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Surreal, silent raves sweeping the world

They're called "flash mobs," and they started popping up in the U.S. a few years ago. Coordinated via the internet, large groups converge at a particular place, where they do ... something. It almost doesn't matter what; as evidenced by the agendas of a few early flash mobs:

"More than one hundred people converged upon the ninth floor rug department of Macy's department store, gathering around one particular very expensive rug. Anyone approached by a sales assistant was advised to say that the gatherers lived together in a warehouse on the outskirts of New York, that they were shopping for a Love Rug, and that they made all their purchase decisions as a group."

"About 200 people flooded the lobby and mezzanine of the Hyatt hotel in synchronized applause for about fifteen seconds."

Public pillow fights have also been arranged, as described right here on this blog. On Wednesday, however, flash mob history was made in London's Victoria Station. Approximately 4,000 "mobbers" jammed the station and, at exactly 6:53pm, whipped out iPods and began dancing to their own music, in what can only be described as a massive, silent and incredibly surreal rave. To get the full effect, check out this video:

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Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice
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Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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