21 April 2010

[design] How Is The Author Of XKCD Like John Stump?

2398.Well, there is one way: the Author of XKCD needs no introduction, while you'll probably be scratching your head over the name "John Stump".

And that's not really a commonality, is it? No.

But they do have something important in common – a firm grasp of communicating comedy through a limited canon of symbols.

Today, XKCD posted the funniest electronic schematic I've ever seen. Here it is:



Clicky on the image to go to the entry and see it embiggened. I've had some basic electronics, so this is a howl. A 5-ohm decoy resistor? Sure! A switch marked "Hire Someone To Open And Close Switch Real Fast"? Oh, yeah-job creation! I'm not sure what the bullfighting arena is supposed to do, but I notice there's a "120 Ohm (or to taste)" resistor - as well as a gap labelled "touch tongue here", just daring you. 666 timer chip? Yeah, always suspected computers were the work of the Devil.

John Stump knew, in the same way, how to exploit the conventions of notation to deliver in-jokes. For years, famous around music departments on campuses, was a sheet of music entitled Faerie's Aire and Death Waltz, just waiting for the unsuspecting eye to get drawn in.

The score contains amazing notations, lines arcing to and fro, and bizarre stage and orchestral directions, including Lakers in 6, add bicycle, release the penguins, and ending on the emphatic direction Gradually slide from 12-bar blues to a more Vivaldi-like cadenza. Intonation!



It's a generous piece, allowing some violins to knock off early if the 3rd Clarinet shows up.



The above calls for a light and airy delivery, but this multiple-note collision is so intense that only a little farther along, one must apply ice to the cornet.

Naturally, the piece isn't meant to be played, but just meant to play with the readers mind. But John Stump knew the mode so well, he could make it sing with absolute ridiculousness by working within the canon of musical notation and typesetting styles, and delivered the joke so well that even musical tyros could enjoy it.

What exactly makes it funny is hard to put one's finger on – this was John Stump's unique talent. Faerie's Aire (noted early on that it was "arranged by accident" and was derived from an ancient Cro-magnon skinning chant) and XKCD's circuit digarams are amazing satires crafted by artist who understood exactly what it was they were lampooning – and that what makes them ring so true.

John Stump died in 2006, perhaps not knowing how far the joke had travelled. Very well-done versions of his most famous works – Faerie's Aire, String Quartet No. 556(b) For Strings in A Minor (Motoring Accident) and Love Theme From Prelude and the Last Hope in C and C# Minor (from the opera March De L'oie (March of the Ducks)) are documented and can be seen at the blog Lost in the Cloud and the family still offers high-quality prints of these sheets via the links listed hither:
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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

My guess is that the arena might better be known as the thunderdome: two electrons enter, one electron leaves!

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

Good point. And, to the degree the circuit diagram is correct as to function, there's one entry point but two exits. Interesting indeed.