Galavazi Geluid


Blogs from my Beagle voyage

In search of Darwin - part 2

My travels on the Beagle, continued

Grandmother Hypothesis - natural selection isn't a fairytale

I see a wolf in bed wearing a cap edged with white lace. What big ears you have! I see an apple pie, fresh out of the oven, the dough has risen too much in places, golden in colour, the raisins soaked in rum. Or donuts with raisins and candied peel on a plate, warming on the stove, covered with a tea-towel. Don’t look, it’s a surprise! I see the lovely, wrinkled hands of my grandmother looking in her purse for a coin. Or the same hands that knit a sweater with an intricate pattern, crocheting a pan holder or by embroidering a beautiful painting as if by magic. With unbelievable precision and patience.
Grandma is never too tired to play shop, cards, or a game of marbles. My grandmother, the mother of my mother, is a real grandmother!
In evolutionary science value is also assigned to a grandma. (Biologically, women have pretty much had it after their 45th year. Let me qualify that a bit: to get pregnant after your 45th birthday, carry the baby for nine months and then to look after the child for a further 15 years is, I would suggest, an inhuman-task and the survival chances for the child are not good, especially as the probability that the mother will survive is considerably less.
For women above a certain age it’s more worthwhile to invest in the grandchildren than in oneself.)

Research has shown that children who grow up in the presence of the mother’s mother have a better chance of survival. In our society that’s no longer very relevant because almost every baby survives, even without the presence of their mothers,so to speak (eg incubators).

Historically, however, it is a fact: in the 19th century, for example, many more babies died than now – except when they grew up in the presence of mothers and mothers of mothers.

Quite recently, research done in Africa, I believe in Ghana, showed that the grandmother hypothesis still appears to be applicable: child mortality reduces when the mother of the mother helps with the care..
If the father’s mother helps then the hypothesis doesn’t work and this can be explained by natural selection: the mother of the mother can be sure that her own genes are being passed on to the offspring.
The mother of the father has to wait and see, she is never sure that the grandchildren will actually have her son’s genes!

How to attract a partner - Part 1

In order to make the Beagle episode about natural and sexual selection visually interesting and to liven it up a bit, I and the rest of the (male) crew follow a course on how to attract women. In Buenos Aires. “How do you get a man into bed” and the advanced course “How do you keep him there?” The chat-up course for men is now behind us. Hardly worth mentioning, except that that course was given by two boys who call themselves magicians in their daily lives. I found both of them quite unattractive and all the antics they taught their students on how to get a woman in to bed didn’t alter my opinion of them..
The course for women, however, is hilarious. Especially since I would describe the course leader Paula as hysterical. For me it all started with the location.
In a busy, narrow dark street with tall buildings, hiding behind a high door with an impressive grille, a beautiful antique wooden staircase curves elegantly up to the first floor. Paula, a common sort of woman, with red lipstick and chewing gum, greets us with a verbal overload. She’s wearing cut off jeans jeans topped by a black strapless tank-top which she continually has to hoist up in order to hide her breasts (or perhaps not?). We find ourselves in a mirrored ballet hall.
Without thinking I find myself searching for the exercise bar and ballet shoes lying around. Hmm, this must be the modern-ballet or jazz ballet department. At 8 o’clock sharp the course starts. Paula, who apparently is well known among Argentines as the woman you teaches the best way to blow men and how to masturbate, enjoys her popularity. I’m guessing a bit, but I am not exaggerating when I say that 50 wildly enthusiastic women are seated, cackling on the parquet floor.
You won’t find that in the Netherlands. If you get 50 women together, they’ll listen expectantly and somewhat cynically. Reactions usually consist mostly of contradiction. Thankfully the Argentines are very different.
I look around, amused, and see women ranging in age from 20 to 65. All single. What are these ladies doing here? Each and every one looks great! Paula chats and chirps, and the ladies laugh in agreement. Everything that’s being said applies to young and old, pretty and prettier. It’s about the do’s and don’ts towards men, about how you should behave. Make sure you’re not boring but that you showcase yourself, open your mind, remember that men are afraid of women. A few tips about body language and all the rest of that familiar tune. Personal anecdotes from the audience add to the general laughter. It is a chicken coop with a vengeance.
My ears are ringing. The atmosphere is incredibly good. 

Paula is great. 

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

How to attract a partner - Part 2: quite a technical feat

For anyone interested, here’s a glimpse behind the scenes of the Beagle TV recordings. For me as sound technician the “chatting-up course” was a bit like a high-school assignment!
The assignment: filming a chatting-up course for women.
 – 3 main characters
 – 50 extras.
The situation: an echoing ballet hall with two mirrored walls.
Handicap: simultaneous translation spanish-english and a documentary situation.
In other words do everything yourself, with limited resources.
Because the hall echoes so badly, which is awful for recording speech, the main characters in our story all get their own transmitters (+ microphones). In this case that’s Dirk, the presenter, Bram Buunk, the host of the episode and Paula, the course leader. (= 3 receivers connected to my mixer) Paula speaks Spanish, Dirk and Bram will speak English. To enable us to follow what’s going on (the director, the cameraman and later in the assembly, the editor) there’s a simultaneous interpreter.
I position the interpreter in the hallway, because I don’t want to hear him along with all the other sounds. So the interpreter gets a receiver with an earpiece. (4th station, connected to my “mixer” that only transmits the sounds of Paula and the students, because they only speak spanish) The interpreter also gets his own transmitter with microphone, otherwise we can’t hear his translation (= 4th receiver connected to my mixer). The director, Dirk and Bram all get a receiver with an earpiece so they all hear the interpreter’s translation (simultaneously!). I also record the interpreter, on a separate track, on the camera disc. (“tape”). Joost also gets an earpiece, which he plugs into the camera, so he can hear the interpreter and decide who to shoot and when.
The fact that this works flawlessly is quite a technical achievement in itself.
The real secret lies in good equipment, in our case supplied by the Noyz Boyz. 3 Audio Limited various transmitters / receivers, a single transmitter Audio Limited with 3 receivers, a scanner, a Sony transmitter and receiver, a heap of Sancen transmitter microphones, a pile of earphones (which also look nice). It should sound good, it should also transmit and receive flawlessly without interfering with each other, so no tsssjjj, zzzjjjt, kgkgkgkgkggggg. And that all in a strange country where different (available) frequencies used than in the Netherlands.
Then you need a device that streamlines all the desired input and output dialogue. A mixer. A very advanced mixer, with digital Out (AES / EBU) so I can exploit all four audio tracks on the disc camera XDcamHD (ie digital video). Behold, the Aaton Cantar! A 6-track hard disc recorder (because were so pressed for time in the assembly we don’t use the 6 tracks) where, thanks to the 9 inputs, I can really play around. After that I still have to take track policy into account.
On track 1, the pole ie what anyone says, and tonight that’s a lot of people! On track 2, the S of the stereo microphone, but this time the stereo is sacrificed to the diversity of cackling going on. Track 2 is allocated to Paula, who will do most of the talking in this scene. Then on track 3 I put Dirk and Bram. I have no idea when they are going to say anything. It is certain, however, that they will say something. On track 4, the interpreter.
Its a tiring evening for everyone. The decibels that women generate are inherently exhausting.

The interpreter is stressed out and paces up and down.

The production assistant gives him water just like a marathon runner gets handed refreshments.

He translates non-stop, without a hitch, everything cackled in Spanish into coherent English sentences. Joost peers through his viewfinder and tries to distinguish the relevant comments from the irrelevant and even catches the person in question in an appropriate pose. My eyes and ears work overtime. I keep an eye on the levels of the tracks, the sound quality on all microphones, that everything is intelligible, that nothing is causing interference and I try to be on time with the pole when a student speaks. Whether in the picture or not in the picture depends on who I pole and thus who gets translated … At the same time listening to the Spanish, which I understand but is hard to follow at this speed and in English, which allows me to follow the whole story. I find it all quite taxing. This technique of filming this evening is an art way beyond the art of chatting-up.

The Andes are different - a walk through history

I’m on an expedition to the Andes with Robbert Dijkgraaf and Sarah Darwin. Also present are Remco Bikkers, cameraman, Pablo Santiago Apiolazza, interpreter (from the chatting-up course in Buenos Aires), Laura Stek who’s usually on the radio, driver Manu who made himself indispensable and legendary this week (see video, below) and Ijsbrand van Veelen, besides being director is also a commendable tour guide with such a large group..
The expedition starts in Chile and we travel in two cars to Uspallata, a village on the Argentine side of the Andes, at 2500 meters altitude. (The location for the filming of 1997 film “7 Years in Tibet”). Driving, filming and getting our passports stamped at the border takes over 14 hours. As we get deeper (ie higher) into the Andes I am less and less able to express my impressions in words.
Normally I’m not that wild about mountain scenery. I much prefer deserts or the sea. Or to put it simply, I like horizons. Mountains oppress me. They are so big and massive and overwhelming. I find it difficult to be “friends” with them. I can enjoy the views, the fresh air, I can enjoy the knowledge that tectonic plates have collided to form them and I have a lot of respect for that fact but after a few days I get the jitters and I yearn for blue water: no more visual violence on my retina but peace: the horizon.
After this week in the Andes, everything is different: The Andes have bitten me. And they will not let me go. Robbert Dijkgraaf puts it beautifully: in the Andes it’s like walking through a history book. You walk through the countryside and you keep turning over pages. You need to be able to read the book, you just need the knowledge to see what you see.
There are rocks with drawings from the Incas: 10,000 years old. Wind and weather, year in and year out, they endure everything and the drawings still stand proudly in the rocks. (Wonderful. We’re really irritated by the graffiti of mindless idiots who found it necessary to scrawl IRIS FOR EVER. How will people in 10,000 years from now think about us? Or, what did people think of these drawings 10,000 years ago? What does one thing mean and what does the other?)
Don Pollo, a lively old boy of 72 and former police officer, shows us around the fossilised forest. You have to look carefully, but yes, that circle of stone does indeed resemble a tree-trunk that’s been sawn through. Years ago the tree was still standing and yup, there’s the rest. Don Pollo sits down on it for the photo. 200 million years old. It beginning to get burning hot. The sun is high in the sky, the light is incredibly bright, it’s very hot and there’s a strong wind blowing. 200 million years. There was a forest here even then. And it was pushed up to an altitude of 2500 meters.
I wonder if it can get any crazier. The answer is a resounding “YES”. We leave the car beside some incredible rock formations that seem to have been tipped over. Robbert and Sarah eagerly clamber up the rocks. The Andes provide the commentary.
I hear fragments of rock and great slabs slipping and clattering with frightening noises.
We’re at over 3500 meters altitude and Robbert calls out exuberantly: Sarah, I’m on the beach! I look up and see the good man, President of the Dutch Academy of Science, balanced on a ledge. Remco and I have no choice but to climb like synchronized swimmers up this Andean pillar. Damn: a ribbed ocean floor, complete with those poo-like heaps: fossilised ocean worms, at 3500 meters altitude! And not only that, the ocean bottom has been tilted on its side!
What a force! What unlikely dynamics in such a seemingly tranquil area!
I’m in the middle of the period when the Andes were created, the world of 400 million years ago!

Back to the Big Bang - The Andes time line

We’re standing on a gravel road. Right in the middle of the Argentine Andes. Behind us lies the Uspallata valley. Ahead lie mountains in shades of colours that any paint specialist could learn something from. Different shapes and structures are just as numerous and exceed anyone’s imagination. If you were to paint it, you wouldn’t believe it. As far as I can see, there are limitless walls of decor. In the far distance the snow covered tops of the Andes stand proud of the rest. It’s hot. The sun is low. It’s quiet. Sometimes the wind blows and suddenly it’s dusty and the air is hazy..
Grrrrrk. Robbert Dijkgraaf draws a line with his foot. Not the starting line of a race, I hope. The line represents for Today.
Grrrrrk. Another line in the sand. About half an inch from today. That’s 10,000 years ago declares Robbert, grinning. About the time when humans first arrived in the Andes. About the time of the rock-paintings. On this scale 1 step is equivalent to 1 million years. Robbert beams, he makes a second step. “The origin of man”.
Then he takes great strides with his long legs and he counts out loud: 3, 4, 5 … at 60 he calls out laughing: I’m now passing the extinction of the dinosaurs! 61, 62, 63, with 7-league boots he goes back in time. I run along and look back at the fossil forest, the ocean floor, 200 million years, 400 million years. Robbert’s enjoying it. Another 14 kilometers and we are at the Big Bang!