A number of materials, if they get about as chilly is it is possible to be, lose all resistance when it comes to conducting electricity (or zero ohms, and indeed, palones). Some rather funky compounds have the same property when it is merely seriously cold – and I mean seriously, not “bitterly” which these days seems to mean anything much below room temperature (I guess that’s what you get when all the weather “forecasters” are too young to remember the days before central heating – I reckon Jack Scott would have had a more rigorous definition of “bitterly” back in my youth).
These high temperature superconductors work in such balmy conditions that they can work even when the air has not turned to liquid and pooled on the floor (which does suggests that condensed matter physicists may have a rather different “take” on high temperatures to that of the general public). These superconductors are divided (somewhat hubristically) into two groups: conventional (where we think we understand how they work) and unconventional (where we don’t). I rather like this division and would like to apply it more widely – people, lifestyles and activities that I can understand would be considered conventional and those I can’t would be branded as unconventional. In this brave new world (© A Huxley), some things now wrongly considered as “normal”, e.g. fishing, owning fewer than 100 books, possessing more than a fleeting interest in celebrity and the watching of “reality” TV, would all be considered markers of an unconventional lifestyle (and as a result would attract disapproval – and perhaps be driven underground).
Ah, but I am letting my desire for world domination get the better of me. I was planning to talk about super conductors in the orchestral sense – rather than something with the ability to eject magnetic fields.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure to see many of the world’s great conductors in action. I have seen enough to know that if you sit in the front row and Valery Gergiev is conducting, then you should bring a kagoule (other waterproof clothing is available). I do like a conductor who puts their whole body into it; minimalism is all well and good – but it doesn’t provide much of a spectacle for the audience.
If we were to get the Artistic Director of the West Virginia Symphony and Gary Cooper (not that one, though I do rather like the idea of a world-class harpsichord player and conductor in a Western – a properly tuned keyboard instrument would be an innovation in the Wild West if nothing else) to share the podium then we would have a link back to the conventional superconductor (as I’m sure you all know, the Cooper Pair is the key concept to understanding their properties). On the downside, they may find themselves conducting a carthorse – or, if you prefer, a very confused orchestra.
But I seem to have digressed (again). More recently, as I have mentioned before, I have enjoyed a number of terribly young people conducting orchestras of a roughly similar age. I saw my favourite example of this new breed of conductor earlier in the week – and aren’t we all glad that classical music has not gone the way of the buses and dispensed with the conductor (I suppose OMO is only really possible for a sonata – and not always then) – I do find myself wondering if unemployed bus conductors could not find gainful orchestral employ with the triangle – ting ting (I think the “hold very tight please” would have to be implied).
Anyway, back to Tuesday night and CUMS II – I think rather the Championship of university orchestras if I have correctly understood Association Football – and my third (pleasurable) experience with Sibelius in as many months. The evening was conducted by a chap named Craigen who is one of those splendid folk who has merely to look at an item of clothing for it to crease (and who is also a very fine horn player as he had demonstrated earlier that same day) – I do like a conductor to be sightly dishevelled (I think maybe overly smart just looks too clinical to me). But, better even than this, he really conducts with his whole body – he used the whole podium, his entire upper body with vigour and all of his face including, I would swear, his teeth. With this degree of involvement from the conductor in Jean’s second symphony, how could I fail to be totally swept up by the music? I do hope his conducting teachers don’t knock all this youthful exuberance out of him – I, for one, would miss it.
Not only did he provide a full programme of entertainment with the planned musical component of the evening, but he also managed to provide a comedic conclusion during the applause by cunningly eluding the poor lass trying to bring him his reward in the form of a bottle of wine (well, I assume the shiny bag contains a bottle of wine – but I’ve never seen the contents and university budgets are tight, so it could be anything in there). Certainly, such total commitment to entertaining the crowd should not go unrewarded – and, if nothing else, he has now been immortalised in this blog.