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Robert Schneider Hits High Note at MathFest 2007

August 20, 2007

"Indie rocker mixes math with music" was the headline in a San Jose Mercury News story about Robert Schneider, a presenter at MAA's MathFest in early August. Singer, composer, and producer Schneider, who leads the indie-pop group The Apples in Stereo, "wows pros in the field with new notes scale," the article's subhead exclaimed.

It had happened because Schneider's manager, Dan Efram, thought the math angle would attract attention to his client's work. While it was "very unusual," said MAA Associate Executive Director Michael Pearson, to have an amateur address a gathering of professional mathematicians, the result was more than satisfactory.

"In my entire life, I've talked to three people about math prior to today," Schneider said. "This is something I can't explain to one other friend of mine." But dozens of mathematicians, including MAA President Joe Gallian, were excited by Schneider's work and interest in mathematics. "I thought he was fascinating," said Carolyn Yackel of Mercer University in Macon, Ga. "It was so fun to see how a non-mathematician goes about learning math."

It wasn't until he was nearly 30, the singer recalled, that a diagram showing Ohm's law — the equation that describes the relationship among voltage, current, and resistance — triggered a "mystical feeling" in him. "It blew my mind," he said, that "algebraic manipulation actually had a real-world analogy that was in my life."

Schneider completed two calculus classes and two physics classes while working on his latest CD, "New Magnetic Wonder," which combines his feelings for mathematics and music. Two short tracks were composed using his new scale, which is based on natural logarithms. The intervals between notes shrink as you go up the scale, and only two of the notes are familiar pitches. The result is a weird sound that Schneider compares to "alien classical music."

The CD's features include information about the new scale and allows fans to make their own music with it.

Source: San Jose Mercury News, Aug. 6, 2007.

Start Date: 
Monday, August 20, 2007