Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Anathem Launch Event

I went to the launch event for Neal Stephenson’s new novel, Anathem, this evening in San Francisco. It was hosted by the Long Now Foundation and streamed live to the world. (My review of Anathem is here.)

Neal Stephenson - 2 Neal Stephenson During the event, Neal Stephenson read briefly from the opening section of the novel, explaining terms in brief. Following this, there was singing orchestrated by David Stutz, who is a friend of Stephenson's and a musicologist. As I have mentioned previously, he has composed and performed vocal music set in the world of Anathem. He had brought with him the other individuals that have performed this music for the CD that Stutz produced. This CD was available at the event in its final form and the group sang portions of it as the interlude between other events of the evening. They also performed some music, a lament, that was not included on the CD but which Stutz has discussed on his website.

Choir - 1 David Stutz and Choir Following the initial music, Stewart Brand, Neal Stephenson, and Danny Hillis did a group discussion of the ideas in the book and took written questions from the audience. As the thinking of the Long Now Foundation for their 10,000 year clock played an inspirational role in the novel, it made sense to have all three on stage.

DSCF4943.JPG Stewart Brand, Neal Stephenson, and Danny Hillis After more music, Stephenson did the required book signing and there was a brief performance of the jokingly named "Shovelfu" with (you guessed it) shovels. I don't want to give any spoilers to the book since I've avoided them so far but this was a joking a reference to some actions in the novel and a rather enthusiastically martial monastic. (Someone also made a reference to the book being "Post-Aclockolyptic Fiction" as well.)

David Stutz and his Tetrahedron - 2 David Stutz with his Tetrahedron The evening closed with David Stutz giving instructions on the mathematical basis of the music he wrote and with a hands on demonstration. First, he demonstrated the use of the music as part of a Turing Machine (including a roll of paper that he was holding). He then arranged for a crowd of people to handle small tetrahedrons with instructions that were passed from person to person with musical accompaniment. This was followed by a fuller demonstration on the creation, musically, of cellular automata from simple rules with the crowd clapping in rhythm.

Crowd as Cellular Automata - 2 Crowd Performing as Cellular Automata I'm absolutely entranced by the work that Stutz has put into all of this and the obvious fun of it. He has also made the musical scores for this work available with a creative commons license, which is cool. I managed to meet up with some of my acquaintances from Noisebridge, the local hacker space-in-formation, so it was a pretty good evening overall. Update: Video of Neal Stephenson's reading from the event and of the singing of the lament can be watched at's website.

You can also download the video (64 MB) or the audio (10 MB) of this.