An Engineer's Literary Notebook

Exploring the real and surreal connections between poetry and engineering

The Many Colors of Noise

Posted by xbanguyen on January 17, 2010

If I could see intangible things in colors, Wednesday would be green, time would be pulsing silver, the letter A a crisp yellow.  In an earlier paper I went so far as declaring that “regret appears purple, yearning taupe, denial blue …”  But that was last year and the writing did serve its purpose.  Tonight I am thinking about violet and how a phrase about a dusky violet unfurling its petals that has lain dormant since high school reappeared in my mind as I read these lines of Neruda

Oh love, oh mad light-beam, threat of violet,

you visit me, and climb, by your cool stairway

the tower that time has crowned with mist,

the ashen walls of an enclosed heart.

Towers and caves appear frequently in Neruda’s poetry, often figuratively for the many chambers of that mysterious and volatile organ. In another poem, XXII, of the Stones of the Sky collection, he wrote

I entered the amethyst grotto:

I left my blood among purple thorns:

I changed skin, wine, outlook”:

ever since. Violets hurt me.

One can come up with several scenarios explaining the last sentence if the desire to analyze persists.  At this moment, I am thankful that the image of violets growing in the amethyst grotto delights my senses especially the hardness of the quartz and the softness of the flowers suffusing with the sweet scent in the gentle  gloaming inside the grotto.   As it is late on a Saturday night, I ask your indulgence on  my wanton use of adjectives. I did warn you that I fall for words easily, a handicap at times especially when writing technical documents.  But there are other compensations.

In engineering, colors are used to describe other intangible and invisible entities such as noise.   Electrically speaking, noise is a random signal.  Its power distribution in the frequency spectrum is classified in colors: white noise has a flat frequency, pink noise is flat in log space, red noise is inversely proportional to frequency and azure noise’s power increases with increasing frequency.  It is a pleasure to come across the word azure in this context.  Noise is perhaps absent in Neruda’s grotto, saved for the soft whisper of violet petals  falling from Persephone’s gathered skirt as she ran in vain away from the Prince of the Underworld.

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Poetry in Engineering?

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