For thousands of years, people have been making music: banging, blowing, bowing, and strumming away as soloists or in groups. With music being an integral part of culture, it is not hard to imagine that the invention and evolution of various musical instruments is a key indicator of human ingenuity. Each instrument is unique, its physical and sonic characteristics often emblematic of the culture from which it emanates.
Wolfram|Alpha now provides a significant amount of information about a myriad of musical instruments. Ask Wolfram|Alpha about any set of instruments to get a side-by-side comparison of parameters and characteristics.
For many instruments, you will notice two pods for range: “Written range” and “Sounding range”. This is because in standard music notation, some instruments are written differently than they sound; these are called transposing instruments. In many ways, it is a terribly confusing notion. A score displays a certain pitch, but the pitch the instrument produces may be higher or lower. Wolfram|Alpha illustrates this difference by displaying the pitch range (along with the corresponding frequencies and keys on a piano keyboard) for how the instrument is written as well as how it sounds. For example, the flute is a non-transposing instrument and is “written as sounds”. However, its close cousin, the alto flute, sounds a perfect fourth lower than written. Still unclear? Click the “play alto flute range notes” in the written range and sounding range pods to hear the difference. Or, you can ask Wolfram|Alpha to give you the interval between the bottom note of the written range and the corresponding sounding note by querying “interval of C4 and G3“.
From gathering around the family radio to listen to “The War of the Worlds” broadcast in 1938 to watching the local weather forecast on your 52-inch plasma TV, wireless transmission has been a primary source of information, communication, and entertainment for the past century. Today, thousands of radio and television stations are broadcasting around the world. Beyond your favorite songs, news broadcasts, and shows, how much do you know about the broadcast stations you listen to and watch? The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a large amount of information on the radio and television stations broadcasting in the U.S. as well as a number of stations in other countries in the Western Hemisphere, and recently this data was added to Wolfram|Alpha.
Try out the call sign for your favorite radio station. You might be interested to know who holds the license for that station or find out that it’s being broadcast from that antenna you drive by on your way to work. The local map not only shows you the location of the antenna, but is also zoomed in to show the approximate listening area. How tall is that antenna? Wolfram|Alpha has the answer, as well as a lot of other technical details about the station antenna.
On a road trip and stumble upon an interesting AM station broadcasting on 1010 kilohertz? You don’t need to know the call sign to get the information. Try “1010 am radio”, and Wolfram|Alpha will give you the information for the station broadcasting on that frequency closest to you. If it’s a long road trip, you might find a couple stations broadcasting on the same frequency along the way. All the stations broadcasting on 1010 kilohertz are shown, along with their locations and distances from you. More »