• Consider finding the response of a single degree-of-freedom damped spring-mass system to a pulse of force that takes the form of a half sine wave of arbitrary duration, with the system at rest prior to the force application. Explain and outline how to obtain any unknown consonants in the solution.
• Define and discuss the ecological self and the existential self in the context of dynamic systems theory.
• After looking at a spectrogram, determine which U.S. president's name is represented.
Suffice it to say I haven't yet won a box set of Theta Naught's recordings.
But you'll still have a chance to buy one of the band's albums the newest one is "Omnium-Gatherum" at two record-release parties this weekend.
To say Theta Naught is unique in Utah's sonic landscape is an understatement. Ryan Stanfield, a mechanical engineer in medical device design (think artificial hearts), is the bass player who created the progressive band back in 2002 and has stayed with it through different incarnations.
Today, the band features Darren Corey (drummer, who by day works as a computer engineer), Greg Corey (lap-slide guitar, computer programmer), Peter Romney (cello, language-translation manager) and Briawna Anderson (harp, graduate student in music history and literature). The group also has frequent appearances by other musicians, including Josh Ogzewalla (guitar, software salesman).
"We're not a pop group," said Stanfield of the band, which is named after a wave equation. "We don't write a hook."
"Our songs aren't catchy, and I don't mean that in a deprecatory way," Anderson said.
"It's much more cerebral than other projects I've been involved with," said Ogzewalla, the guitarist who is the band's latest addition.
Most members aren't classically trained, but aim to improvise during live performances. Stanfield says he likes the volume turned up to 7, but "never 11."
Yet when the band is in the studio, mathematics plays a key role in song composition, notably in the music's drum-and-bass-centric themes. Concepts such as the golden ratio and Fibonacci sequences are used to create rhythm.
And it isn't unusual to hear band members talk about Pythagoras' contributions to modern music. (I'd explain it to you, but I don't fully understand it myself.) "We're the creative side of math," Anderson said.
The atypical ingredients in Theta Naught inspire "unconventional instruments to create a rock 'n' roll sound," guitarist Greg Corey said. His brother, Darren, a drummer, counters by saying the music uses "conventional instruments to create a non-rock 'n' roll sound." Anderson prefers to call it "post-rock improvisational."
The cordial disagreements are reflected by each other's musical bellwethers. Anderson is inspired by Tori Amos and Brahms, while Darren Corey counts Pink Floyd's song cycle "Wish You Were Here," Dave Brubeck and Ravel as his influences.
In perhaps the most surprising revelation, Stanfield lists his favorite band as Fugazi, the pioneering Washington, D.C., punk band. And then, he noted, he can't forget Bach. Stanfield's dry wit is behind the homework posted on the band's website.
All in all, in theory Theta Naught might seem like an inaccessible band but it has earned a passionate following, forged by playing venues such as Kilby Court and Idaho's Boise Cafe since 2002.
Once they get past the name and the intimidating math concepts that define the musical inspiration, music fans will discover an engrossing style of ambient jazz that captivates and hypnotizes. The music isn't likely to go over anyone's head. "It's never been difficult to connect with an audience," Anderson said.
But connecting with the band's homework? That's another matter.
When • Tonight at 7
Where • Nobrow Coffee & Tea Company, 315 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $5 cover
On the bill • Emily Allen, The Penalty Tokens
Also • Saturday, Nov. 13, at 9 p.m.
Where • Bar Deluxe, 666 S. State St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • $5 cover
On the bill • I Hear Sirens, REPO