An amazing Japanese commercial (and a note on Tippett and Krauss)

Well, I thought I’d seen it all, but this Japanese commercial for a smartphone, brought to my attention by alert reader Jon, beats all. It’s a huge xylophone, placed in a hilly Japanese forest, that plays Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring as a wooden ball rolls down it.  Fantastic—do not miss this one!

Imagine the labor involved in building that xylophone!  Here’s a short video about the construction:

Both of these videos, curiously enough, were highlighted on Krista Tippett’s “On Being” page. In case you don’t know of her, Tippett is an unctuous broadcaster on U.S. National Public Radio, and is always interviewing scientists and trying to get them to confess their spirituality.  She’s the Elaine Ecklund of radio and a diehard believer in belief; I am unable unable to listen to more than a few minutes of her show.

That said, some of her shows are supposed to be good—when she stays away from religion and spirituality.  Jon, in fact, found the commercial above while looking for a podcast of a recent interview she did with Lawrence Krauss (you can find the video here). Our reader liked the interview and said this about it:

I’m not a big fan of Krista Tippett’s program On Being, but sometimes I listen Sundays at 7:00 before I get up. This morning’s program was a rebroadcast of an outstanding interview entitled “Our Origins and the Weight of Space” she did with Lawrence Krauss last summer as part of one of the programs at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. The interview is mostly a solo act by Krauss and he didn’t allow Tippett to get away with any silliness.

I haven’t watched the interview, but if you have, weigh in.  Comments about the “On Being” show, either agreeing or disagreeing with me, are welcome.


  1. Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    I did a post on Larry’s appearance yesterday.

    He did great!

  2. coozoe
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:14 am | Permalink

    Dr. Krauss was fascinating as usual and conveyed his enthusiasm on the subject among some dubious listeners. He was too polite. Tippett was just plain silly.

  3. alexandra
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    YES! What a way to wake up on a Sunday spring morning. I heard the Krauss interview – I would walk a mile to hear him (Ref: ancient Camel cig commercial you are all too young to remember. I would really walk many miles). I fume if I happen to radio surf to Krita, “unctous” is the word alright, but KRAUSS! I was looking forward to her being squelched but it remained pretty calm, tho she may have not noticed, locked in her certainty, she was left in his wake by a polite, cheerful, articulate, free thinker with a light touch, so she didnt know what hit her. Even more fun than a knock-down argument. Krauss is in my own pantheon of Feynman, Sagan, Dawkins, Hitchens….

    • Gordon Munro
      Posted April 16, 2013 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Three memorable events of me pre-microchipped youth.
      1- Legs of Dancing Old Gold Girls
      2- Camel Mileage Desire
      3- 1961 Feynman Relativity Lecture at Pasadena City College
      PS: Yep Krauss belongs with the Big Boys.
      PPS: He keept his video commentary focused almost entirely on the first of Gould’s “dual magisteria” for the enlightenment of the audience and to the regret of Tippett.

  4. Posted April 15, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    Krauss gave an entertaining, thoughtful & informative physics talk at the physics department at Manchester University on Friday before going to QEDCon over the weekend. I’ve heard good things about many of the contributions there & was kicking myself when I found out about it a month or so ago as the tickets had long been sold out! 😦

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Yes, I had seen a video of this I believe and Krauss charmed her so much that if you look at her body language she is really taken with him. This is when I realized how charming Krauss can be!

  6. Posted April 15, 2013 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Amazing video! Thanks for sharing.

    Here are what the captions say in the behind-the-scenes video:

    Degree of slope: 12 degrees
    Number of block shapes tried: 24
    Number of blocks: 413
    Filming locations considered: 64
    Length of structure: 44 meters
    Number of times failed: 49

    • DrBrydon
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Cheers for that, Tim!

  7. steve oberski
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Bach and Rube Goldberg.

    Life just does not get any better than this.

    • Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Had they been paying attention, they would have gone with the Goldberg Variations rather than the Cantata 147….


      • Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink


        Yes, and some of those variations have a soprano voice that would really lend itself to this unorthodox treatment.

        But they would’ve lost recognizability. How many people know the Goldbergs?

        • Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          Come to think of it, quite a lot may recognize the aria, although they wouldn’t know what it really was or who wrote it.

          Fava beans, anyone? Chianti?

        • JBlilie
          Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

          I’m fairly sure “Jesu” is Bach’s most recognized piece and I’m sure that’s why they chose it. Not too long either (a plus for this treatment) 🙂

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

            I imagine the very regular rhythmic structure had something to do with it as well — just right for a ball bouncing down stairs.

            • peter
              Posted April 15, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

              I eagerly await the Mass in B minor, with the device starting near Everest’s summit, and ending at sea level. Perhaps Mahler’s 8th would impress even more.

              • Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

                Der Ring….


              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:01 pm | Permalink


                … done with a small cannonball and steel tubing for the xylophone? (I’m thinking something like Tubular Bells here…)

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      I disagree with the Rube Goldberg characterization. This is a precision instrument built of parts designed and engineered for this specific purpose — the polar opposite of a Rube Goldberg contraption.

      • steve oberski
        Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        Certainly wasn’t meant as an insult.

        If you look at some examples of working, real life Rube Goldberg devices you will see that the highest standards of engineering and manufacture go into them.

        For example, the band OK Go did a Rube Goldberg version of their song “This To Shall Pass”, a one shot sequence of the song being played in time to the actions of a giant Rube Goldberg machine built in a two-story warehouse from over 700 household objects, traversing an estimated half-mile course.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          Fair enough, but I don’t see 700 household objects here.

      • Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        This is purely my own perception, but it seems to me that the term has effectively broadened to include any device that is unnecessarily complicated, and achieves a simple, mundane goal.

        • JBlilie
          Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink


        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

          Even by that relaxed standard (which I think misses the essence of true Goldbergism), I’m not sure I would call this device unnecessarily complicated. On the contrary, it’s about as simple as an automated music-producing device can be, with a long array of very similar elements, just one moving part, and no power source other than gravity. Contrast that with the amount of machinery in a player piano or clockwork music box.

          • Posted April 15, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

            Yes, I suppose you’re right. Size was probably serving as an unwarranted proxy for complexity in my initial judgment. I also thought “you could just have a human play a normal xylophone.” But given automation, this is indeed very simple.

            And humans themselves are pretty complicated.

  8. Tardis_blue
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    I thought “what does this have to do with cell phones?” Then I realized I was watching the video on mine! And now I’m off to get a more traditional version of the song on YouTube for my kid to hear. 🙂

  9. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I find Krista Tippett rather indiscriminate- seeming to never encounter a religion she doesn’t like and overly optimistic about the compatibility of religion and science.

    That said, has she done things as sociologically skewed as Ecklund? (Maybe she has- I’m only marginally familiar with Tippett.) And I don’t find her unctious in the sense that William Lane Craig is unctious.

  10. Walt Jones
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    I listened to the show on the radio yesterday. Krauss kept trying to bring up religion, but Tippett redirected him until near the end – which was fine, because his explanations of physics and especially the Higgs boson were the clearest I’ve heard. Well worth the time to listen – even if you aren’t driving through Iowa.

  11. M Janello
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Here is a somewhat similar video, in which a rollerblader skates through a series of tuned wine bottles and plays some of Mozart’s G minor Symphony:

    Not quite so charming, I will admit.

    • SA Gould
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      But still amazing. I can’t even get toast to come out right.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      I agree, that was very nice, thanks. What they should try now is having multiple skaters, and doing a round!

  12. DrBrydon
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    How long are commercials in Japan?

    And also, do they have Mockingbirds there? A friend in Maryland said they had one in their backyard doing two different cell phone ring-tones. (In the past they’ve apparently had one doing a car alarm.) It would be an interesting inversion of Glass’s “4:33” if suddently a Mockingbird chimed in with Bach.

    • Old Rasputin
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Glass’s “4:33”, eh? What did he do, an arrangement of it in which the rests are rearranged into hundreds of tiny, repeating structures/cells?

      Actually, I can’t say I’m familiar with how Cage notated this piece in the first place. You see, I’m primarily a guitarist and keyboard works usually don’t translate very well to my instrument.

      • Old Rasputin
        Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

        Along the same lines…

        Bach’s “4:33” – reads the same backwards as forwards

        Mahler’s “4:33” – “1:14:33”

        And if Cage did it, (yes, I know) he would have to make it one long, sustained note to challenge our preconcieved notions of “4:33”.

      • DrBrydon
        Posted April 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

        D’oh! You got me. I should have said Cage. I didn’t have the CD handy…. 😉

      • Posted April 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        Although the premier was given by a pianist, I think the piece is officially “for any instrument”.

        with just a little practice, the techniques required should be easily accommodated by the guitar.

      • jwthomas
        Posted April 16, 2013 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        I actually saw Cage perform 4’33” in a recital at U C Santa Barbara back in the day. He spread out a score and then hovered hands poised over the piano for the required time. The “score” and related images are here:

    • JBlilie
      Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      I stayed at a flat in southern California once that had a resident mockingbird. Every morning (too early!) it would rise and then go through its full (apparently) repertoire of other birds’ calls. It was truly astonishing. And beautiful.

      I haven’t looked into it: I wonder what the evolutionary advantage of the mocking behavior is? Or maybe (like our turning the intentional stance into religion) simply a useful capability run amock?

  13. denniskeane
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Two things

    – I had to look up unctuous.
    – I love how excited Krauss gets when he starts talking about physics and the origins project.

  14. Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    The tree top xylophone is indeed amazing, I wonder what JS Bach would have made of it? He surely would be gratified that his music still has so much influence, so long after his death. The UK pop charts are littered with songs that use his melodies, off the top of my head, Lover’s Concerto, Whiter Shade of Pale, Lady Linda and a couple of rocked up versions of the D minor Toccata and Fugue.

    One of my favorite videos is a Bach style piano arrangement of the Lady Gaga song Bad Romance with scrolling music manuscript. I can’t post a link because they embed automatically and cause problems. Just go to YouTube and search ‘Lady Gaga Fugue’.

  15. Kurt Helf
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I first heard her show when she interviewed a secular Buddhist and I enjoyed it very much. However, it’s quite obvious she’s in the Elaine Ecklund, Barbara Bradley-Hagerty vein and so I try to listen to the ‘casts in which she interviews scientists. I recommend these recent shows: “Whale Songs and Elephant Loves” (there’s some good bits in this one about animal consciousness), “On Exoplanets and Love: Natalie Batalha on Science That Connects Us to One Another”, and “Opening to Our Lives: Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Science of Mindfulness”.

  16. Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    On being? I’d rather just be me.

  17. JBlilie
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    Her show used to be called “On Faith” so you know where she’s coming from. I can no longer stand to listen to her shows. When I still had a soft spot for religion (before I read Dawkins’ TGD) I used to listen regularly.

    I think the “Being” part is to try to turn it into a compatibilist love-fest: Look, religion and science getting along so nicely.

    Same bucket as Bradley-Haggerty, who I find seriously dishonest when dealing with atheists.

  18. Sam Chapman
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    Ugh! I acquired XM radio just so I wouldn’t have to listen to Krista Tippett on the way home from work Sunday mornings. After 12 hours slinging bedpans and poking patients with various needles and tubes, the last thing I wanted to hear was pandering to various religious characters. I never heard any interviews of scientists, likely because I never gave her more than a second listening.

  19. Michael Day
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Tippett and Krauss is my favorite country band.

  20. Thanny
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    By a harmonious coincidence, in the part of the video where they show a deer running, I caught movement out of the side of my eye which turned out to be a deer in my yard. Definitely added to the experience for me.

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