Sunday, February 08, 2009

six ways from sunday: my mathematical mind

A Madagascar Day Gecko looks on at the stranger behind the camera, sticky feet and all. Lund, Sweden. (2009). This photo isn't particularly logical considering the context of the post, but sometimes things are better when they don't make perfect sense.

By definition, the inverse function y = 1/x is asymptotic. In other words, this means that for any given input x, the function plots a curve y that continually approaches the zero lines, but never actually meets them at any finite distance.

Confused? Click here for an illustration. Or, alternatively, think of it this way: imagine you're looking down on a four-way intersection from the roof of a skyscraper. There are two people walking toward each other on opposite sides of the same street, but they're not allowed to step off the sidewalk and onto the pavement. Given this single constraint, their paths can never meet. Looking at one another diagonally across the middle of the intersection is the closest the two will ever be and bridging the space in between is a rational impossibility, in mathematical terms. On paper, this is no solution to this paradox.

However, where theory ends, real life begins. Sometimes all it takes to get around frustrating limits is a little imagination, a little leap of faith. So go ahead: look both ways and cross the street. Someone might be waiting for you on the other side.

Six Ways from Sunday is starfish and waffles' homegrown, cornerstone music column. Your mix tape with a theme, clicking on the active links below lead you to full-length tracks of the day's musical selections. As always, happy listening.

1. You Got Me :: The Roots featuring Erykah Badu :: Things Fall Apart (1999). Like cheesesteaks and Temple University basketball, this is a Philadelphia institution. Lead MC Tariq "Black Thought" Trotter stars in the spellbinding video, delivering his lines in trademark compact form - until he finds her. The musical work of Ahmir Khalib "?uestlove" Thompson, the greatest drummer of our generation, and Leonard "Hub" Hubbard, the respected classical upright bassist, feature in the unforgettable drum 'n' bass outro. "She studyin' film and photo - flash, focus, record / Said she workin' on a flick and could my click do the score? / She said she loved my show in Paris at Elysée Montmartre / And that I stepped off the stage and took a piece of her heart."

2. Spring to Kingdom Come :: Flunk :: Morning Star (2004). Lush soundscapes abound in the clean-up track from the Norwegian folktronica foursome. Ulf Nygaard and Anja Øyen Vister blend doleful, male-female vocals. "Sleeping beauty, where have you been? / You should know ­I'm counting on you here / Feels like clouds beneath your wings / It is night, you see it as it is / It is dark, have mercy on us all / You should know ­I'm counting on you here."

3. Sunny Road :: Emiliana Torrini :: Fisherman's Woman (2005). Because songs don't come much more beautiful than this. Listen to the gentle strumming of the six-string ... and the hanging moments of subtle silence, elegant like a Japanese ukiyo-e painting. Also a lovely animated video. "I wanna come back home / You know that night, I said I had to go / You said you'd meet me on the sunny road / It's time, meet me, on the sunny road / It's time, meet me, on the sunny road."

4. Unemployed in Summertime :: Emiliana Torrini :: Love in the Time of Science (2000). In a rarity, the adorable Icelandic singer-songwriter scores a twinbill on Six Ways from Sunday. Young, carefree, jazzy loops radiate with downbeat flair. "Unemployed in summertime / I've only just turned 21, I'll be ok / Unemployed in summertime / Don't need money 'cause we're young / I'll just stay awake 'til the morning / With make-up all over my face."

5. Eye Know :: De La Soul :: 3 Feet High and Rising (1989). It's hard to believe it's been twenty years, but this is still the gold standard for hip-hop love songs. Groovy, happy, and, playful, this track is a throwback from a time when rap somehow seemed less angry. A sample of Otis Redding's whistling ditties in the background. "It's I again and the song that I send / Is taking steps to reach your heart / Any moment you feel alone / I can fill up your empty part / We can ascend 'til we reach De La Heaven / And in a spin we'll hit the Top Ten."

6. New Slang :: The Shins :: Oh, Inverted World (2001). Toe-tapping wistfulness from the New Mexico indie guitar poppers. Vaguely familiar, yet not quite the same as anything you've heard before. "And if you'd 'a took to me like / A gull takes to the wind / Well, I'd 'a jumped from my tree / And I'd a danced like the king of the eyesores / And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well."


  1. A couple of summers ago I couldn't get that Emiliana Torrini track out of my head. Incredibly beautiful.

  2. Sunny Road, I assume? Yup, I agree, the Emiliana track is a stunner.

  3. Note: I've updated the broken links for The Roots' You Got Me and De La Soul's Eye Know.

  4. The only good thing I see from that Dee La Soul video is the hair of the singer-brings back memories of Fresh Prince of Belair and Will Smith's hair cut circa early 1990s.

  5. Yes, the hair is great but the tune is awesome also. Admit it, you love it.