Carl sat musing until the sun leaped above the prairie, and in the grass about him all the small creatures of day began to tune their tiny instruments. Birds and insects without number began to chirp, to twitter, to snap and whistle, to make all manner of fresh shrill noises. The pasture was flooded with light; every clump of ironweed and snow-on-the-mountain threw a long shadow, and the golden light seemed to be rippling through the curly grass like the tide racing in.
I was there when the first dreams came off the assembly line. I was there when the corrupted visions that had congealed in the vats were pincered up and hosed off and carried down the line to be dropped onto the rolling belts. I was there when the first workmen dropped their faceplates and turned on their welding torches. I was there when they began welding the foul things into their armor, when they began soldering the antennae, bolting on the wheels, pouring in the eye-socket jelly. I was there when they turned the juice on them and I was there when the things began to twitch.
―Harlan Ellison, Quiet Lies the Locust Tells from Stalking the Nightmare
You might know composer Graeme Revell for his film scores, including Dead Calm, The Crow, Sin City, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, or perhaps even as a founding member of the industrial band SPK. You probably aren’t acquainted with his album The Insect Musicians, featuring digitally manipulated samples of sounds made by various types of crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers, wasps, bees, flies, moths, and beetles. The result is pretty impressive.
Video via Leitmotivation on Youtube.
Inspired by traditional Japanese poetry that reflects upon the sounds of insects and the melancholy of the autumn season, this album seeks to rediscover the natural through the electronic, a subject Synkroniciti has written about here. Types of sounds included are stridulations, or rubbing of body parts together; tymbalic vibrations, caused by muscular movement of membranes; drumming on objects; expelling air; wing vibration; and sound produced by activities such as eating or moving around. To find out more, including a list of all performers, click here to read the booklet that accompanies the recording. Fantastic!
Leave part of the yard rough. Don’t manicure everything. Small children in particular love to turn over rocks and find bugs, and give them some space to do that. Take your child fishing. Take your child on hikes.
If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.
—E. O. Wilson
The questions asked in youth can lead us on journeys that last a lifetime. Sometimes persistence is rewarded with answers.
In the late 17th century there was a common belief that insects were beasts of the devil, spontaneously generated from mud. Few scholars understood the life cycle of the butterfly and insects were certainly not proper subject matter for study, especially for a young lady. Fortunately, curiosity is a powerful thing.
Maria Sibylla Merian was a scientist, botanical artist, engraver and illustrator, famous for her contributions to entomology, the study of insects. Born in 1647 in Frankfurt, her father was the influential Swiss engraver and publisher Matthäus Merian the Elder, who, unfortunately, died before Maria reached the age of four. Her mother later married the painter Jacob Marrel, who taught his stepdaughter how to draw and paint and encouraged her passion. Because of the circumstances of her birth and youth, she was afforded opportunities for education and “eccentricity” that were not afforded to many people. As a teenager, she began to collect plants and insects which she would sketch and paint.
“I realized that other caterpillars produced beautiful butterflies or moths, and that silkworms did the same. This led me to collect all the caterpillars I could find in order to see how they changed.” —Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname
After her marriage to Marrel’s apprentice, Johann Graff, and the birth of her first child, Johanna, Merian moved to Nuremberg. There she schooled young unmarried women in the fashionable art of drawing, earning money and social standing while continuing her own painting and creating embroidery designs. As frustrating as it might have been to teach dilettantes, this also afforded her access to some of the finest gardens in Europe and a chance to build her reputation. She produced her first work, a book of floral illustrations titled Neues Blumenbuch, New Bloom Book, in 1675.
“In Holland, with much astonishment what beautiful animals came from the East and West Indies, I was blessed with having been able to look at both the expensive collection of Doctor Nicolaas Witsen, mayor of Amsterdam and director of the East Indies Society, and that of Mr. Jonas Witsen, secretary of Amsterdam. Moreover I also saw the collections of Mr. Fredericus Ruysch, doctor of medicine and professor of anatomy and botany, Mr. Livinus Vincent, and many other people. In these collections I had found innumerable other insects, but finally if here their origin and their reproduction is unknown, it begs the question as to how they transform, starting from caterpillars and chrysalises and so on. All this has, at the same time, led me to undertake a long dreamed of journey to Suriname.“–Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname
In 1699, at age 52, Merian was honored by the city of Amsterdam, where she had been residing, with a grant allowing her to travel to the South American Dutch Colony of Surinam with her youngest daughter to study the flora and fauna of the tropics. She jumped at the rare chance, beginning two years of field work, collecting specimens and sketching and painting what would become her greatest work, Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname. One of the first scientists to make an expedition in order to observe animal behavior, she wrote down native names and uses for the plants and insects she encountered, many of which she was the first European to discover. She created classification systems for insects and documented their behavior and life cycles. An honest and iconoclastic presence, she also voiced her criticism of the treatment of natives and black slaves by the Dutch. Returning from Surinam out of fear of malaria in 1701, Merian published her volume in 1705. It is still recognized as one of the greatest works of entomology ever produced.
My Tenth Sonata is a sonata of insects. Insects are born from the sun… they are the sun’s kisses.
You can listen to pianist Marc-André Hamelin play this beautiful work here:
Whether you follow the score or close your eyes, I think you will hear the insects.
Video via Undevicesimus on YouTube.
We are not like the social insects. They have only the one way of doing things and they will do it forever, coded for that way. We are coded differently, not just for binary choices, go or no-go. We can go four ways at once, depending on how the air feels: go, no-go, but also maybe, plus what the hell let’s give it a try.
Synkroniciti has quoted Lewis Thomas before here.
I always liked the idea that America is a big facade. We are all insects crawling across on the shiny hood of a Cadillac. We’re all looking at the wrapping. But we won’t tear the wrapping to see what lies beneath.