Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Friday, 31 October 2008

Maltreating Mozart is a capital offence

Richard Dawkins (Professor Satan as creationists would have him) has retired from the Chair of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford and will be succeeded by Marcus du Sautoy. Mathematician follows biologist.

As if making his CV public de Sautoy has just completed a four-part series The History of Maths on BBC4 which left me with mixed feelings. Television has popularised “dumbing down” but here was a rare example of “clevering up”. And I’m not talking about such brain-crackers as the Riemann Hypothesis.

Earlier du Sautoy paid tribute to work done in the Arab world, China and India (plus Greece of course) on the basics of geometry and algebra. The trouble is he was just too damned quick. There was something about base number systems which he illustrated with pebbles and you’d have thought he was doing the three-card confidence trick. With fifteen seconds on the subject I might have grasped it; given only ten I was lost.

Will du Sautoy be less controversial than his predecessor? I’m not too sure. Parts of the maths series were backed by classical music which isn’t a crime in itself. But it’s one thing to accompany Newton’s fluxions with Bach counterpoint (there’s plenty of it to go around) but it’s quite another to use the initial duet from Figaro as musical wallpaper. Yes I know Figaro was measuring up (Geddit?) his bed but with music like that you’re inclined to attend to the background not the foreground. Next time, Marcus, use some forgettable rock.


Lucy said...

Being one of your liberal arts numpties, I nevertheless prepared myself to try to keep awake through that programme for the sake of my mathematically gifted physicist husband, but he was unable to muster enough enthusiasm for it, so we gave it a miss. Reading this I'm faintly relieved.

Barrett Bonden said...

Never a numptie, Lucy. What I have in mind when I use the phrase "liberal arts" is one of those precious individuals who believes that working with a machine would interfere with their finer feelings. Tom was well out of du Sautoy. Watching the four programmes was like flicking through the chapter headings of a book. And the Mozart, used more than once, was to me an outrage.

Avus said...

For sheer personality, lucidity and perfect judgement of mixing sight and sound I rate Jacob Bronowski amongst the highest.
His marathon TV series "The Ascent of Man" was seminal (and led eventually to his early death from such exertion - he had to be carried, pick-a-back, to locations towards the end.)

Barrett Bonden said...

Humour too, though many didn't recognise it. But I'll never forget the final moments of the final episode when he strode into a pool at one of the Nazi concentration camps, reached down and brought up something (I can hardly bear to imagine...) in his hand to emphasise humanity's need to re-connect. Passion and clarity, both often missing in today's documentaries with their pathetic dependance on "reconstruction".

Sir Hugh said...

On my regional news tonight there was an item about the bombing of Coventry in the Second World War. The worst attack had been code named Moonlight Sonata and during film clips of the event the Beethoven was played in the background. Any thoughts about the justification for this one?

Barrett Bonden said...

A knee-jerk reaction by an unimaginative director