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I really, really dislike getting up without at least 7.5 hours of sleep. Unfortunately, I “had to” do it this Monday morning to witness the Morgestraich in Basel.

At exactly 4h00 in the morning, all the city lights go out and bands of piccolo and drums players start parading through the city with lanterns. To get an idea of what this “looks and sounds like”, watch the first 2 minutes of this video. Of course, the effect is much stronger when you’re actually there.

What I really enjoyed was the fact that the parade did not follow any simple, non-intersecting path as all the other parades I’ve seen in my life so far. They would “randomly” turn left or right at some point and walk straight through the crowd. Of course, all in a carefully choreographed and planned manner. [This is Switzerland we are talking about here.]

During the day (and after more sleep) there were more “standard” parades of also more typical marching bands. Still, their paths often intersected which made the whole thing more interesting.

I also have to revise my image of the peace-loving Swiss: there was a confetti war going on all afternoon!

An important thing to know (which I fortunately did know): you better buy a sponsor’s badge before the event if you don’t want to get “stuffed”, i.e., if you don’t want your orifices to be filled with uni-colored paper shavings. A similar thing would happen to people who come up too close to a float and try to get some of the candy that the waggis on the floats a offering.

You can see some pictures I took during the event here.

I have to admit that the whole event would have probably been only half as enjoyable, had it not been for our perfect hospitality club host Claudia. (The person in front is the other culinary expert.)

I also learned a couple of new Swiss-German words:

Schnitzelbank. (If you can’t read German, see the second meaning in the English Wikipedia.)



Today I went to Bern. This was planned.

There was a loooong carnival parade. This was not planned, at least not by me, but probably by the participants. You can see some pictures here (at the bottom). [Actually, I still don’t quite understand why this carnival is held during Lent, the season of fasting and prayer in the Christian calendar. At least in Germany carnival is held just before.]

So far the only time I had seen a carnival parade in my life was in Mainz last year. (And this I how I looked then.) So I’m certainly not a carnivaligist, or whatever carnival experts are called.

Overall, it was fairly similar: Lots and lots of people in costumes parading. Still, it was interesting to try to spot the differences.

What I liked in Bern was that there were more carnival groups with music, actually at least 60% of the groups were marching bands in costume. [Btw, there seems to be a serious niche market for easy-to-play marching bands songs. The 30 bands or so which we saw shared a repertoire or about 10 songs, including Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht.]

But two things were certainly missing: The Tanzmariechen and the Kamelle.

Two costume ideas I liked best:

First, a dress with a train which could be lifted up just like the tail of a pheasant. Pretty strong and surprising effect.

Second, well, that was actually not so much the costume but the “meta idea”. Most carnival groups try to dress up in identical costumes. All “individuality” is lost in favor of the group identity and the combined visual effect. But one group had found a good compromise. From the front they were all identical, but on their back they had personalized messages. Anything from a simple smiley to “Your ad could be here”. [… actually this gave me the idea of printing a t-shirt with the slogan “A clever slogan could be printed here” … A phrase which denies its own existence …]

Another small difference was that they had lots of confetti which you could also buy in plastic bags to throw at your fellow bystanders, or maybe to mark the way back to your home ala Hansel and Gretel.

So, all happy, happy, joy, joy? Well, mostly.

Except for one hate-fomenting group who, not surprisingly, was run by my favorite Swiss party, the SVP.

In case you’re not familiar with the whole “kick the black sheep out” hate campaign of the SVP, this picture might not evoke any immediate strong feelings in you. It shows a slaughtered black sheep, served as a dinner to a happy white sheep.

“Of course”, the “black” in “black sheep” is just a metaphor for illegal doings, and any associations with skin colors would be purely incidental. [That’s what the party claims.] Just as the severed head is probably to be taken as a metaphor for the spiritual problems caused by a separation between mind and body.

Wow, a song with all its lyrics taken from a political speech by Barack Obama makes it to the “internet charts” with more than 2.5 million views on youtube (and more than 3.5 million if you include the views of the copies).

You can see the video here (which really is quite powerful), read about the story behind it here, and see an interview with the brains behind it here.

A tiny theater with about 35 seats in, what seemed to be, somebody’s basement.
A blind pianist. A creative pantomime/tap dancer.
A forgotten bird.

Those were the main ingredients to “L’oiseau oublié

As (I guess) most people I enjoy tap dancing performances … though this was the first one I’ve attended. But more than 60 minutes of non-stop tap dancing could haven been a bit on the dull side of life. So I was pleasantly surprised to see the dancer throw in a bit of pantomime performance and some (decent but not excellent) singing.

Does anybody have some knowledge about the current state of art in terms of computer generated music?

I came across this today: (… it unfortunately seems to work only with the internet exploder)

But this seems quite bad in the sense that even very simple harmonic “rules” seem to violated almost constantly (at least for the couple of times I tried to generate pieces of Latin music).

Personally, I was thinking about a simple approach to tune suggestion as follows. First you feed the system a few hundred tunes, ideally already broken up into musical bars where each bar more or less corresponds to a certain accord. Then you tell the system about basic harmonic rules, e.g., which accords fit together and which can follow one another given that the whole piece is arranged in a certain musical key. Then you try to recombine the pieces that you already have and maybe also try to insert “random” notes as long as they fit with the key of the piece and the accord for the current musical bar. Then you suggest this (short) tune to a human and get some sort of feedback. For example, for a fixed tune you could tell the system to experiment with different rhythmic patterns.

I could imagine that this simple tune suggestion could give some help to people composing popular music. It would not be adequate to compose complex tunes or pieces with many voices but it could serve to give you the “main” catchy tune of a standard pop song.

Wolfram’s approach (see link above) I don’t find very promising. Generating the whole piece without any intermediate feedback is simply bound to fail.


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