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Friday, July 2, 2010

Thorax: Trilobites in Music (Triple Trilobite Special!)

Tony Cragg's trilobitic sculptures.

Welcome to 'Thorax', the second issue of 'the Geology in Art Webzine' entirely dedicated to trilobites.
Curiously, I will start to discuss trilobitic music from...dinosaurs. The first trilobite and the first dinosaur are separated by about 275 millions of years, but it is not possible to forget mesozioc reptiles when dealing with geologic symbols in music. Indeed dinosaurs are a pervasive symbol in modern culture, going far beyond paleontological imagery: from T-Rex to Jonathan Richman (I'm a little dinosaur). Even if no other group of organisms has met with greater success, similar phenomena are also recorded by our beloved arthropods. Trilobites are another paleontological celebrity to have left its mark in music. For instance, they have been cited by Nightwish, which is an award-winning Finnish symphonic metal band.  Indeed Nightwish is one of Finland's most successful bands with more than 7 million albums and singles sold worldwide, 1 silver award, 11 gold awards, and 31 platinum awards. In 'a Return to the Sea' Nightwish picture trilobites and  Anomalocaris:

A star falls down from the darkened sky
Where new worlds are born and die
Kingdom Animalia watches its approaching glow
What it means is soon to be known.


Trilobite & Anomalocaris
The prey and the hunter
Survival of the fittest
Fall of Man

Seadrops foam all empty human skulls
Those on the shores of Atlantis
Darwin's resurrection is witnessed
By turtles he used to play with

Healed and happy She oversees
The Mother
The tyrant's return to the sea

Trilobites appear in 'A Return to the Sea' by Nightwish.

The Brazilian instrumental group  Uakti have distinguished themselves for creating new musical instruments, among which the “Trilobita”. This percussion instrument consists of ten PVC tubes closed by elastic membranes. The tubes are arranged on a frame so that the instrument is played by two musicians facing each other. This ingenious solution allows a significant rhythmic complexity and rapid and profound sound associations. In addition, Uakti have dedicated  an album to trilobites (“Trilobyte”), with a beautiful cover inspired by the tribal world and paleontological  themes.

The Brazilian group Uakti invented the "Trilobita", a very peculiar percussion instrument.

The music band Trilöbit comes from the same country of Uakti, but has little to share with the famous instrumental group. Their music is space rock with strong electronic components, but it difficult to ascertain what role geology has for them. Further research is required; until then I can only point out the ample presence of trilobites in their videos and artwork.
Trilobites inspired another band, 'The Trilobites', which are an Australian power pop/rock  group formed in Sydney in1984. Their first two singles, "Venus in Leather"' and "American TV" reached number 1 on the alternative chart.
Trilobites are pervasive social symbols, as testified by their frequent appearance:  from children television shows (i.e. Nancye Ferguson band) to garage bands (i.e. World of Sound).

Sexy Groove Machine by Trilöbit.

The Trilobites from Sydney, Australia.

Attic Dancers, Trilobite.

World of Sound, a garage band from the Eighties, plays 'Trilobite'.

Trilobite plays "Wildwood Flower", an American song, best known through performances and recordings by the Carter family.

A trilobite song in a children television show.

Another children television show with a trilobite song.

Trilobites are also evoked by Mastodon, a Grammy Award-nominated heavy metal band. Starting from their name, Mastodon give a paleontological touch to their songs, among which are “Trilobite”, “Iron Tusk” and “Megalodon”. Even their artwork presents geological  references, such as the saber tooth tiger and the Megaceros (an extinct giant deer), which appears in their album covers.

Trilobite by Mastodon.

These trilobitic examples explain the fundamental problem that arises when dealing with Geology and Music. Music is full of geological quotations but it has often metaphoric references, related to Geology with different degrees of linkage. Some geological themes (eg dinosaurs, trilobites, volcanoes, earthquakes) have such deep social roots to take symbolic meanings (not always purely geological). However it is important to point out even these cases, as witnesses of the social influence of "geological symbols" in music.

Uakti, Nightwish and Mastodon are clear examples of non-dinosaurian geologic mythologies in music, although the finest example remains “Burgess Shale”, the composition for orchestra by Rand Steiger. 
The author puts into music eight Cambrian organisms, each of which is represented by a section of the work. The author’s words no doubt provide the most appropriate comment to “Burgess Shale”: “The piece begins with an introduction, followed by eight sections, each focussing on one creature, and then a concluding section. Each creature has a particular kind of material associated with it, defined by instrumentation, pitch material, and tempo. Besides having a dedicated section, each creature has its own recurring cycle of appearances throughout the piece. So while the piece progresses through the main sections, little snippets of the other sections interrupt and comment on their progression”. There are no trilobites in the Steiger's composition, but it appears their fierceful hunter: Anomalocaris!

Score image of Rand Steiger's Anomalocaris. Click here for the streaming mp3 of the song.

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