26 Scientists, Volume Two: Newton – Zeno


Indie pop concept record of scientist biographies – one for every letter of the alphabet – in the tradition of the Beatles, Pixies, Breeders, Beck, Cake, the Fall, the Talking Heads, Wire, and Robyn Hitchcock.

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Hello, and welcome to Artichoke’s “26 Scientists Volume Two Newton – Zeno,” the follow-up to “26 Scientists Volume One Anning – Malthus” which came out in 2005.

Are you comfy? Let’s jump right in and talk about the scientists in Volume Two. Newton was a socially awkward guy with immense powers of focus and concentration. I wonder if being a more balanced person might have made him happier but less far-seeing? Nobody can say for sure. In the song “Newton” I put forward a little hypothesis of my own – that coffee reached Europe and helped to trigger the Enlightenment. Perhaps somewhere there is already a paper on this idea, spawned no doubt by coffee.

William of Ockham seems to have been a reasonable reasoner. This song is probably the closest I can come to sounding like stereolab (without using a keyboard or being a French lady).

Pavlov came from a long line of church leaders, all of whom used a ringing bell to tell their flock that it was time for services — much like Pavlov the physiologist used a ringing bell as an associated stimulus to produce the response of salivation. Interestingly, no bell was found in Pavlov’s laboratory after he died.

I wish I had the time and brainpower to get into W. V. O. Quine’s writings. But lacking either, I sang about my dad and brother instead. And the distorted trebly drums may be the finest rhythm track on a song about Quine in the history of music thus far, if I may say so myself.

Ah, Richter and his scale. What a great subject for songwriting. I can’t think of anything to write here about Charles Richter that’s not in the song.

Another great song subject is of course Schrodinger and his diabolical model of particle decay upon which the life of a cat hinges. From 2004 to 2006 “Schrodinger” was a fairly rockin’ song in the live Artichoke set. But then this Elliot Smith-ish version happened. That’s a sprinkler in the background.

Tesla was an intriguing figure to say the least. It’s hard to determine exactly when some of these geniuses transitioned from “a bit eccentric” to “crazy as a bedbug.” In Tesla’s case, I think it was a very long slide, with a lot of self-sabotaging statements to the press and financiers. It is also possible that the habitual passing of hundreds of thousands of volts through one’s cranium may not be as “therapeutic” as Tesla believed.

Ussher was a master of using science within a nonscientific context. His tradition lives on!

Jeanne Villepreux had a tragic life story equal to that of any Johnny Cash character. She was the mother of aquarium science and a talented self-made woman whose entire body of work was lost in a shipwreck. She studied the sea, and the sea took it all back.

I used a few quotes from the physicist Chien-Shiung Wu to build her song. The song goes like this:

“They named an asteroid for Chien-Shiung Wu.
Her dad told her “put your head down walk on through.”
Beta decay was like a very dear old friend.
Parity was not quite conserved.
And “there is only one thing worse than comin’ home
from the lab to a sink that’s full of dirty dishes foam
and that is not going out to the lab at all.”
Not going to the lab at all.
And so they named an asteroid for Chien-Shiung Wu.”

Xenophanes was an ancient Greek who noticed that fish fossils were to be found on mountain tops. He didn’t know exactly how they got there – but he understood intuitively that a LOT of time had passed.

Thomas Young had quite the wrinkly brain, and died much too early. I crammed as many of his exploits into the song as I could.

And finally we come to Zeno of Elea, who famously argued that motion was impossible. And given the impossibility of moving from point A to, say, point Z, without first passing through an infinite number of points in between, I do feel very lucky to have finished these records.

Steve Collins played theremin on three songs. Nickolas Schutz played drums on “Zeno.” Allison Achauer did the cd layout.

Everything else I cooked up with oil paint and brushes, various biographies, a Mooger Fooger pedal (now broken), a $100 acoustic guitar from Pittsburgh, another $100 acoustic guitar from the El Monte Pawn Shop (broken but repaired), a $100 Stratocaster electric guitar, a $100 megaphone (now broken) a Fender DeVille amp, an Eko hollow-body bass (cracked but functional in the studio), a Big Muff Pi pedal (broken and replaced with another one), a Memory Man pedal (now broken), some Event Six monitors (one of which is broken and replaced by a Fostex monitor), ancient versions of Cubase and Wavelab (not broken), three successive hard drives (broken, cloned, broken, cloned, etc.), an Edirol portable recorder, 5-tone twirling tubes, a bunch of Blue Tube pre-amps, several audio-technica MB1000L microphones, and about five years.

Many thanks to family, friends and fans. And coffee!

Timothy Sellers
Los Angeles, May 14, 2009

Additional information

Weight 3 oz
Dimensions 5 × 5 × .5 in
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