All-math dream band


I’m not going to spend this beautiful spring Sunday indoors but I did want to share this morning’s sudden realization.  An all-math dream band is spontaneously and unconsciously taking shape in the media.  When in 2008 I saw the musician Ryoji Ikeda drop to his knees in front of Jean-Pierre Serre and cry out “For me you are a rock star!” I thought it was sufficiently unusual to be tucked away in my memory for safekeeping.  The moment was reported in Chapter 6 of MWA and would have been recorded for posterity if it had happened a year later, when I started carrying a cell phone at all times.  Now, of course, we have billionaires turning mathematicians into rock stars at the rate of at least one per year, but the more valuable information is that in some cases we are learning just which mathematician is which rock star.  More than three years ago, Telerama revealed that Cédric Villani was “the Lady Gaga of mathematics,” a fact duly reported last month in the New Yorker.  And now it turns out that John Conway is Mick Jagger, all rolled up somehow with Archimedes, Salvador Dalí, and Richard Feynman.

That’s a good start, but somewhat unbalanced with two lead vocalists.  Lady Gaga plays piano, like Villani, so we’re just two or three instruments short.  The requirement seems to be that the mathematician has to be the subject or author of a recent book.  You can learn a lot about Jordan Ellenberg on the internet — just to pick one likely candidate — but not what instrument he plays.  Anonymous tips welcome.

(More information about the Shimura curves can be found at their blog.)


10 thoughts on “All-math dream band

  1. JSE

    I play guitar, to an extent, though ever since I broke my elbow a few years back it’s a lot easier for me to play something with a smaller neck, like a ukulele. Do you have an opening in that department?

    If Conway is Feynman as well as Jagger, he can, of course, play bongos while he sings. Perhaps he is actually Phil Collins.


    1. mathematicswithoutapologies Post author

      Are you saying you want to be Tiny Tim? That might work.

      As for Shimura curves, I used my underrated detective skills to ferret out the truth within two days of seeing the album in 2008. Here is the message I sent to the responsible party:

      You were indeed my prime suspect after [name redacted]. Shimura turns
      80 in a few years and I was thinking the band might be invited to the
      ceremony, if there is one, but it would be simpler just to ask them to
      send him a CD with the poster artwork. Best not to mention any
      other mathematicians’ names.

      But I don’t know whether or not Shimura ever got the CD.


  2. JSE

    By the way, the rumor is that Shimura Curves are in fact named after the Ph.D. thesis of someone you and I both know. Name released by request and under cover of darkness.


    1. mathematicswithoutapologies Post author

      I haven’t seen the installation, so I shouldn’t comment. I did write a critical review of an exhibition at the Fondation Cartier that brought together art and mathematics (there’s a link to it on the blog’s home page) but the grounds of my criticism are quite different. If the installation is judged valid as art, then the supposed connection to science is irrelevant. There are also issues of institutional or private sponsorship, but those aren’t raised in the article.

      The chapter in which I described Ikeda’s reaction to Serre was primarily about images of mathematics in the arts. I studiously refrained from artistic value judgments in that chapter, because the fact that artists (including a fashion designer) choose to represent and interact with mathematics is noteworthy in its own right.


      1. Trent K

        Speaking as someone equally interested in math and fashion, the Thurston-Miyake collaboration was unfortunately pretty disappointing. However,
        I do think it would be interesting to have a mathematician and fashion designer discuss the role of hidden details in their respective disciplines, a la this proust quote:
        “I would discover in the blouse beneath it a thousand details of execution which had had every chance of remaining there unperceived, like those parts of an orchestral score to which the composer has devoted infinite labour albeit they may never reach the ears of the public: or in the sleeves of the jacket that lay folded across my arm I would see, I would drink in slowly, for my own pleasure or from affection for its wearer, some exquisite detail, a deliciously tinted strip, a lining of mauve satinette which, ordinarily concealed from every eye, was yet just as delicately fashioned as the outer parts, like those gothic carvings on a cathedral, hidden on the inside of a balustrade eighty feet from the ground, as perfect as are the bas-reliefs over the main porch, and yet never seen by any living man until, happening to pass that way upon his travels, an artist obtains leave to climb up there among them, to stroll in the open air, sweeping the whole town with a comprehensive gaze, between the soaring towers.”.
        One of my favorite qualities in fashion is something I like to call “ancient-futurism” – where you can’t tell whether something is from the distant past or future. InAisce ( eg ) and Rick Owens ( lots of looks from these two collections: , his furniture collection ) exemplify this quality, as does the platonic sculptor Constantin Brancusi ( ). What is more futuristic than advanced mathematics and what is more primordial*?
        *primordial both epistemologically (a la Plato’s anamnesis and the slave boy in the Meno learning geometry) and ontologically (insofar as, for some (most?) mathematical platonists, mathematics existed “before the big bang”).
        Fashion & beauty can – following Miklos Szentkuthy* – function as “lures” leading one to something strange and abstract, somewhat as enigmatic particular things can function as lures to new theoretical frameworks which are required to cognize them.
        *”A fair woman (do excuse me, if I expound at length; that is an intolerable and useful byproduct of my craft) is a person who inspires me to invent a special anatomy that I then, once I have worked them out in the workshop of my intellectual and logical desires, relate back to the woman, & I can spread it over her like a sleeping jacket of airy weave but embroidered with patterns of pedantic symmetry. Their true beauty is not in them but in the ability they have to force one to live through and create an unreal anatomic vision; or to put it briefly & laconically for you – female beauty lies in the possibility that on glimpsing it we shall immediately be unfaithful to her for the sake of an unreal, strange, hallucinated woman.”


  3. TG

    The rumours about the origin of the band name “Shimura Curves” are true.

    Ikeda – I have no thoughts about the work as a reaction to CERN, but it’s a great installation as a piece of art.


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