I was home sick yesterday. So annoying. Getting up and doing something in the darkroom was out of the question. I had already spent three feverish hours the day before, confusedly producing unspeakable garbage. I decided that if I was going to produce any more, at least it must be harmlessly and inexpensively perpetrated on the computer, in the comfort of this chair by the fire, with the cat on my lap.

Well, for one thing, my child (seven years old) walks around singing Tom Lehrer songs. He’s a great fan of Poisoning Pigeons in the Park (awesome) and The Masochism Tango (awesome?). He also likes The Elements, but the words are a bit harder to master. Some weeks ago he began by singing, “There’s arsenic, aluminum, selenium, and bubble gum!”, and his interest (and accuracy) has only grown since then. I can hear him in the other room when he sings about thulium and thallium, or gold and protactinium. It warms the heart on these cold winter days.

And as for me, well, at my age, I still don’t know the lyrics for a song I’ve loved since I was not much older than he. When I was a kid, my best friend Steven and I even went trick-or-treating at the Tom Lehrer’s house. (Lehrer has Steven’s neighbor.) I remember how we stood dumb on his front porch when the Great Man opened the door, so in awe were we of this genius whose records we listened to over and over and over, lying on the floor in front of the record player, surrounded by legos and mineral specimens. I remember him just looking at us, smiling through his thick black glasses, while we stood there, clutching our halloween bags, wanting to say something, but unable to speak. He was just too awesome, in any sense of the word you like.

So there it is. Clearly, we need a way to learn the Elements song. So here’s my feeble attempt: The Elements

It plays Sir Arthur Sullivan’s music while flashing Tom Lehrer’s lyrics and highlighting the elements in the periodic table as they are mentioned. It looks like this as you go:

... and curium

For pedagogical purposes, you can use the following key controls:

  • Left arrow: Back up a bit
  • Right arrow: Go forward a bit
  • Up arrow: Go faster!
  • Down arrow: Go slower. Oh well.
  • Space bar: pause to breathe / resume the madness

This was my first try at in-browser audio, which I’ve been neglecting for way too long. I found the brilliant supersynth “game”, from which I have cribbed unapologetically.

The core of the program uses audiolib.js and music.js.