Music Machines | part one

The design as artwork and intellectual challenge

July 2011, Laguna Seca. The dream of an Italian motorbike, champion of the word, ridden by the Italian champion par excellence, seems to vanish in the sand. Nevertheless, if you are suffering for the future of Ducati, the rider Rossi and the Italian motorcycling, you can sigh with relief. Men made the engines and there are men in this story who will show you what they are made of.


Let us take a step back. July 15, 2003, Montmelò, Barcelona. The shout is “Loris, Loris!” the comment is “too happy, I’m too happy!”. You do not know if sweat or tears are running down the face of Corrado Cecchinelli, Technical Director of the Ducati Moto GP Team. He adds: “A technician should not cry, but…”. Why on earth not crying, when a (racing) engine needs more blood, passion, work, study and tears than oil, gas and special alloys? When in the global village, the latest victory of an Italian riding a red Italian bike hits the headlines, the word “Italian” makes sense again.


A hero not very tall, Loris Capirossi, just 5,25 feet. He is not in the team of the Honda strong men. Valentino made a mistake, but he had to. Capirossi rides like a devil, like a redskin chief (his name means red heads). He is not elegant, nor clean. In every curve, he can make dance a tiger with a speed of 328 kmh. Twenty-seven years before, go by in an instant. It was Agostini. It was a MV Agusta. Now is Loris with the Desmosedici. Italians are back again.


Why back again? After all, the paddock was and is packed with Italians. Max Biaggi, Valentino Rossi, Melandri and many others. Maybe it is not enough for the people on the other side of the paper, TV or PC. They say it all along, because of the Ferrari. We support the machines, not the drivers. Nearly Italian, Schumacher spoke just few words in our language, but he won seven titles. Two with a car made in Treviso and five with a car made in Maranello. At the time of his victories with the Ferrari, everybody considered him a real Italian. More than Trulli, driving a French car, or Fisichella, driving an English one.


The incomprehension increases between people who “get” the cars and all the rest. For these other people it is not about sport. It is only people driving their cars and the cars are not all the same. It is like finding a trick in this story. Yes, there is one and very simple too. Lewis and Bolt have rippling muscles. They run knowing that the eyes of the world will look at them in wonder. They were born with those muscles. And they have worked on them. So much that you would not believe it. The formula is known: talent and sacrifice as main ingredients. Its name is sport: the nowadays epic. Struggles between titans and heroes: in only one day, maybe.


Here is a piece of news: the formula is the same for engines. Italians are back again and will be back again because the man that designed the engine of the Desmosedici is Filippo Preziosi (fig. 1). He has the talent in his blood. He was born with it. He has worked on it. So much that you would not believe it. The fact is that the talent of the project is “abstract” and needs extreme neural nets, talented and well-trained nets. It needs them more than the rippling muscles.


He had been the Ducati Corse Technical Director since 1999. In 2000, he had a bike accident and lost the use of his legs. He was condemned to the wheelchair. Like Stephen Hawking, who used to hold the chair of physics, that once was Newton’s, on a wheelchair. Or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who used to speak as President of the United States from his wheelchair. When Filippo was asked about the secret weapon of the Desmosedici, he answered, on the Ducati website: “the people who have designed it”. The motorcycling sports are “sports”: you can see both drivers and engineers’ brains competing in a race. So much for the functionalism!


A clarification is however due, just to avoid considering the word “functionalism” as an offence… In psychology and neurosciences the functionalists think that “brain and computer are interchangeable” (see: Mente e Cervello, Ed. Le Scienze S.p.A., N. 2, anno 1, marzo-aprile 2003, page 33). The “brain” is the hardware and the “mind” the software. Reissue, rather stinking, of the Descartes’ dualism “body” and “mind”. Made by people that do not know anything about machines or, at least, do not love nor understand them. Well, maybe you think in some way that men are machines: strange, abstract, phantasmagorical machines. That do not exist. Because men are not machines. But the machines are men.


Africans do run. They are very good in running. It is their talent. That is just how they are. Mennea was great because he used to win against them, and not always… In the sport that stinks of burned oil, the brains of the Italian engineers are myth and legend. And, if you have not tried, you cannot know how much the combination of smell of oil, blast and ground vibrations, can driving you mad. Or making you a genius. Forghieri and Chiti, or Colombo before him, are epic champions. Titans and heroes too, like Varzi or Taruffi, Nuvolari or Agostini. Young people do not know why, centuries after having won a race, the Alfas still make the hearts pound. Winning matters but, the way you do it is more important. A meaningful gesture lasts and teaches for a long time, even after been made. It tells you something.


The greatest Italian motorcycling champion came to life in 1891 in San Giorgio Canavese. His name was Vittorio Jano (fig. 2). A great mind like Porsche or Chapman. He designed the Alfa Romeos, better, he made legends of them. The P2 was the first “single-seat” racing car. The story begins on May 13, 1950 in Silverstone. The Formula 1 was just born, a new thing. At the end of the first motor race, in the lead, there are three “Alfetta”: the nickname of the 158. A triple, to begin with, but using cars that Jano had designed thirteen years before. The first getting out of the Alfetta, the Italian GP in 1932, turned to be a victory for Tazio Nuvolari. Twenty-five years before, in Spa, Jano had made a noteworthy act. In Belgium, the race has run out of the Delages, the home cars, and the Belgians are disappointed. They boo and protest because the Alfas lead. Jano cannot accept it. He calls his cars back for a pit stop. Gas, firstly, and then he has the cars washed and polished. And because he has plenty of time left, he asks for a table to have lunch. In front of the Belgians. In half race. And after that the Alfas restart the race. With Ascari and Campari who go to win.


Another step back. The epic marathon of London in 1908. Dorando Petri falls down, rises with someone’s help and wins the marathon. Disqualified, his act goes down in history and legend.


Jano is also great on the drawing table. His engines, the sketches and, most of all, his gestures and humanity are those of a champion. A person you cannot forget. A person who improves himself through thought and construction.


Experts talk about “prosthetic instruments”. The man is something more than the animals because he stands up. Because he has his hands free. Because he speaks. But also because, systematically, he invents machines. He cannot run fast, but can make wheels. He does not fly, but can make airplanes. We do not have to wait to become cyborgs: we already are. Since the beginning. Machines are not “foreign”: they are part of us and yet our extensions too. There is no human machine able to be of interest for an extra-terrestrial. All the machines are made for us, they express us, we think about them, we make them just to go where our body cannot go, but our mind does. On the moon, on Mars if you like, "to infinity - and beyond!" as Buzz Lightyear says in Toy Story. Apollo 11 is a dream, not only an American dream. No pieces of iron, but reason and emotion. Chinese people, who make computer circuitries, consider them as a kind of prayer: if you ask, they will explain it to you. The name of the Lotus comes from the nickname that Colin Chapman (fig. 3) used for his wife Hazel Williams. Racing cars but also flowers for his wife, considered as a lotus. Women stuff? For Hazel, it was. A long time before getting married, she gave him the first twenty-five pounds he needed for a race…..


Therefore, thanks to Loris, redskin chief with his Desmosedici rode belly down. And thanks to Filippo and all the people that have designed it. Thanks to the drivers, riders and manufacturers that will make us dream in the future with new machines. The man is recognised by the machines he can make. With two or four wheels, typewriters or sewing machines. From those machines to our “music machines”, like an amplifier or a pair of loudspeakers, is but a short step.


The rest on the next article.


1 out of 4 - To the second part of the article

by Angelo N. M.
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