Stories, Musings & The Vision Thing

Category: innovation Page 1 of 10

Carolina Eyck’s Theremin – The Music’s in the Air

I’m often drawn to music that surprises – either by interesting harmonies, a syncopated rhythm or melodies that soar beyond the frame of the familiar. Strange sounds perk up my ears… and then there’s the joy of just focusing on the music as new soundscapes appear. Still, music is so insubstantial – it calls up a host of feelings and memories as it dances around in the air. And then it’s gone.

Carolina Eyck’s Theremin

photo by Ananda Costa

Carolina Eyck’s Theremin is all in the air, literally. She weaves haunting musical tapestries but never touches her instrument. Here’s what you see – she sits erect in front of a strange electronic device with two antennas. Like a magician’s sleight of hand, she squinches and pokes her fingers to conjure familiar yet strangely etherial notes from the very air.

I think the Theremin is very pure and it shows all the emotions you have. I like the purity of the sound because it’s honest.


#1 Painting for Theremin and Voice

In this piece and the next, she loops her voice and her Theremin to create lyrical harmonies with a mix of natural and electronic sounds.

The Theremin

Leon Theremin

Her instrument was one of the first electronic music devices, created by Russian physicist and musician Leon Theremin almost 100 years ago. Carolina’s parents also play electronic music. For them, the Theremin was just another cool instrument for their daughter to explore. Carolina started playing when she was just seven years old. The one she plays now was built by electronic music pioneer Robert Moog.

From the Moog music site:

photo by Christian Huller


It is a wonderful feeling to just play in the air without touching anything.  Especially when I play with an orchestra and the volume is quite high, I feel all this energy which I have in my hands.  I love the bass notes which can make the whole concert hall shake…


#2 Delphic

This selection is a little more complex than the first. It’s called Delphic and maybe you can hear within it the oracle’s voice.

Did you notice how she positions her fingers in the air to find the notes she wants. There’s nothing in that space to guide her except all the hours of practice and muscle memory. I like the way she uses her voice to create a melodic rhythm and frame for the piece and the Theremin to swoop and soar above it all.

#3 Jazz Improv – The Carolina Eyck Band

The piece takes a different direction. It’s an improv with her jazz group, The Carolina Eyck Band. For Carolina and her band, this improv requires deep listening and being sensitive to what she and her fellow musicians are doing as they ride along with the music’s flow.

From the Theremin World site:

photo by Christian Huller

I love modern music and jazz, so I am improvising a lot. There is so much that is unique to the Theremin. For example I have found out, that I can make pictures audible by ‘painting’ in the air. The effect of combining these two completely diverse kinds of art, music and painting, is amazing.



Her “Song for Birds, Theremin and Band” has a haunting, spacey quality that’s still lyrical as it floats through different musical landscapes and rhythms. Plus, it’s fun to see something created on the spot.

So what do you think? Leave a comment and let me know.

Between Sound and Silence

If you’re like me, you probably take your senses for granted. I rarely think about them, which is why the video Between Sound and Silence captivated me.

Most of us use seeing, hearing, taste, touch and smell to help us experience and make sense of our world. With our eyes, we can see and understand what lies before us. If you close your eyes… there’s nothing there… you can imagine what it might be like if you couldn’t see. And with hearing?

Our ears help us understand the world, too. Imagine watching a movie with the sound turned off… you’d be watching a silent picture without words to guide you. You might be able to figure out what’s happening through body language, but you’d miss the nuance, emotion and meaning that sound conveys.

If I thought about it at all, I assumed being deaf meant you were living within a silent movie. It’s much more complicated than that, which brings me to the video I’d like to share with you.

From Silence to Sound

Irene Taylor Brodsky

Between Sound and Silence was made by award-winning filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky . It features people who are deaf or hearing impaired who’ve become able to hear via cochlear implants. The issue of implants is controversial, I learned, because there’s a whole language and culture around deafness. People without hearing share their own special world and fellowship. Brodsky’s video introduces us to 14 people who use the implants to travel the space between silence and sound.


In a NYT article, she explains:

“They had navigated the frontiers of deafness, disability and the human experience. They spoke to us about identity, sexual intimacy and coming of age somewhere between sound and silence. And they talked about the sometimes, wrenching decision of whether to hear or not.”


Between Sound and Silence

Take a look and see what you think. (I apologize for the ad that precedes the video).

Some Observations

Between Sound and Silence is very well structured. First, your ear notices people speaking as if English is not their primary language, then you see the implants they use to help them hear. You learn how hearing themself speak affects their speech and ability to communicate. Then, they help you understand how they try to flourish in a world where the ability to hear is assumed. As I watched, it was like being part of a fascinating conversation. It flowed so easily from one comment to the next.

More than anything, the people you meet in the video are so appealing and eager to share their experiences. What makes it work so well is the filmmaker’s ability as an interviewer – she’s there, behind the scenes, helping everyone just hang out with the camera. She uses a deft hand as she seamlessly weaves together their comments. Irene Taylor Brodsky’s documentaries have won many awards and you can find out more about her here.

This piece also made me think about how easy it is to take our abilities for granted. And that sometimes, it’s nice to just stop for a moment and think about how they make our lives all the richer for being there.

Your comments are always welcome.



Creativity + Innovation = Maya Varma

What drives innovation? Some trailblazers are driven by curiosity, others by the desire to solve an intractable problem. People like Maya Varma are motivated to help others.


Maya Varma, photo from the Presentation High School site

The Desire to Make a Difference

When she was 14, a close friend was taken to the hospital with an asthma attack. Maya became curious about her friend and others with lung ailments. She learned that to measure airflow in the lungs and make a diagnosis, doctors use a spirometer, a device typically costing several thousand dollars. The WHO estimates 64 million people worldwide have some form of lung disease or COPD, which includes asthma, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

In 2014, Maya Varma wrote on her blog:

“…total deaths from COPD are expected to increase by more than 30% within the next decade. Currently, it is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. Alarmingly, almost 90% of all COPD deaths occur in developing nations, where the patients have no access to expensive spirometry equipment.”

Confidence Borne from Experience

If a low-cost diagnostic tool could be created, there was the potential to intervene early and save thousands of lives. Was that something she could design and build? She was only 15 years old and a high school sophomore. Still, from an early age, Maya had developed a keen interest in designing medical equipment. She’d entered her first science fair when she was just five years old and over the years won many honors.

nbc site

photo from the KPIX TV site

“At that young age, I was introduced to the ideas of experimentation, failure, re-design, and occasionally, the priceless reward of seeing my projects actually work.”

Maya understood that experimentation and failure were part of the creative process, and she was able to marshall the courage to strike out for uncharted territory. With the help of a small grant from Johns Hopkins and a mentor advising her via email, she began to work on her project:

“I am working to design and engineer a portable, functioning low-cost spirometer that can be used to diagnose respiratory illnesses without the assistance of a qualified health care professional.”

Was it the exuberance of youth that kept her moving forward? Was her confidence borne from past experience designing science fair projects and winning so many awards? Or was it the desire to create a device that could help people with limited access to health care. Reading about her progress, you can see she was pragmatic and methodical in her approach, first solving one problem and then moving on to the next.

Form and Function

Maya worked on the project for two years, using a 3D printer, readily available electronic components and an app that she designed. The device she created can be used as a comprehensive diagnostic system, displaying its results when connected to a smart phone or tablet via Bluetooth wireless technology.

l.doane society for science and the public

photo by L. Doane for the Society for Science and the Public

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Varma’s spirometer has three main components. First, there’s the shell, made on a 3D printer. When a person breathes into the shell, the rate of the airflow is measured by a pressure sensor as breath passes through a fine, stainless steel mesh.

The sensor converts the pressure change to digital data, which is monitored by a microcontroller and transmitted through a Bluetooth connection to a mobile app that Varma created.

Maya Varma’s pulmonary function analyzer. (Maya Varma)

The pulmonary function analyzer, photo by Maya Varma

The app computes lung performance and illustrates it on the person’s smartphone, taking into account age, gender, weight and other factors. It’s able to diagnose five different respiratory illnesses—COPD, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and restrictive lung disease—and also has a disease management tool that allows patients to record their symptoms and test results, and track the severity of their illness.

Maya’s invention can help doctors diagnose and manage potentially fatal lung disease as well as hospital-grade machines that are simply too expensive for developing nations.

The cost of Maya’s device? About $35.

Intel’s “Junior Nobel Prize” for Innovation

Intel Science Talent Search photo

Intel Science Talent Search photo

In March, 2016, Maya’s project won Intel’s Science Talent Search Medal of Distinction for Innovation.

Here’s a fun feature story about Maya from CBS Station KPIX (a commercial is imbedded at the beginning and then the story starts):

Maya’s device is an extraordinary achievement – a creative and innovative response to solving a difficult problem. But more than that, it’s a testament to what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it – and when you have the skill, drive and confidence to overcome doubt and failure.

Always Persevere

What advice does Maya have for the rest of us?

“It can get discouraging, but you can learn a lot from your failures. Always persevere.”

Thomas Edison said genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Yes, hard work and vision are key drivers of change. With all the advances in technology and the power of an unfettered imagination, it’s inspiring to see what one person, determined to make a difference, can accomplish. Kudos to Maya Varma – a highly creative innovator – and she’s only 17.

Intel Science Talent Search

Intel Science Talent Search photo

Viktor Koen’s Steampunk Illusions

Viktor Koen’s steampunk visions populate a world of intricate illusions. He delights in making the physically impossible seem likely and predictable. Steampunk, conceived as a genre of science fiction, envisions a retro futuristic world powered by steam and the machine age.


detail from movie poster for Metropolis

Think of  Fritz Lang‘s Metropolis. In some sense, steampunk is a counterpoint or perhaps alternative universe to our own ever-digital, virtual world. Steampunk these days is often more about fashion, design and a look, like the one Viktor Koen is wearing.


Viktor Koen, from the TedxAthens site

His visual mix of the familiar with the fantastic is intriguing, graceful and strange – but all his images are quite carefully constructed, giving them an air of authenticity.

D.P.Toy No.19.72

D.P.Toy No.19.72

Perhaps you might see his creations as a commentary on our cultural icons of childhood, or a somewhat menacing satire exploding nostalgia and sentimentality.

D.P.Toy No.05.72

D.P.Toy No.05.72

Are we looking at the work of an adult exploring child’s play, a commentary on contemporary society, or just the musings of a fantastically gifted but peculiar artist?

D.P.Toy No.03.72

D.P.Toy No.03.72

However you want to categorize it, we’ve encountered Viktor Koen‘s work many times, perhaps without realizing it. Here are just a few mainstream examples:


cover of the NYT Book Review


Cover from Huffington Post Magazine




Cover for the NYT Dining Out Section

He’s an amazingly prolific and sought after graphic and visual artist, creating illustrations for major publications and personal work that juxtaposes images and ideas to make a point. He comes from a mix of cultures – born in Greece, trained at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, Israel, with an MFA with honors from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.


Viktor Koen in his studio, photo by Max Eternity

But, be warned, if you’re intrigued by what you see, you may find yourself spending hours wandering through the myriad images that haunt his website or at other sites that display his creations.

D.P.Toy No.40.72

D.P.Toy No.40.72

Because he’s so prolific, I thought I’d just write about two of his series, a fabricated collection of strange playthings he calls Dark Peculiar Toys and his Toyphabet. These two barely scratch the surface of what he’s about, but they do illustrate two recurring themes in his work – typography and mashups of the weird and wonderful.

Here’s Viktor, from an interview in Art Digital Magazine, talking about what led to his exhibit of Dark Peculiar Toys

I’m a toy collector.  I go to flea markets and fight with children over a bin of toys.  There’s no better excuse to buy toys, but to work on a series of toys.  I have a great time playing with them visually.

D.P.Toy No.10.72

D.P.Toy No.10.72

My father was an industrial designer and he gave me some of his old books and diagrams, and I retooled it to match the fictitious toys.  The whole project was very playful.  I always wanted to have these dark toys.

D.P.Toy No.20.72

D.P.Toy No.20.72

A lot of these are trial and error.  The juxtaposition of the sweet and something very wrong is something I always look for.

D.P.Toy No.16.72

D.P.Toy No.16.72

From Viktor’s Artist Statement about the exhibit

I photographed toys and objects that I collected through the years and travels, some of them parts of my personal childhood, and then mixed and matched them for hours. While this was a different form of play, the magic was the same.

D.P.Toy No.15.72

D.P.Toy No.15.72

A year after his Dark Peculiar Toys exhibit was launched, he used some of those concepts to create a mashup of the alphabet in his exhibit Toyphabet. He loves typography and finding just the right combination of alphabetical form and toy imagery was more difficult than you might think.



Viktor, from his Artist’s Statement:

Since typography is an addiction of mine and fusion a second nature to me, illustrated type became a natural extension of my work. The challenge of preserving the integrity of the type forms made the process of mixing and matching a complicated one. The result was characters with unexpected symbolic attributes, true to the original point of the series – that children are formulated way too early to the troubles ailing their parents.

I think there’s some part of us that enjoys being teased  about strange possibilities – like when we muse about an especially vivid dream. I think one of the attractions of Viktor’s work is how it seems so natural and strangely authentic while clearly it is not. The intricacy of the constructions makes us curious to find out more.

D.P.Toy No.09.72

D.P.Toy No.09.72

His work conjures an eclectic group of emotions and, while I wouldn’t want to encounter any of these object creatures in”real life,” they still tease the imagination with interesting possibilities. Maybe that’s the attraction of Viktor’s steampunk visions. We spend so much time plugged in to one machine or other, perhaps his creations point the way to the burgeoning cyborg in all of us.

D.P.Toy No.18.72

D.P.Toy No.18.72

At any rate, his work helps us see the world differently and for that we can be cautiously thankful. No, it’s not a lovely vision, but it does seem to echo the impermanence of our times and the hyper-wired world we find ourselves navigating.

So what do you think about his work? Do you like it? What does it conjure up for you? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.




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