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Ideas

BRAINIAC

Prison art, made from bedsheets

And other recent highlights from the Ideas blog.

A gargantuan mural created by former federal prisoner Jesse Krimes.

A gargantuan mural created by former federal prisoner Jesse Krimes.

Big projects happen little by little in prison—if you dig a tunnel, you need to bring the dirt into the yard one pocketful at a time. The same idea applies to a gargantuan mural created by former federal prisoner Jesse Krimes. In 2009 Krimes was sentenced to 70 months at a medium-security prison in Butner, N.C., after being caught with 140 grams of cocaine. During his prison stay, Krimes created “Apokaluptein:16389067,” a mural made from contraband bedsheets, images from The New York Times, and prison-issue hair gel.

Krimes used the hair gel to transpose the Times images onto the sheets, so that they appear reversed and take on a more metaphorical, painterly quality.

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Krimes told the website Prison Photography that “Apokaluptein:16389067”—which combines the Greek word “apokalupsis,” meaning “to reveal,” with Krimes’s Federal Bureau of Prisons identification number—is a “depiction of represented reality as it exists in its mediated form, within the fabric of the prison.” The mural is made from 39 panels arranged in three rows: the top row is ethereal, made from images from the Travel section, and beneath it Krimes arranged transposed images from news coverage of natural disasters and manmade atrocities like Sandy Hook. Krimes shipped the panels home, one at a time, and only saw the assembled work after he was released from jail.

The sweet music of ‘shoebox’ concert halls

Boston Symphony Hall has been regarded as an acoustic marvel since it opened in 1900. The building’s long, rectangular shape—or “shoebox” design—creates an immersive sound experience from any seat in the house, and more than 100 years on, it’s still regarded as one of the top concert halls in the world.

Vast amounts of attention are lavished on acoustic design of new concert halls, often without improving on this simple shape. What is it about a shoebox design that makes for such good listening? A paper published earlier this year in the journal PNAS offers an answer.

The authors, led by Jukka Patynen of Aalto University in Finland, ran acoustic tests in 10 European concert halls. The concert halls had different designs—some fan-shaped, others vineyard-shaped, and a few shoebox-shaped. The authors positioned microphone-equipped mannequins around the concert halls and recorded the sound levels that reached their “ears.” They found that shoebox halls did a better job conveying sound from the orchestra to the ears, especially high-frequency sounds played loudly.

The authors explain that the shoebox advantage owes to the fact that narrow rectangular concert halls are very good at reflecting sound laterally—as you’re facing the orchestra, sound bounces off the side walls straight into your ears, which of course is just where you want it. In an e-mail, Patynen explained that human hearing provides “a slight boost to sound arriving from the sides at the high frequencies, where[in] lies the brilliance of the full orchestra.”

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.

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