Ancestral Signals – Great Vibes from my Great Grandfather?


Covid-19 days can be long days and recently I’ve found myself spending more time on the web than usual. Churchgoing is out. And that used to punctuate the middle of my day nicely.

While feeling the loss of not receiving the Eucharist, I also enjoy not feeling pressured to finish up my blogging in time to make the 12:10 Mass.

Everything is out of whack. I was out shopping last night – rather this morning – at 4:30 am, hoping to minimize proximity. Great plan but my favorite 24-hour supermarket changed its hours to daytime only. Luckily a 24-hour pharmacy was open.

Feeling like I’m in a war zone against an invisible enemy, it wasn’t the happiest time of my life. But we must carry on. For me, pursuing my interests, wherever they take me, is helping a lot.

Hopeful by Reah Sandberg via Flickr

My Story

Yesterday I was blogging about my great grandfather, William James Loudon (1860-1951) and followed some links to one of his publications. I knew he was a naturalist and a scientist, but I had no idea he was a physics professor. Well, maybe I did but there are several Loudons in my ancestry so I tend to confuse their bios a bit.

I only met one, Professor Tom Loudon, as a boy. He coached the Canadian Olympic rowing team in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games.

James Loudon (1841-1916) was the President of the University of Toronto well before I was born.

Likewise, my GGF William James Loudon was a prof. at U. of T. and penned a pretty impressive textbook on physics with a certain Sir John Cunningham McLennan. I found it today at the Internet Archive and suddenly had one of those “old-time feelings” as Hank Williams once sang.

Let me explain.

The chapter that captivated me most was about waveforms and an early music synthesizer devised by the German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. This device wasn’t meant for music-making so much as for analyzing sound waves. But it represents the early beginnings which Moog and all the others followed.

Right now I’m working on a little digital instrumental (see below). Structurally, it resembles standing waves and arpeggios. Very mathematical stuff that I’ll probably use as a soundtrack for a podcast.

It seemed a funny coincidence that I was working on this rather ‘mathematical’ piece earlier the same day in which I discovered this book co-authored by my great grandfather:

I must have inherited the love of abstract symmetry from him.

An early audio synthesizer explained by Great ‘Grampa’ Loudon and Sir John McLennan

Click on image for full-size

A modern recreation of the early synthesizer at the University of Toronto

And a related page Helmholtz Sound Synthesiser. Max Kohl. Germany, 1905 – 120 Years of Electronic Music

A demo track of the unfinished tune I’m working on

Bottom line?

Sometimes it seems that life is just one big ongoing songline. And no matter how hard things can get, we always have the universal rhythm to fall back on.

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