Are you ready for a little addition? Maybe some subtraction? Or I can just split the difference with you as we circle around a subject that can get very complex indeed. This is the first part of songs about mathematics, dealing with the “easy” stuff this week, and the really complex stuff next week.
/Tuesday Ten/344/Little Arithmetics
It’s been a long time now, but I studied Maths to A-Level, and through my day-job that involves an awful lot of statistical analysis, I still use a surprising amount of my mathematical knowledge daily. But I have to say I was still surprised by the sheer number of submissions – and the variety of them.
The submission thread for this week (and next!) had 184 suggestions, with 143 individual tracks from 80 different people. There were serious suggestions, complex suggestions, and a great many clever puns and fun suggestions. Thanks as ever to everyone who offered their ideas, and I’ll be following up with Further Mathematics next week to follow these, er, more basic suggestions.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Math + Emotion (The Square Root of One)
/Math + Emotion
One of the more striking, fascinating acts to step onto the Infest stage in recent years, Klangstabil’s thoughtful electronic music – and unusually on Ant-Zen, with prominent, intelligible vocals – is well worth investigating if you haven’t before. Probably their greatest song comes in a number of versions (subtitled The Square Root of One, …Two and …Three for starters), and the lyrics are a juxtaposition of scientific, mathematic rationality and the unpredictability of human feelings and emotion, a yin to the yang if you will. That the song is delivered in a controlled tone, while synths swirl around the stately beat, shows the depth of thought at work here – everything in this song reflects the title, and it is glorious.
Kraftwerk, of course, has long been described as visionaries, not only in how they helped to advance electronic music into what we know today but also in how they appeared to predict the future on the album Computer World. The growth of mega-corporations, the use and sharing of data, in particular, were all seemingly foretold, but here, on Pocket Calculator, there was a nod to a simpler, but the equally important device (and the song itself is a remarkably simple, lean construction, too). By the time of this album in 1981, Calculators were becoming a common item even in schools as they became more affordable, and by the time I was at middle school in 1988, they were the norm (as were graphical calculators by the time I was doing GCSE and A-Level maths in the first half of the nineties).
/Steady Diet of Nothing
Weirdly, I’ve never learned how to do Long Division. I must have missed a lesson somewhere in Maths at school where it was taught, and I managed never to have to need it, at any point, to question how to do it. Obviously nowadays every computer or phone I’ve owned has had a calculator on it anyway – or if I’m dividing larger numbers in the course of my analytical work in my day-job, Excel does that for me. Indeed, I learned successfully vastly more complex mathematical concepts across my school-days. Maybe, one day, I should get someone to explain this elusive concept to me. In the meantime, I’ll listen to this relatively obscure – and unusually melodic – Fugazi track (which again links the ideas of maths and emotion, to a point).
Jaz Coleman of Killing Joke has long been an intriguing commentator on the world, taking an often sideways view at lifestyle and politics that has put him outside mainstream views, that’s for sure. But on occasions, he is bang on the money, as on the pummelling, techno-industrial closer from their excellent album Pandemonium where he joins the dots between Government, Intergovernmental Organisations, the everyday struggles of the poor, and warmongering – as these links and events that spiral from them sow chaos, disorder and breakdown. In there somewhere in the hyper-dense lyrical references is a nod to numbers, and finance, and their links to this mess. Twenty-four years on, not a lot has changed – and right now, things are maybe even worse.
/Black on Both Sides
One of the most socially-conscious and fascinating rappers to listen to, his first solo album is frankly exceptional – and includes this excellent track that reminds of the need to pay attention to numbers to understand disparity, excess and unfairness, and the need to be politically aware. What’s so sad, though, listening to the dense rap (seriously, there is so much here to unpick), is that much like Coleman’s words and experiences above, precious little has improved in pretty much anything mentioned here. We live in an age, it seems, of regression.
/While You Were Otherwise Engaged
The circle has many connotations – of finality, of continuity, of the wedding bond (and a great, great many more), and is at the heart of much of the more complex end of geometry, too (I’ll be talking more about that next week). Null Device – one of the more intelligent electronic pop (ok, synthpop) acts out there – were interestingly suggested for this week’s list with two different songs that reference mathematics, but for me, the band’s most recent album closer Concentric is the more interesting track – a booming, echoing rhythm loops around synth hooks and lyrics that spiral around themselves, seemingly creating mathematical patterns in the number of words and syllables (I’ve not had the time to fully test this hypothesis yet).
/Split Into Fractions
I’ve written about this album at length on /The Rearview Mirror/010, but any excuse to feature Curve, frankly – and this is perhaps one of the lesser-remembered tracks from this excellent debut album. Like much of Toni Halliday’s vocals, of course, this song drips with contempt for the situations and people described, here as the interests of friends converge into dullness and drudgery, and the people become part of a greater boring whole (or at least, that’s how I see it). We seem to do lots of fractional calculations nowadays, mainly of splitting bills/tabs, of splitting labour – but maybe, that’s because between friends we trust each other more. At that small level, we work together to make things better.
/Vive la Difference Engine
/Not Your Typical Victorians
The political, Victorian-themed (Steam)punks The Men have tackled a great many interesting subjects for song in their four albums thus far – and I’ve featured a few in previous entries in this series, that’s for sure – and so naturally they have a song that works here. Said song celebrates the development of the Difference Engine by Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace, in effect the forepeople of modern calculation and computing, and the immense influence of this contraption is rightly lauded in this celebratory, short song.
/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Cast with Rachel Bloom
/The Math of Love Triangles
/Crazy Ex-Girlfriend OST
“Let’s take a look at what this line bisects”
“Is that spelled B-I-S-E-X?”
“Those are good puns but please pay attention”
I must confess – this would not normally be my thing at all – although a whole load of friends have raved about the TV series. But the lyrics are amusing and works surprisingly well in the context of this post. Somehow cramming in a ton of algebraic puns as the titular character tries to get her head around a love triangle (and also algebra), it is an amusing call-and-response piece that appears to be fully aware of its lunacy (and indeed breaks the fourth wall at least once), and how stretched some of the puns get. But that’s clearly part of the fun.
/Add It Up
/Add It Up
Finally, as we add up the ways that things can go horribly, horribly wrong, the Violent Femmes provide one of their (many) songs of teenage sexual frustration, but here things go horrifically entitled and potentially violent – or in other words foretelling the “incel” idiots some thirty-five years before they became a mainstream horror. How many ways can add up to remind that this song was a warning of the perils of teenage frustration and boredom, as it happens, not a rulebook? Then again, they’d probably never listen to nerdy acoustic rock, I guess.
Next week, by the way, we move up a class and take on Further Mathematics.