7 fantastic musical talks to celebrate TEDxPenn

Andrew Bird takes over the TED stage

From the TEDitorial team’s fabulous Liz Jacobs:

I’m super excited about tomorrow’s TEDxPenn event in Philadelphia. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I just graduated from Penn and now work at TED, but this weekend’s conference is shaping up to be a great one.
Inspired by the University’s year-long exploration of sound, this year’s TEDxPenn theme is “Creating the Sound." Penn is at the forefront of cutting-edge research in fields as diverse as bioengineering, cinema studies, entrepreneurship, and ethnomusicology, and TEDxPenn is poised to help the University’s brightest minds share their ideas beyond the ivory tower.
In the spirit of this weekend’s event, I gathered together seven of my favorite talks that showcase the off-beat and mind-blowing sounds that have been shared on the TED and TEDx stages. These talks illustrate the incredible ways we communicate ideas through sound. Enjoy!

**Andrew Bird’s one-man orchestra
An awe-inspiring meditation on music and how we make it. Andrew Bird’s genius electric loops of violins, xylophones and his own whistling create a euphony at TED2010 that’s both mesmerizing and inspiring.

**Sound health: Julian Treasure at TEDxYouth@Manchester
We need to take control of our soundscapes to create a more beautiful sound world, says Julian Treasure, speaking on the stage at TEDxYouth@Manchester. Treasure has devoted his life to studying the sound in the world around us, and in this talk, he offers tips on how to keep your ears healthy and your outlook positive.

**Pamelia Kurstin plays the theremin
Without laying a finger on her instrument, Pamelia Kurstin electrifies TED2002 with the theremin. This unusual electronic instrument operates on sound waves, which create a harrowingly beautiful sound as Kurstin seemingly creates sound out of thin air. (Bonus: check out another theremin performance by Lydia Kavina at TEDxGhent!)

**The world’s ugliest music: Scott Rickard at TEDxMIA
The world’s first pattern-free piano sonata.
What makes music beautiful? Mathematician Scott Rickard deconstructs the patterns and rhythm that make music to our ears, and shares a piece of music so ugly, that only a mathematician could write it.

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One small step for man, one giant leap for the career fair — meet a space archaeologist!

TEDxSydney speaker Alice Gorman might have one of the coolest job titles ever … space archaeologist. To have known that was a career option back in second grade!

Yep, Alice doesn’t research the things we don’t normally associate with archaeologists — clay pots or ancient weapons or old bones. Instead, she takes on the artifacts we leave beyond our planet: footprints, abandoned satellites, debris, even the American flag.

In her talk at TEDxSydney, Alice lets us in on some of the cool parts of her job, and explains just what space archaeology is all about:

In 1969, the Apollo 11 mission landed on the surface of the moon and changed the way we view the moon forever.

The moon has always been a huge part of human life: it governs the tides; it’s the light in the sky that we see at night; so many myths and legends are centered on the moon.

But now it’s a human landscape. Tranquility Base, where those astronauts first set foot on the moon, is an archeological site. They’ve left artifacts there; they’ve left footprints; we [can] analyze those footprints and artifacts to learn something about that very extraordinary kind of encounter with the landscape…

These artifacts and places, these are human, material interactions with the solar system, with the space environment … They remind us that space isn’t just empty and vast and black and dark and somewhere else out there. We’re actually part of it. We connected to the Earth’s orbit, to the very edge of the solar system.

Space archaeology is something that connects us to our past in space … and to our future in the stars. And that future is yours and mine to decide.

So, next time someone asks what you wanna be when you grow up, you can totally blow them out of the water (or outta this world). And if you’d like to learn more about the cultural history of space, check out Alice’s talk here.

(Above, thanks to NASA, the Earth as seen from the moon, Neil Armstrong’s famous lunar footprints, and Mars Curiosity
's first tracks on the Red Planet.)

TEDx Editors’ Picks: 4 great talks for the week

For this week’s Editor’s Picks, we’ve chosen four very different talks from four continents. The challenges they’re looking at may be familiar, but we like how the speakers bring new ideas and perspectives.


A new self-identity for Africans: Panashe Chigumadzi at TEDxJohannesburg
Panashe Chigumadzi is a young storyteller from Zimbabwe on a mission to redefine what it means to be African. Self-identity in many African countries has been skewed by the influence of colonization, she says, and in order to reclaim a sense of African identity, she urges people to use the power of new technology and social media to create positive cultural identities with uniquely African stories.

A better way to win the war on drugs: Bart de Koning at TEDxEde
Is the war on drugs worth fighting? Maybe, says Bart de Koning, if we can look at it with new eyes. Despite concerted efforts, he explains, criminal justice systems haven’t stopped the supply and demand of illegal drugs. Instead, academic research has found that well-funded mental health facilities offer the only effective solution to what is ultimately a problem of addiction. In the war on drugs, this compelling call to action may offer a new way forward.

Battery-powered fridge empowers Indian farmers: Sam White at TEDxBoston
In a country where most farmers don’t have refrigeration, how do you get milk to market before it spoils? At TEDxBoston, Sam White shows off a new battery-powered fridge solving that problem in India — even in areas without reliable electricity — making it possible to keep milk safe longer.

The mathematics of weight loss: Ruben Meerman at TEDxQUT
When you lose weight, what happens to the fat and where does it go? It seems so obvious… and yet, we weren’t sure either. So check out Ruben Meerman’s entertaining talk from TEDxQUT and figure out the chemistry of what exactly happens when the numbers on the scale start going down.

The travel playlist: Around the world in 5 TEDx Talks

image A gorgeous landscape in Afghanistan, documented by TEDx speaker James Willcox

As school starts, the weather turns cold, and long walks become harder to handle, pangs of wanderlust are sure to set in again. So to celebrate World Tourism Day, we thought we’d bring the great wide world to you. Here, we’ve hand picked five talks that take you all over the world — from Palestine to Poland — so you can travel vicariously through TEDx.

The road less traveled: Tony Wheeler at TEDxQueenstown
In the travel talk to end all travel talks, Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet, waxes poetic about the adventure of travel — in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Albania, Libya, Myanmar, the Congo, Palestine, Zimbabwe and beyond — with gorgeous photos to boot.

A new look at an old country: Mark Power at TEDxKrakow
Sent to Poland to photograph the country in 2004, just before it joined the European Union, Mark Power found himself coming back again and again. This photographic tour de force at TEDxKrakow will show you the true complexity of this fascinating country. Warning: NSFW, some graphic images.

More than a thousand words — the power of images: Antonio Bolfo at TEDxEast
NYPD police officer and photographer Antonio Bolfo has seen a lot in his career. In this dynamic talk at TEDxEast, he shows how a well-crafted photo can tell a rich, inspiring story — with examples from the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the daily work of NYPD officers.

Off-road tours in Afghanistan: James Willcox at TEDxBathUniversity
James Wilcox operates a very untraditional tour company in Afghanistan and Somalia, giving tourists a chance to see the real places behind the headlines. In this talk at TEDxBathUniversity, he describes how he was inspired to start this off-road initiative after a chance meeting with a UN translator named Abdul.

Scenes from a Romanian village: Katy Fox at TEDxLuxembourgCity
Social anthropologist Katy Fox spent several months as a researcher in rural Romania. At TEDxLuxembourgCity, she shows what she learned — weaving stories of the people she met in the villages with stunning photos of village life.

(Photo from James Willcox’s talk at TEDxBathUniversity)