Monday, September 01, 2008

Science Fiction Museum, EMP, and music in the park

I'm going to try blogging at least parts of the vacation I just got back from in episodes. It was a short vacation, only one week, but a fun one. As this blog is about ramblings (usually not the physical ones) I'll start squarely in the middle and proceed out of order from there.

We were both pleasantly surprised with the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle. It's under the Space Needle, in part of the park that was originally built for the World's Fair.

Scott is a science fiction fan and I am one largely by association (I read the occasional novel and watch the occasional film). So when we heard about the museum, we were a bit afraid that it was going to be a bunch of classical sci-fi. We have nothing against classic sci-fi, but it's not what we mostly read. Scott likes David Weber, Anne McCaffrey, and quite a selection of stuff, mostly more recent than that.

Instead, what we found there was a well thought out and reasonably wide variety, ranging from Mary Shelley and Jules Verne through Star Trek and encompassing about everything in between. There are vintage comics, space suits, hats and helmets, toys, books, cover art, and plenty of images of visions of the future from throughout the history of the genre, all nicely mixed together with a generous but not overwhelming dose of audio and video.

They don't allow photography in the galleries, possibly because flashing in a dark space would disturb the atmosphere of the place, possibly because too many of the artifacts are copyright. In any case, we lingered happily reading signs and browsing for quite some time. This museum was one of at least three reasons my reading list grew on this trip.

The one thing I really wanted a photograph of is pictured online here, though in the museum it's surrounded by the ink bottles and cartridges and (if memory serves) the fountain pens used to produce it. It's an original, handwritten manuscript by Neal Stephenson for the Baroque Cycle, and it really is that tall. I suppose if you're a known author, you can pay somebody to do your typing. I think I write differently sometimes in ink than onscreen (there's no going back to fiddle with your work).

Adjoining the Sci-fi Museum is the Experience Music Project (EMP). We didn't stay quite as long there, but it was still fun to see. There's a giant musical instrument sculpture in the main hall made up of hundreds of guitars, banjos, an accordion, clarinet, french horn, keyboard, and so on. Some of the stringed instruments and drums have things attached that change the pitch and strum, and visitors can listen to this thing on headphones. I'd like to know if they ever tune the sculpture.

The displays downstairs mostly explore various genres of popular music. One room has an exhibit on the history of electric guitars, which is more interesting and varied than I would have supposed. The upstairs, I think, is more fun. There are exhibit rooms, all unfortunately a little too well occupied to be accessible, where visitors can go in and learn a bit about musical instruments (mainly vocals, drums, guitar, and keyboard). I skipped the piano lesson (I play a bit, but not often) and went ahead to the improvisation part. The keyboard lights up the keys of the blues scale and plays an appropriate accompaniment. I'm not much good at improvising music, but when there are a row of LEDs cluing me in to which notes are going to sound ok with the background, I too can jam.

Somewhere in between, we fetched some lunch and wandered out into the park around the museums and found the Quichua Mashis performing in the park. I seized on the opportunity to practice my Spanish and chatted with them a bit. Although they proudly proclaim that their music is from the Andes in general (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador) they are from Ecuador. I also ascertained that the woman in the teal dress who was dancing in front of their booth didn't really have anything to do with them. She was just a hanger-on who happened to like the music. The answer I got was a good deal more diplomatic than I'd have given in the same situation: "just a friend" (though "friend" has a somewhat more general connotation in Spanish than English). "Hippie" may be spelled differently by some, but it has lodged itself into the Spanish language, probably with good reason.

I was hoping to find a quena among the musical instruments they were offering, since one was playing a quena, but there were pan pipes and some other little flutes I didn't recognize, so I bought a CD. There were no quenas in the EMP, and the music follows a tradition much older than science fiction.


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