tunings recently, inspired by a SuperCollider patch written by Travis Weller and Dave Benson’s book Music: A Mathematical Offering and Kyle Gann’s Anatomy of an Octave. I built my own little MaxMSP patch to demonstrate the Pythagorean comma. It transposes an oscillator up by 12 perfect fifths and then back down by 7 octaves. The resulting pitch is just slightly higher than the fundamental, a difference of 1.01364… called the Pythagorean comma or the ditonic comma. Fascinating stuff–and tracing the way tunings were pushed about until our prevalent equal tempered system took over illuminates an alternate history of Western music. (Another topic, for later…)

Playing with this stuff makes me wonder how the ancient Greeks figured it out way back in 500 BC. The way I imagine it, physically performing this experiment would require at least 3 strings (1 tuned to the fundamental, 1 tuned to the current target interval, 1 to be tuned to the next target interval) and plenty of retuning. Or maybe it was more like a lyre with 20 strings and plenty of time spent tuning each. In any case, the comma is so small that after tuning so many intervals, I’d be more inclined to explain away a tiny difference as something slipping, the instrument flexing, cumulative errors during the process, etc. But maybe that’s just the banjo player in me…

The answer to my question is likely: they did the math. It ain’t called the Pythagorean comma for nothin’.

Here’s the math:
1/1 (fundamental) up a perfect fifth (1) =
3/2 up a perfect fifth (2) =
9/4 up a perfect fifth (3) =
27/8 up a perfect fifth (4)=
81/16 up a perfect fifth (5)=
243/32 up a perfect fifth (6)=
729/64 up a perfect fifth (7)=
2187/128 up a perfect fifth (8) =
6561/256 up a perfect fifth (9)=
19683/512 up a perfect fifth (10)=
59049/1024 up a perfect fifth (11)=
177147/2048 up a perfect fifth (12)=
531441/4096 down an octave (1) =
531441/8192 down an octave (2) =
531441/16384 down an octave (3) =
531441/32768 down an octave (4) =
531441/65536 down an octave (5) =
531441/131072 down an octave (6) =
531441/262144 down an octave (7) =
531441/524288 = 1.013643264771 = the pythagorean comma


Welcome to The Field Guide. This is the place to stay up-to-date with Holland Hopson and everything going on at and

I’ll no doubt be writing about a wide assortment of topics including contemporary art and music, tuning, clawhammer banjo, saxophone, field recordings, birding, GTD, bicycle commuting and more. In the not-so-distant future you can look back at this list of topics and drop me a line to keep me on track. Or you can tell me how much you appreciate the way the blog has evolved.

I’m glad you’re here. Stay awhile.