ART OF SCIENCE"
Ben Franklin's Harmonica
Aaron the Artist
Returned to Glory
2.0 I'm Alan Alda 2.0
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Meet my digital twin -- and find out how
we made him.
FRANKLIN I completed the instrument in '62.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) We pick up where Ben Franklin left off.
ALAN ALDA Is it going to begin coloring now?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) We join a robot painter at work. I get to
drive a musical instrument. And we rediscover a sculptor's
heroic vision. ALAN 2.0 Join me for the Art of Science on
Scientific American Frontiers.
ALAN ALDA A typical science lab, right? Packed with formidable-looking
equipment devoted to measuring and probing and analyzing.
The surprise, though, is that this particular science lab
is in the middle of the National Gallery of Art in Washington
DC. Just step across the hallway with me... This is where
the National Gallery's paintings are pampered and preserved
-- where the painstaking work is done to ensure their survival
for future generations to marvel at. The work here is a marriage
between science and art -- where the knowledge of materials
like pigments and varnishes that's gained across the hall
is applied with an understanding of the artists' intentions
and a dedication to keeping them alive. For a long time I've
been struck by how much scientists and artists have in common.
At their best they're both playful, precise, creative, inspired
revolutionaries. In this show we'll be looking at the interplay
of science and art -- and how each benefits from an appreciation
of the other.
FRANKLIN My name is Dr Franklin. I'm a Boston boy. And it's
my happy office to bid you welcome to my home town
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Benjamin Franklin, the very definition of
an inspired revolutionary, would have seen nothing odd about
science and art rubbing shoulders. In a 20th century reincarnation,
he's here presiding over the 1997 International Glass Music
Festival. The most popular glass instrument -- today as in
Ben Franklin's time -- is an array of glasses, tuned by the
amount of water they contain, and played by rubbing a moistened
finger around the rim. The story goes that while in London
as Colonial Envoy, Benjamin Franklin in 1759 attended a recital
of musical glasses. Entranced by the sound, Franklin invented
a mechanical version.
FRANKLIN And the idea quite near leaped into my head by way
of an epiphany, the mechanizing of them. So in '59 came the
idea, I completed the first instrument in '62, or '61.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) This is Franklin's invention -- the glass
harmonica: the glasses are now bowls, tuned by their size,
tipped on their side and nested inside each other on a constantly
rotating spindle. The result is that the performer can now
touch several glasses at once, and so play chords. Her instrument
was made by this man, Gerhard Finkenbeiner. Like Ben Franklin,
he combines a love of music with an inventive technical mind.
His fascination with the glass harmonica began over 40 years
ago, when -- in a Paris museum -- he saw one of the few instruments
to have survived a century and a half of oblivion.
FRANKLIN Did you hear it played?
FINKENBEINER I heard it in my spirit. I heard a beautiful
sound. So I got very, very interested, and promised myself
that one day I'm going to make one. And it took about 20 years.
FRANKLIN A short time to make the voice of angels, isn't it?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Gerhard learned glassblowing in Germany.
Later he took his skills first to Paris then to Massachusetts,
where he began manufacturing complex scientific glassware.
Making a glass harmonica remained a dream, until one day he
realized he had the beginnings of an instrument right there
in his shop.
FINKENBEINER We had a job for IBM. And the job was furnace
tubes. And I think I have one right here.
ALAN ALDA This is the tube you were making for IBM?
FINKENBEINER Yes, it was closed on both sides first, like
this. And then one side had to be opened. So what we did,
we just cut it, and the piece that remained -- we cut it here
-- looked just like a glass harmonica cup.
ALAN ALDA This part would come off, this top part?
FINKENBEINER Yes, and we'd throw it out you see.
ALAN ALDA And you realized at that point, because you'd seen the
FINKENBEINER Yes, I saw it... And it had a very good sound
when I tapped it. It sounded beautiful already.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) That first glass harmonica sold for $3000,
and slowly orders came in for more. So Gerhard started building
them from scratch, still using the same high quality glass
of the IBM furnace tubes, but now shaping the cups to be more
like Dr Franklin's original design. This will become a pair
of cups once it's sliced through the middle. Gerhard can't
predict the exact pitch each cup will have, so he sounds each
one to find what note is closest.
TIM NICKERSON Well that
note is about 15 cents flat.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Fine tuning is done by his assistant
TIM NICKERSON, who grinds the front of the cup to raise its pitch.
Tim's going to demonstrate how the cup make its ethereal sound.
TIM NICKERSON We're going to put this cup in this device,
which actually uses an audio feedback loop to sustain the
vibration of the cup. If you turn on the strobe light, you'll
be able to see how much that wall is actually moving.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The strobe light appears to slow the vibrations
so we can see them.
ALAN ALDA That's amazing. So is this circle at the top of the bowl
getting bigger and smaller, or...
TIM NICKERSON No, it's just
changing shape, like from a circle to an ellipse, to an ellipse
in the opposite direction.
ALAN ALDA I see.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Only glass made of the purest quartz can
withstand these vibrations. Here's a bowl made of ordinary
glass. In the years after Franklin invented it, the glass
harmonica became a big hit in Europe, where even Mozart wrote
music for it.
ALAN ALDA But at a certain point the instrument became unpopular.
Do you know why?
FINKENBEINER Yes, I think there were several reasons. During
a concert in a town in Germany, a child died, during the concert.
And the police banned it in that particular town. They thought
the instrument was the cause of the child dying.
ALAN ALDA Why would they do that? That's an odd thing. If someone
died at a concert you wouldn't blame the piano, nowadays,
or the saxophone. Why would they have blamed the glass harmonica,
do you think?
FINKENBEINER Because there were rumors already known that
it had supernatural powers, and when you played it a midnight,
the ghosts will come out. It's clearly stated in one of the
ALAN ALDA Wow!
FINKENBEINER It's very thin, it does not cut.
ALAN ALDA It's glass... It's like cellophane.
ALAN ALDA Well, as you can imagine, I'm going to be playing this
thing. But they won't let me play it until my hands are completely
clean, so clean that they squeak. I don't know if I get a
squeak yet. All the oil has to be off the fingers, otherwise
you don't get a good sound. I think I hear it squeaking. It's
probably the only instrument in the world, in the history
of musical instruments, where you pour water in a... oh, excuse
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Thomas Bloch has come from his native France,
bringing his own special water with him, to give me a demonstration
of the instrument, and my first lesson in playing it. The
water comes from a particular cave in southern France, and
is rich in talc, to improve the contact between Thomas' fingers
and the glass.
BLOCH Touch on the top of the glass, the glass you want to
play, this one, this one...
ALAN ALDA I'm not getting a sound at all.
BLOCH It doesn't sound?
ALAN ALDA You hear something?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Thomas' special water doesn't seem to be
working for me.
BLOCH Ah, it comes, it comes.
ALAN ALDA That's pathetic!
BLOCH It begins to cry... Don't push...
ALAN ALDA This is worse than when I tried to learn the trumpet.
Don't push too hard?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Then suddenly, with just the right pressure...
BLOCH So now you can play with five fingers if you want.
ALAN ALDA A minute ago, I couldn't play at all!
BLOCH Tres bien, tres bien.
ALAN ALDA Ah, merci!
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Thomas Bloch is one of the world's leading
glass harmonica players. Thanks to him and Gerhard Finkenbeiner,
for a few moments we were listening again to the sound Ben
Franklin himself had invented. For the record, nobody died,
and we saw no ghosts.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) In movies these days, the most spectacular
special effects owe more to the computer than they do to the
camera. But the movie Titanic takes computer-generated effects
into new territory. Because not only are many of the objects
you see on the screen digital rather than real, so too are
many of the people. Faced with the problem of populating a
ship that doesn't exist, the movie-makers turned to people
who don't exist. Everyone on deck here, for instance, is a
digital extra. Take this man, striding purposefully past a
woman and child. His digital life began with a real life actor
in the studios of Digital Domain, the Hollywood company that
did most of Titanic's special effects. The white balls on
his body are picked up by infra-red cameras. Once his movements
have been captured in 3-D like this, the flesh-and-blood actor's
job is done.
LEGATO Motion capture allows you to actually create or animate
somebody in a very naturalistic way. And then once they are
in the computer you can take them and place them on any part
of the miniature ship that you wish.
BUSTANOBY We've populated the deck of the Titanic with these
people, and we've done it in such a way that no-one will notice
that they're fake.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The white dots are converted into fake people
by first turning them into three dimensional stick figures,
which can then be looked at from any angle you choose. The
stick figures then have virtual bodies draped over them...
and these in turn are given faces and clothes. The result
-- that man we saw strolling on the deck. This is the mother
and daughter he passed. And here are a couple of other virtual
actors struggling with a virtual wind. That fly-over of the
Titanic was put together from a camera move over a model ship...with
a digital ocean and digital ship's wake...scores of digital
people...the odd digital seagull...and a little digital smoke.
Impressive as they are, Titanic's digital characters stay
strictly in the background. But they got us to thinking: what
would it take to create a digital character believable enough
for a speaking part?
NOOT Alan, this is Erin.
ALAN ALDA Erin, hi.
KILLACKEY Hi, nice to meet you.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Luckily, we have an actor on hand who's reckless
enough to let himself to be digitally cloned.
ALAN ALDA How does this work...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) We're at Viewpoint DataLabs in Venice, California,
NOOT is about to make me digital.
NOOT ...and then a laser beam comes across your face. And
you probably won't even see the laser. It's very, very slight.
ALAN ALDA So the laser beam is bouncing off here, then here, then
here, then it goes further in here and then it comes further
out here, and it knows where it is, how far in or out it is?
It comes here and goes back and measures the distance?
NOOT Yeah, and sometimes it gets lost, it hits your hair and
it gets lost in some of those areas. But the first facial
expression we want is we want your eyes open and we want a
big smile, a pretty extreme smile.
ALAN ALDA I can't do that. I can't, I can't. I'm well known for
smiling with my eyes closed. This is my whole life. This is
what made me famous. People say, let's go see that guy who
can't smile with his eyes open. In fact, what I'm counting
on for you is to give me a picture of myself with my eyes
open and smiling and then I'll get much more work! Erin Killakey
We need to turn the lights off to do the scan.
NOOT Chin up a little bit.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Our plan is to see if it's possible with
today's technology to make a digital facsimile of my head
that can talk -- doing and saying things that the real me
has never done or said. Our code name for the project is ALAN
2.0. The job of the people at Viewpoint is to begin the process
by generating the data needed to create the 3-D model.
ALAN ALDA This is going to look grotesque.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Here it is -- 250,000 points of data that
-- made to look solid -- generate what looks like a marble
bust that would be right at home in a museum. But then the
computer came up with this weird-looking monster.
ALAN ALDA Who's this?
KILLACKEY This is you. This is your texture, cut open and
laid flat. And what we can do is eventually take this texture
and wrap it back around the model of your face.
ALAN ALDA That's my texture? You've filleted my face.
KILLACKEY We cut you open and laid you flat.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Suddenly, creating ALAN 2.0 didn't seem so
ALAN ALDA Have we reached the point now where you can take a couple
of pictures of me and then build a performance for me in a
movie and I don't have to show up for work? There I am, in
the movie, and I don't have to show up?
NOOT Yeah, we're at that point.
ALAN ALDA Yes! I mean, can you show someone in close up like this?
NOOT Yeah, using this kind of technology, you can.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) With Viewpoint's digital data in hand we
turned to the people whose job it will be to bring ALAN 2.0
alive -- to animate it -- something they already do for another
well known actor.
LAMB ...it could be a spokesman...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) This job, though, they think might be trickier.
LAMB The most difficult thing is that when you look at it,
you've seen him so often, you know exactly what he looks like,
so you can see all your flaws. Conversely, that's the most
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Jim Russell is one of the team at Lamb and
Company. The first thing he does is replace the hair the laser
scanner missed. Then he lays my filleted face over the model
and starts work on getting the hair the right shade of gray.
Next he gives ALAN 2.0 some eyeballs... and starts yanking
bits of the face around to create some expressions.
RUSSELL This is a lot of small steps. And it's sort of like
sculpting. Here I've grabbed a point in the middle of the
mouth. I can pull the mouth up a little bit, say if I was
going to make an "O" or something.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Jim spent hours tweaking away at the digital
Alan, and he tried especially hard to make it smile with its
eyes open. In all the Lamb team built some 60 expressions
as the building blocks for what will eventually be an all-digital
performance. But meanwhile there was the little matter of
making ALAN 2.0 talk. Just as they needed a sample of my face,
they needed a sample of my voice. They wanted it as lively
and expressive as possible. I came up with this.
ALAN ALDA Actually, you know, I think it's a good idea to make
a digital version of me that they can send to different parts
of the world on this program where I don't really want to
go. I mean, they had me doing... The producers of this show
have me wrestling sharks, catching rattlesnakes, they, they...
We did a story once where I had to climb up to the top of
Mount Vesuvius. So let them send some, you know, digitized
version of me. That would be great. I hope you do a good job
with this. I'll be watching.
CAMPBELL (Speaking Japanese)
ALAN ALDA (Narration) This is Nick Campbell, who works for a company
called ATR Research in Kyoto, Japan.
CAMPBELL (Speaking Japanese)
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Nick has pioneered a way to digitally sample
a voice, then use those bits to make that voice say anything
he wants it to. The first thing he did when he got the tape
of my voice was to feed it into his computer...
ALAN ALDA'S VOICE I think it's a good idea to have a digitized
version of me that they can send out...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) ...along with thousands of other words I've
spoken in previous episodes of Frontiers.
CAMPBELL Let's listen to this one, where he says...
ALAN ALDA'S VOICE Now as anyone who knows me can tell you, the
secret to manipulating my emotions is food.
CAMPBELL That's a nice sentence. We'll pull up the waveform
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The waveform of each word is a visual representation
of all the little bits it's constructed from. Here's the word
CAMPBELL It starts off with an "e", "m", "o", "sh", and then
the "n" and there's a "z". OK, so that gives us the word.
ALAN ALDA'S VOICE Emotions.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) From all the words we sent him, Nick has
built a library of my speech sounds.
CAMPBELL Let's look at some O's. I'll play you, there are
some 50 odd here I've taken at random through the file, but
let's listen to some of them.
ALAN ALDA'S VOICE "O", "o", "O" etc.
CAMPBELL OK, I mean they're all "O's", but if you look at
them, some of them are loud, some of them are quiet, some
of them are long, some are short, some are getting louder,
some are getting quieter. "N" is a nice one, the last sound
in "emotion", comes up here. Let's listen to some of those.
ALAN ALDA'S VOICE "N", "n", "N" etc.
CAMPBELL It sounds almost like he's singing these things,
but these are the speech sounds, they're taken from the speech.
Well, now we've got his sounds in the data base, we can pull
them out to make new speech that sounds like him. Let's try,
VOICE This is Alan.
CAMPBELL He never said that. I think.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) "This is Alan" in fact came from four different
chunks of my speech stored in the computer: THISI, SA, L,
CAMPBELL Let's try "remarkable".
ALAN ALDA (Narration) This time the computer stitched together
five different waveforms, each taken from the huge library
at its disposal. From words, it's a short step to sentences.
CAMPBELL Let's try this sentence. "What will science come
up with next?"
VOICE What will science come up with next?
CAMPBELL I think it's intelligible, but it's certainly not
natural and it doesn't convey the right meaning. I want him
to say something like, well, listen: "What will science come
up with next?" Something that's a bit more expressive, like
that. What I've done now, is I've given the synthesizer a
model of the way I say it, and it's going to come out with
his voice, I hope.
VOICE What will science come up with next?
CAMPBELL It's close. It's certainly much closer to what I
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Well, it's not how I would have said it --and
I have to tell you that it makes me uncomfortable to have
my voice serving someone else's interpretation. The next step
is to have ALAN 2.0's words emerge from his lips -- and for
that it's back to Minneapolis. Here, Lamb's Kelly Schrandt
is building the lip movements, sound by sound, to match the
speech. KELLY SCHRANDT I scrub through the audio...
VOICE Alan, Alan. KELLY SCHRANDT ...and I decide where the
"A" in Alan begins and ends.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Here's the "l" sound. And now the "an". Finally
the big day. In a suitably grand setting, courtesy of the
Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I was about to confront my
digital twin for the first time. He was a little stony at
first, but a flick of the switch warmed him up.
2.0 Hi, Alan one, this is Alan 2.0. Well, your dearest wish
had come true: here I am, in all my digital glory. What do
you think? I realize I owe my existence to you, but now that
I'm here, the producers and I have started wondering: what
have you got that I haven't? So they've asked me to give you
the news. You still get the dangerous assignments -- the producers
love scaring you -- but the really tasty stories -- like there's
this one on the science of pasta -- they're mine from now
on. You see, I've promised never to complain. See you next
ALAN ALDA "See you next season." I don't think so.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) No, I don't think so. But in looking at ALAN
2.0, I was brought face to face with a serious question. If
you build a performance out of bits, whose job is it to provide
ALAN ALDA (Narration) This is a portrait of an artist at work.
Or perhaps -- and this is the crux of our story -- it's a
portrait of two artists at work: a human artist and a computer
artist. The human is
COHEN of the University of California, San Diego. Some 30
years ago he largely abandoned a successful career as an abstract
painter in England. He set out to devise a computer program
that itself would create original and striking...well, what?
COHEN A lot of people say, "Is it art?" but I've never heard
anybody say it isn't. The way the program starts drawing was
fixed around 1980. In fact I was trying to simulate the way
young children draw...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Harold Cohen turned to the computer to answer
a deceptively simple question: what is it about a mark on
paper that makes it an image, that makes it mean something?
He got an early clue from watching children draw.
ALAN ALDA OK, so first there's this scribble... This is really
extraordinary -- first the scribble and then a circle around
it. I never noticed that before.
COHEN I noticed it with my own children when they were very
ALAN ALDA And you've observed that children, at a certain point
in their development, will go from scribbling to drawing a
circle around the scribbling, or some sort of a shape around
COHEN And it was also my intuition that this was also the
stage at which children said, that stands for something. Not
long after that they'll leave out the scribble in the middle,
just do the enclosed line, and then it's quite clear they're
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Harold's computer program, called Aaron,
also employs a sort of internal scribble when it draws, among
other things, trees.
ALAN ALDA What, you said make tree, or what?
COHEN No, I just said do it. There we go, now it's started
ALAN ALDA It's like the basic skeletal shape of what its going
to eventually draw.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) From the knowledge Harold has given it about
how trees grow, Aaron grows its own tree skeleton, then draws
a line around it to create the image.
ALAN ALDA Let's get to something more complicated, a face. How
do you deal with it to get it to draw a face that's either
pleasing or interesting or worth looking at in some way?
COHEN I was hoping you'd stop at getting it to draw a face...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) It turns out that Aaron knows things about
faces just as it does about trees -- that a face has eyes,
a mouth, a nose -- that there are limits to where they can
appear and what size they can be. The trickier task is using
these general rules to create a face that persuades you it
might actually belong to someone.
ALAN ALDA How does it do that? How does it persuade you of that?
COHEN It does it by making use of some of the same kind of
cognitive distortions that we use ourselves. If you look at
its drawings, you will find that it never has the eyes level
with each other, it always tends to do that...
ALAN ALDA Really, and we do that? We see..?
COHEN Sure we do that. So does art. Go look at a Cezanne portrait.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Harold has had Aaron working overnight on
several portraits. Each is a unique creation, with the placement
of the figures, their faces, their poses, generated by Aaron
itself from the knowledge of people Harold has painstakingly
programmed into it.
ALAN ALDA Now what about this... I mean she's standing on one leg
and her hip is out a little bit and her shoulder is back.
The combination of those two gestures really says a lot, they
ALAN ALDA Now how did those two things happen to come out together
COHEN They didn't happen to...
ALAN ALDA It knows when the hip is back the shoulder should be
back, or what?
COHEN It knows a fair amount about posture.
ALAN ALDA How does it know that?
COHEN I told it.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Harold has also told the program about the
range of colors it's sensible to choose from when painting
people, and Aaron makes its own decisions here too. But Harold
isn't satisfied with the pallid blandness of a computer screen...
Which is where his latest creation comes in -- a robot painter
that starts, sensibly enough, by filling its own paint pot.
ALAN ALDA Ha, I'm sorry, that's kind of funny to me.
COHEN You wait till you see it wash it out.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The robot also selects the right brush to
use, employing a brand new mechanical arm that's today getting
its very first tryout. Aaron's had earlier robots working
on its creations, but this one is by far the most sophisticated.
Right now the robot's turning into paint on paper one of the
several images Aaron generated last night.
ALAN ALDA Does it know it's out of paint?
COHEN No it just knows how many inches of line it's drawn.
ALAN ALDA So it knows one dip is good for a certain number of inches?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Despite all I'd learned about how Aaron generates
its pictures, I was still having a hard time with the notion
that each one is Aaron's own idea.
ALAN ALDA How many overall choices does it have?
COHEN Oh, God knows, thousands.
ALAN ALDA No I mean in terms of subject.
COHEN Oh, very few. Because it knows about very little. It
knows about people, it knows about plants, it knows about
decorating the background, and that's about the limit of what
it knows... It knows how to make table and pots and things...
ALAN ALDA It wouldn't ever put a tree in a pot, or a person in
COHEN No, it would never put a person in a pot. It's a nice
ALAN ALDA That's what I want to see it do. I want to see it get
a little sillier!
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Using a palate that is actually a row of
bottles containing fabric dyes, the robot mixes its own colors,
and selects the brush most suitable for the next area to be
ALAN ALDA Is it going to begin coloring now?
ALAN ALDA How long will it take to color the whole painting?
COHEN Oh, I'd guess with drawing probably about four hours.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) So while the robot worked, we took our conversation
to a quieter spot.
ALAN ALDA Why do you want the machine to physically lay down color
on the paper?
COHEN I'm old fashioned enough I like my images to stay around
for a while. I don't like them sort of whee... now they're
here, now they're not. Also, I actually almost never use the
machine in my studio, it's used mostly in exhibitions. An
exhibition is a theatrical event to some degree, and the machine
is part of the theater of the thing. You'd be amazed how much
more people are interested in the fact that it empties its
own cups for example than in the drawing it's making.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) During our conversation , it turned out I
wasn't the only one to have trouble figuring out the relationship
between Harold and Aaron.
COHEN You'd be amazed how difficult people find it to believe
that it's made by a computer. You can tell them over and over
again that I did not make this drawing and they'll still walk
out believing that you made this drawing and put it into the
ALAN ALDA Yeah, but when I press you on this, you did make the
drawing you say. You went through a number of circuitous routes
getting the machine to do it for you, but...
COHEN No, but there's a difference between writing a program
that knows how to draw and writing a program that knows how
to make a particular drawing.
ALAN ALDA So that really gets down to the notion of artificial
intelligence. You've created a little bundle of artificial
COHEN Well I suppose. To the degree that it would require
somebody of marked intelligence and actually marked talent
to do the things the machine can do autonomously, yes I suppose
I have to say yes it is. But it is problematic. I mean, you
know, we've never seen this happen before in human history.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) As striking and original as the computer's
work may be, the question of whether Aaron or
COHEN is the artist has an answer in one respect. It's Harold
who selects Aaron's work for exhibition: Aaron itself has
no mechanism for looking at what it produces, or for making
a judgement about it. To become an artist in its own right,
the computer is somehow going to have to learn what every
human artist has to learn -- that it likes what its doing
enough for it to call it art.
ALAN ALDA Does this mean that the computer program is going to
have to be able to have some impression of itself, and is
COHEN In principle I think it is, yes. I just don't know how
to do it. That doesn't mean that I'm not going to wake up
one morning soon and think, of course I know exactly what
I should be doing. That's how things happen, isn't it?
ALAN ALDA Yeah, yeah... And one day the machine will wake up...
COHEN And one day the machine will wake up and say, what,
are you stupid, why didn't you think of it?
ALAN ALDA Harold, I have news for you...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) It's early morning , May 28, 1997. Today
an event is being re-enacted that was a turning point for
black Americans: the mustering of the first all black volunteer
regiment in the US Army, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers.
Lead by a young white officer, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw,
the 54th fought in the battle for the Confederate held Fort
Wagner in South Carolina. Shaw and 87 of his men were killed.
The heroism of the 54th inspired the recent movie "Glory".
A hundred years ago it inspired another monument -- a bronze
statue that has been called the finest memorial sculpture
ever created in the United States. The artist of the Shaw
Memorial was Augustus Saint Gaudens, and today's ceremonies
are to commemorate the unveiling of his masterpiece on Boston
Common. Among the speakers here to hail the sculpture -- and
the men it immortalizes -- is General Colin Powell.
COLIN POWELL I'm so very honored to be with you on this 100th
anniversary of the dedication of this marvelous memorial.
I doubt if bronze has ever spoken so eloquently than in this
celebrated work by Augustus Saint Gaudens. What a powerful
image we see before us, the proud young fatalistic Col. Robert
Gould Shaw and his Negro soldiers, heads high, rifles on their
shoulders, resolution in their every step, marching southward
with fortitude, looking just as they did when they passed
this spot on May 28 1863 on their way to hope, on their way
to glory, and for many of them, on their way to death....It
was an occasion of apocalyptic imagery, worthy to be forever
remembered in bronze. And we give thanks to the artistry of
Saint Gaudens, which has well stood the test of time...
ALAN ALDA Saint Gaudens' artistry may have stood the test of time,
but his masterwork hasn't done so well. A few years ago, it
was in danger of collapsing altogether before funds were raised
to restore it. But this bronze version of the Shaw Memorial
isn't the only one Saint Gaudens made.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) He also created a version for himself, made
of plaster. The last hundred years haven't been kind to Saint
Gaudens' personal copy of the Shaw; but like the bronze, it
too is to be returned to glory.
CRAINE I think it's a great work of art because of its content,
because of sort of the power of the conception, and what it
means historically. It's also a great work of art because
of the artistic concept, a very deep relief, very freely modeled.
It's just an incredibly grand conception, and carried out
with a great deal of I think love and attention to detail.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) That detail here on the plaster Shaw has
been obscured by layer after layer of paint, acquired during
an extraordinary century of wandering. The sculpture has been
to Paris and back, received both accolades and neglect during
40 years in Buffalo, and for the last 50 years has been in
the care of the National Park Service at the artist's home
in New Hampshire. It's now Cliff Craine's job to restore the
plaster Shaw to the condition Saint Gaudens himself left it
STURMAN Hey, Cliff.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) And it's Shelley Sturman's job to find out
what that was: to rediscover Saint Gaudens' vision.
STURMAN These must be the patches...
CRAINE These are the patches, at least some of them, there
are a couple that aren't done yet...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The patches are examples of how Saint Gaudens
may have treated the Shaw's surface. Cliff has already cleaned
off most of the century's worth of paint, but before he did,
Shelley had samples taken from various places in an attempt
to discover the finish Saint Gaudens himself had applied.
CRAINE ...and these are under a fill...
ALAN ALDA How did science figure in the restoration here? What
were all the scientific things you had to do?
STURMAN We got heavily involved in science in terms of trying
to figure out how the piece had been treated and restored
over the past hundred years. And we were very, very excited
to find that there were actually areas on the piece that had
the entire history of restoration. We found 25 layers of paint
and gold leaf and brass leaf and new plaster...
ALAN ALDA Twenty five layers...
STURMAN Twenty five layers.
ALAN ALDA ...and that made up the history of restoration.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) That history is now going under the microscope
at a laboratory at the National Gallery of Art in Washington
PALMER That is our first metal application
STURMAN This little spot... so that's below the yellow.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Shelley and her colleague
PALMER are peering back through the 25 layers of restoration
to find the very bottom layer, next to the plaster itself.
PALMER It's right there. If we start at the top and work our
way down, the very lowest metal application that we find is
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The lowest layer is greenish paint, with
here and there a metal flake above it, then a layer of darker
toning. This is what Saint Gaudens himself must have applied
to the plaster before he proudly unveiled it at the grand
Exposition Universelle in Paris in the year 1900. There it
was admired by many, especially for its bronze-like finish.
Here under the microscope are the last traces of that finish.
STURMAN Do you have an idea of what kind of color green this
would have looked like? Light green, dark green?
PALMER It's a very muted gray-green, quite light gray-green.
STURMAN Which is a traditional color that a sculptor would
have put on a plaster. And this little bit of brass leaf would
probably have been some highlighting. In fact, there's a wonderful
quote by the director of the Paris Exposition saying that
he watched, at the very last minute, watched Saint Gaudens
directing his men to rub it down and make it lighter.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) After his triumph in Paris, Saint Gaudens
had his Shaw taken apart again and shipped back to the United
States for another exposition, this time in Buffalo. And it
was at some time after this that the Shaw underwent its first
transformation. It's visible in the cross section -- a thick
layer of yellow paint, topped by a thin layer of metal. To
identify the metal,
PALMER turned from the light microscope to an electron microscope.
By zooming in on the metal layer, he can read its signature
in the spectrum of X-rays it gives off. In most places the
metal is gold -- in a few places, brass.
ALAN ALDA Was it clear to you from looking at the layers when this
golden surface was put on there?
STURMAN I for the longest time thought that any of the gilding
had been after Saint Gaudens' lifetime, after he had died
and a restorer had decided to gild the piece or put brass
leaf on the piece in emulation, in simulation, of a gilded
layer. So it was an eye-opener to me when we were able to
get all the way back to find that the gold layer was actually
this mixture of gold and brass and seemed to date to Saint
Gaudens' lifetime. And that's where we are, are we going to
try to recreate the turn of the century vision or Saint Gaudens'
final vision of the piece?
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Cliff Craine began the painstaking work of
reassembling the plaster Shaw even as debate about how to
finish it went on. Should it have the much admired bronze
look of its first appearance, in Paris? Or should it have
the more golden look the sculptor gave it in Buffalo, just
before he died?
CRAINE Ready Michael?
PALMER Yep, nice and easy...wait wait wait...go back a little
ALAN ALDA (Narration) In late August 1997, the Shaw arrived at
its new home, one befitting a great national monument-- the
National Gallery of Art. It's now just 10 days before it will
be unveiled to the public, and the decision as to how it should
look has been made -- almost. Cliff Craine has painted the
entire surface of the plaster a golden yellow. Now he and
his team are adding a darker glaze to bring out more of the
surface texture. But while the Shaw will look more like Saint
Gaudens' second vision than his first, its exact finish is
still not quite settled.
CIVOKSKY Well, it's complicated, and you know in frightful
candor I would say that we don't exactly know until we get
there. We're trying to adjust it to a setting in which it's
never been. Not merely a room that it's never been in, but
an interior space, in an art museum, with natural lighting,
with artificial lighting, to make it look metallic without
making it look like an imitation of something it isn't. So
we're doing layer by very thin layer by very thin layer, and
I hope we'll know when we get there.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) They got there, after two more layers of
glaze, a few days before the official unveiling.
ALAN ALDA Oh, this is great, to see it like this through the doorway...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) I went to see it two days later.
STURMAN ...this perfect space in the whole building, where
you've got this five gallery approach.
ALAN ALDA It's a great effect.
STURMAN And you come in and you're overwhelmed by the piece.
ALAN ALDA And you really get the effect of those faces. It's wonderful.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Saint Gaudens modeled his soldiers' faces
after real people -- and here, even more than in the bronze
version, the dignity of these men marching into history is
vividly apparent. This, so far as scientific and historical
research can tell, was how Saint Gaudens wanted his Shaw Memorial
to be remembered.
STURMAN I think that Saint Gaudens was such a wonderful artist
that it comes through in all of the pieces...
ALAN ALDA (Narration) I'm about to try out a musical instrument
unlike any I've encountered before.
MACHOVER This is what we think of as a music videogame, actually.
It's called harmonic driving. The idea here is that it's a
piece of music that you actually drive through, and by the
way you drive and the decisions you make while driving, the
piece actually changes. You want to give it a try?
ALAN ALDA Yeah, if I crash, this piece is over, or what?
MACHOVER Oh, it's a terrible thing that'll happen...
ALAN ALDA Oh all right, let me see. Let me do it...
ALAN ALDA(Narration) Called a hyperinstrument, its one of several
musical machines being developed at MIT's Media Lab by a team
headed by Tod Machover.
MACHOVER Hey, all right. We start by building special instruments
for the world's best musicians, like Yo Yo Ma, and Peter Gabriel
and orchestras. For the last five years or so, we've been
trying to build instruments for audiences.
ALAN ALDA Where the audience makes the music?
MACHOVER Where the audience in the very least experiments
with the music, sometimes performs the music and makes the
music. These are sensors, one, two, three, four, and then
under each of your feet, those are measuring how much electrical
current is being picked up from your body. So as you move,
it knows where you are in this field.
ALAN ALDA This, can I make the same... if I go to the same place,
it does the same thing every time?
MACHOVER The exactly...
ALAN ALDA So it's really like playing an instrument. There's no
MACHOVER No randomization, plus right in the middle there's
supposed to be a sort of cymbal sound.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) This sensor chair, like the other hyperinstruments
here, was being readied for an appearance at New York's prestigious
Lincoln Center Festival, just a few weeks after my visit.
Luckily, it was still just a prototype...
MACHOVER You broke it! If you want to come over for a second
to what we call the rhythm tree, that's a different idea.
That's one that's designed to have something physical that
you hit that gives you a sound exactly when you hit it.
ALAN ALDA OK.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) The performance Tod Machover and his team
are preparing is called The Brain Opera, and several of his
hyperinstruments - designed to be played by the audience -
look like bits of brain.
MACHOVER This one is, you really have to work to get the kind
of regular rhythm that you got with the sensor chair. Why
don't you give it a try?
ALAN ALDA Right. Hello? Ladies and gentlemen, my fingers never
left my hands.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Teresa Marrin has invented a hyperinstrument
called the digital baton, which makes different orchestral
sounds depending on where it's pointed.
MARRIN Electric guitars, trumpets down here.
ALAN ALDA What's this again?
MARRIN That adds string sounds.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) An infrared detector follows the tip of the
baton in space.
MARRIN I like that. Now take it down there, you'll get some
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Now on this instrument, supposedly the better
I sing, the louder my angelic accompaniment.
MACHOVER That was really good.
ALAN ALDA I think I just wrote Chariots of Fire.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Three months after my visit to the Media
MACHOVER and his band of hypermusicians and hyperinstruments
were ready to meet the public. By now the heavenly choir was
accompanied by angelic video images. The idea of The Brain
Opera is that audience member first get to generate their
own hypermusic on what were now fully-tested hyperinstruments.
ALAN ALDA The original was like being inside a skeleton and this
is like being inside the real thing. It really does change
the quality of the music.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Tod Machover's vision for the Brain Opera
is that the sounds generated here by the audience will be
incorporated into the performance that follows.
ALAN ALDA It's hard to believe that this is going to become a symphony.
In just ten minutes.
ALAN ALDA (Narration) Despite the plan to employ some of the audience's
input in the performance, I can't say I noticed any input
from my own earlier efforts in the lobby. I listened in vain
for my perfectly sustained E-flat. But at one point in the
performance, an even wider audience had their say when Teresa
Marrin used her digital baton to select contributions from
people listening in over the Internet. Since the Brain Opera's
premiere here in New York, audiences in Austria, Denmark,
Japan and Portugal have also had their say in its performance.