Apr 162019

Today is World Voice Day, a worldwide annual event devoted to the celebration of the human voice. The aim is to demonstrate the enormous importance of the voice in the daily lives of people. World Voice Day also strives to bring global awareness to the need for preventing voice problems, rehabilitating injured voices, training the artistic voice, and researching a variety of applications of voice. A goal of World Voice Day is to encourage all those who use their voice for business or pleasure to learn to take care of their voice, and know how to seek help and training, and to support research on the voice. Having been an actor, singer, and teacher all of my professional life, I take the training and development of the voice extremely seriously.

Voice production is studied and applied in many disciplines, including medicine, speech-language pathology, music, physics, psychology, drama, phonetics, anthropology, and biology. World Voice Day was established on April 16th with the main goals of increasing public awareness of the importance of the voice and alertness to voice problems. This celebration started in Brazil in 1999 as the Brazilian National Voice Day. It was the result of a mixed initiative of physicians, speech-language pathologists and singing teachers who belonged to the former association Sociedade Brasileira de Laringologia e Voz  (Brazilian Society of Laryngology and Voice), under the presidency of Dr. Nedio Steffen. This Brazilian initiative was followed by other countries, such as Argentina and Portugal, and Brazilian National Voice Day became International Voice Day. In the United States, the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery officially recognized this celebration in 2002 and in that year the event became World Voice Day.

In 2012 three voice researchers, Prof. Johan Sundberg (Sweden), Prof. Tecumseh Fitch (Austria), and Dr Filipa Lã (Portugal) invited voice experts from a number of countries to form an international website group for the celebration of World Voice Day. The website was coordinated by Prof. Johan Sundberg and Dr. Gláucia Laís Salomão (Brazil). Presently the group consists of 66 members who initiate and help coordinate events for World Voice Day in their respective countries. Currently the website is coordinated by Mara Behlau, Thays Vaiano and Mauro Andrea. You can find it here: http://world-voice-day.org/

With very little effort I could produce dozens of extraordinary videos showcasing the colossal range and potential of the human voice. Instead I give you one – a demonstration of a number of vocal techniques from a Tuvan master:

There are numerous examples of vocal techniques in which one singer can produce two notes simultaneously in Central Asia, including Tibet, Mongolia, and NW China, but in my experience Tuvan singers have the most complex and varied styles.

For a dish du jour I was going to present an audio only recipe, thinking that I could find one from an old radio show.  Before television was ubiquitous, radio chefs were quite common. But in search for an example I found this oddity: a young man attempting to follow a recipe from Gordon Ramsey’s television show listening to the audio only.  It’s an odd premise because you are meant to see what Ramsey is doing, but it does show how much the vocal component can contribute:

Aug 242017

Today was designated as International Strange Music day by contemporary US composer Patrick Grant whose works are a synthesis of classical, popular, and world musical styles that have been performed in concert halls, film, theater, dance, and visual media. He is known as a producer and co-producer of live musical events including a 2013 Guinness World Record-breaking performance of 175 electronic keyboards in NYC. The question for me comes down to: “What counts as ‘strange’ music?” The lead video here uses the theremin as the background music giving the suggestion that “strange” means eerie or spooky, but I think Grant meant something more like “unusual.” Here is the gist of the question: “Unusual (or strange) to whom?” Grant uses gamelan, microtones, synthesizers and so on to create layered soundscapes that some would consider strange, but gamelans are not strange to Balinese or Javanese people, and microtones are the norm in many world music styles. I think it comes down to taking the day to appreciate music that is strange or unusual to YOU. For me that’s a mighty tall order. I’ve spent my entire professional career traveling the world to listen to and record music from out-of-the-way places. I’ve yet to go to Tuva to hear throat singers, but it’s on the list – and I guess I would call it strange music:

I could embed a bunch of videos here for you to sample but I am mindful of disk space on my server so I’ll be a little frugal. Here’s some links instead.

This is Chinese brothers who make musical instruments out of fresh vegetables:


Here we have an extraordinary musical instrument that runs on thousands of ball bearings:


I’ve always found Baka women from Gbiné singing their traditional Yelli songs to be mesmeric, but you have to listen for a long time. They keep it up for hours.


Javanese gamelan has been a special love of mine for over 40 years:


I’ve always had a thing for the musical saw too:


Your turn. Post your favorites in the comments section.

I will give a musical recipe for homemade flavored Doritos in a second, but first one of my all-time favorites, the Taco Bell canon:

Now the Doritos:

May 112016


Today is the birthday (1918) of Richard Phillips Feynman, a U.S. theoretical physicist known for his work in the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as in particle physics for which he proposed the parton model. For his contributions to the development of quantum electrodynamics, Feynman, jointly with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965. He developed a widely used pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions governing the behavior of subatomic particles, which later became known as Feynman diagrams. During his lifetime, Feynman became one of the best-known scientists in the world. In a 1999 poll of 130 leading physicists worldwide by the British journal Physics World he was ranked as one of the ten greatest physicists of all time.

He assisted in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II and became known to a wide public in the 1980s as a member of the Rogers Commission, the panel that investigated the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. In addition to his work in theoretical physics, Feynman has been credited with pioneering the field of quantum computing, and introducing the concept of nanotechnology.

I don’t know how much of a household name Feynman is nowadays, but I know about him for several, mostly quirky, reasons. For one thing, I admire him for the importance he attached to teaching.


Feynman was born in Queens and attended Far Rockaway High School. Upon starting high school, Feynman was quickly promoted into a higher math class. An unspecified school-administered IQ test estimated his IQ at 123—high, but “merely respectable” according to biographer James Gleick. Don’t get me started on IQ tests.

When he turned 15, he taught himself trigonometry, advanced algebra, infinite series, analytic geometry, and both differential and integral calculus. In high school he was developing the mathematical intuition behind his Taylor series of mathematical operators. Before entering college, he was experimenting with and deriving mathematical topics such as the half-derivative using his own notation. In his last year in high school Feynman won the New York University Math Championship. The large difference between his score and those of his closest competitors shocked the judges.

He applied to Columbia University but was not accepted because of their quota for the number of Jews admitted. Instead, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1939 and in the same year was named a Putnam Fellow. He attained a perfect score on the graduate school entrance exams to Princeton University in mathematics and physics—an unprecedented feat—but did rather poorly on the history and English portions. Attendees at Feynman’s first seminar included Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, and John von Neumann. He received a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1942, his thesis, “The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics,” laid the groundwork for his future work in quantum mechanics for which he eventually shared the Nobel Prize.

The thing that’s always fascinated me about theoretical physics is that while the mathematics is well beyond most mortals, the ideas are not all that complicated. Feynman was one of a rare breed who understood the mathematics at a very deep level, yet he was able to explain his ideas to any educated person.  Furthermore, Feynman found teaching to be an important source of inspiration. If you watch The Big Bang Theory, you’ll get the impressions that “really smart guys” (i.e. theoretical physicists) are too lofty to teach. Some of them believe that, and others believe that teaching takes time from “important” research. Feynman believed that it was important to teach as part of the creative process.

Let me pause for a minute and dissect this idea. Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” There’s the nub. To teach something well – anything – you need to understand it well. Just because you are a native speaker of English does not mean that you can teach English. Trust me on that. It takes years of wrestling with the mechanics of the language to be able to explain how it works – SIMPLY – to people who are trying to learn it. Any idiot can teach English from a textbook that someone else wrote; it’s another matter entirely to teach from what you yourself have explored and discovered.


Following the completion of his PhD, Feynman held an appointment at the University of Wisconsin–Madison as an assistant professor of physics. The appointment was spent on leave for his involvement in the Manhattan project (which he was not central to). In 1945, he received a letter from Dean Mark Ingraham of the College of Letters and Science requesting his return to UW to teach in the coming academic year. His appointment was not extended when he did not commit to return. In a talk given several years later at UW, Feynman said, “It’s great to be back at the only university that ever had the good sense to fire me.”

After the war, Feynman declined an offer from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, despite the presence there of such distinguished faculty members as Albert Einstein, Kurt Gödel and John von Neumann. Feynman instead went to Cornell University, where he taught theoretical physics from 1945 to 1950. During a temporary depression following the destruction of Hiroshima by the bomb produced by the Manhattan Project, he focused on complex physics problems, not for utility, but for self-satisfaction. One of these was analyzing the physics of a twirling dish as it is moving through the air. His work during this period, which used equations of rotation to express various spinning speeds, proved important to his Nobel Prize–winning work, yet because he felt burned out and had turned his attention to less immediately practical problems, he was surprised by the offers of professorships from other renowned universities.

Despite yet another offer from the Institute for Advanced Study, Feynman rejected the Institute on the grounds that there were no teaching duties: Feynman felt that students were a source of inspiration and teaching was a diversion during uncreative spells. Because of this, the Institute for Advanced Study and Princeton University jointly offered him a package whereby he could teach at the university and also be at the institute. Feynman instead accepted an offer from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)—and as he says in his book Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman!—because a desire to live in a mild climate had firmly fixed itself in his mind while he was installing tire chains on his car in the middle of a snowstorm in Ithaca.


Feynman has been called the “Great Explainer.” He gained a reputation for taking great care when giving explanations to his students and for making it a moral duty to make the topic accessible. His guiding principle was that, if a topic could not be explained in a freshman lecture, he did not yet fully understand it. I love this quote:

Fall in love with some activity, and do it! Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough. Work as hard and as much as you want to on the things you like to do the best. Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do. Keep up some kind of a minimum with other things so that society doesn’t stop you from doing anything at all.


His biographers record that late in life Feynman became obsessed with traveling to Tuva (nestled north of Mongolia), although he was unable to do so before he died. At that time, when Tuva was part of the Soviet Union, visas were hard to obtain, and travel arrangements were also very difficult (overland yak from Mongolia or a once-a-week flight on an 18-seater plane from Moscow). Apparently he had been interested in Tuva since boyhood when he collected stamps, and the oddly-shaped stamps from Tuva fascinated him. He looked up where it was (the middle of nowhere) and learned all he could about the place.

It is an amazing destination. I’ve wanted to go there for more than 30 years. That was a big incentive I had when I applied for a job in Inner Mongolia (and wound up with visa problems of my own).  Tuva is famous – in some circles – for throat singing: a way of producing several notes at the same time from a single voice, originally a shamanic practice.  This video is a starter for you.  You can look up plenty of astounding examples.  I used to play this stuff in ethnomusicology classes and the students could not believe it was a human voice – and a SINGLE one at that.

I’ll get there eventually.  In honor of Feynman I suggest trying out some Tuvan food. Tuvans used to be, and some are still, primarily nomadic herders although Russification has caused major changes. As such, their diet was rich in meat and dairy products similar to the grasslands of Mongolia.  Buuz are a well known staple found in both Tuva and Mongolia. They are meat-filled steamed dumplings that are ubiquitous throughout the Asian segments of the current Russian Federation.

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You can find a ton of videos on how to make them if you need them. Otherwise the basics are as follows. Make a flour dough, much as you would to make pasta. Mix flour and water together to form an elastic, not moist, dough using your hands to mix them. Knead the dough for about 20 minutes until it is pliant and completely workable.  Break the kneaded dough into walnut-sized balls and roll them flat into circles.  Use a spoonful of your favored filling. The commonest, and most traditional, filling is chopped meat.  This can be mutton, goat, yak, or whatever, but it should be fatty. You don’t need to add anything else to the filling, but modern cooks sometimes add onions and spices. Hot chile pepper is also popular.

Shaping the dumplings is an art that takes long practice. The photo gives you the idea. Videos will give you others. The dumplings need to be able to sit flat in a steamer, so place the filling in the center of the dough circle and draw the dough up around it, leaving a hole exposing the meat at the top. Steam the buuz for about 20 minutes, or longer, and serve them hot with a dipping sauce of your choice. Street vendors keep the buuz in the steamer for long periods, and they are fine. Mayonnaise is a common sauce.  Tea is the normal accompaniment.