Find out Geology in Art book, Follow Me :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Evolution of Life on Earth in Music

"So it's an established fact that in Italy during the period between 1971-1974, a music movement existed where bands would challenge each other to see who could be the most imaginative, who could create the album for the ages. They were all painters and sculptors just as in Renaissance Italy."
-Tom Hayes / Gnosis

The Italian progressive rock scene was born in the early 70s, inspired by the progressive movement in Britain, but then developing features of its own that makes it a separate musical genre: Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI).
The arrangements of Rock Progressivo Italiano incorporate elements drawn from classical, jazz, and the diverse musical traditions of Italy. Indeed Italian progressive rock expands the timbral palette of traditional rock instrumentation with aggeggi, ottavino, mandoloncello and clavicembalo. Some bands abandoned the common Ionian  and Aeolian modes (or, major and minor), choosing the rarer Mixolydian and Dorian scales, drawn from the ancient Aristoxenian tradition (dating back to the 4th century BC). Although RPI’s lyrics are traditionally Italian, some bands reached international fame.

'Cento Mani e Cento Occhi' from tha album Darwin! by Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso. The song deals with the development of social organization in hominids.

One of these is Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, a popular progressive rock band in the 1970s, still being active (I saw them live: what an emotion!). In 1972 they released their second album, Darwin!, comprising 7 songs unified by an elaborate, overarching theme: Evolution of life on earth. Geology, paleontology and biology are the undisputable source of inspiration since the first track (translation and original text):

And if in the fossil of an atavic skull

I rediscover forms that resemble me…

E se nel fossile di un cranio atavico

riscopro forme che a me somigliano…

                - Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Evoluzione (Evolution)

Cover art of Darwin!, by Bando del Mutuo Soccorso

The complete tracklist of Darwin! is:

   1. L'Evoluzione (Evolution)
   2. La conquista della posizione eretta (The conquer of the upright position)
   3. Danza dei grandi rettili (Dance of the big reptiles)
   4. Cento mani e cento occhi (A hundred hands and a hundred eyes)
   5. 750,000 anni fa ... L'amore? (750,000 years ago ... Love?)
   6. Miserere alla storia (Miserere to history)
   7. Ed ora io domando tempo al tempo ed egli mi risponde ... Non ne ho!  (And now I ask Time for time and He answers me ... I don't have it!)

As we already saw for the Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, geologic themes could represent evocative musical soundscapes. The same could be said for the lyrical imagery, as expressed by the prehistoric worlds evoked by Darwin!:

Gray layers of lava and coral

damp skies and no color

here the world is breathing

moss and lichen green sponges of earth

are the greenhouse for the sprout to come.

Strati grigi di lava e di corallo

cieli umidi e senza colori

ecco il mondo sta respirando

muschi e licheni verdi spugne di terra

fanno da serra al germoglio che verrà.

- Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Evoluzione (Evolution)

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso: La Danza dei Grandi Rettili (Dance of the Big Reptiles), from the album Darwin!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Origins of Geology: between Art and Science

Geologic painting by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio: the Baptism of Christ (c. 1475). Click on the smaller picture for a full analysis of the painting (from my book 'Geology in Art').

When speaking of geology and art, the first thing that comes to mind is painting. It may be that the association “art–visual arts” is almost automatic, but there is also a historical reason. Pictures are the preferred medium for expressing geology since Renaissance times. Leonardo da Vinci is universally regarded as one of the pioneers of Earth sciences for having recognized and interpreted a number of geologic phenomena. In his famous notebooks da Vinci focused on sedimentary geology and discussed sedimentation, stratification and fossils. Less well-known is the fact that Leonardo expressed his revolutionary geologic theories in his paintings. Geologic features are accurately represented in the Baptism of Christ, the Virgin of the Rocks and St. Anne (Vai 1995, 2003). Leonardo represented stratification in its finest details, including small-scale laminations.
Leonardo was not alone. A great number of artists represented sedimentary layers in extreme detail (see Branagan, 2006). These artists include Botticelli (Pallas and the Centaur), Bellini (St. Jerome Reading in the Countryside), van Eyck (St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata) and Dürer (Lot Fleeing with his Daughters from Sodom). There is no trace before Renaissance times of such a pervasive taste for the accurate representation of natural landscapes.

Sandro Botticelli, Pallas and the Centaur, c. 1482.

Botticelli, Pallas and the Centaur (detail). Note the precise depiction of layering.

The gap between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance can be understood from a quotation taken from Rosenberg (2009): “Art history records that the Western concept of landscape preceded the science of landscape”. Hence it is no coincidence that the emerging of GeoArt is simultaneous with the dawn of modern geology,i.e., the science of the landscape.

Renaissance was a critical period for science, enshrined in the modern scientific method by Galileo Galilei. In this vibrant cultural framework, naturalists followed an observational approach, trying to understand natural objects by describing and depicting them. To Renaissance naturalists the art of illustration was more than mere ornament, as testified by Aldrovandi: “to understand plants and animals there is no better way than to depict them from life” (Aldrovandi, 1572, quoted by Baucon, 2009).

Episodes in the representation of landscape and geologic objects. From my book 'Geology in Art'.

The observational approach was accompanied by the rediscovery of Arabic and Greek geometry, which led to a revolution in understanding spatial relationships and changed the visual perception of the Earth (see Rosenberg, 2009; Branagan, 2006). Although geology continue to evolve rapidly since Leonardo times, geology is still one of the most visual sciences as it is inextricably bound to the understanding of spatial relationships. Without “spatial thinking” (Andrews, 2003) there is no geology.
For these reasons, it can be well said that the origins of Geology are located in a land of convergence between Art and Science.

Fractals, Ichnology and Art

 A fractal-generated picture. Image from Wikipedia.

Some of the most emblematic figures of the Renaissance – da Vinci, Gesner, Aldrovandi, Bauhin – were pioneers of paleontology and demonstrated a visual interest in trace fossils. To decipher the reason for this aesthetic appreciation, I used fractal geometry to explore various ichnological drawings of the Renaissance (click here to read the full paper). Among analytical methods, fractal analysis proved to be the most efficient both in quantifying visual attractiveness and in describing the structure of complex patterns. In fact fractal geometry has been applied in studying visual perception itself and has been used to analyse abstract art, architecture and design.

Trace fossils in the Italian Renaissance: Cosmorhaphe, a "fractal trace" in Aldrovandi's Musaeum Metallicum

I fed a software with images of trace fossils and their representations. What emerged amazed me. Several traces (i.e. graphoglyptids and chondritids) have fractional dimensionality and self-similarity over a significant range of measurement scales (fractal behaviour). Intriguingly, such "fractal traces" are among the most figured trace fossils of the Renaissance. Fractal traces are hierarchically structured and their whole geometric structure can be regarded as an expression of self-organization processes producing correlations between different orders of scale. Being rich in structure, such traces have been acknowledged by naturalists for their instant aesthetic appeal.

Bruce Pollock based this oil painting on fractal geometry.

Nevertheless, fractals are not only in trace fossils, but in many other natural objects and humans seem to display a consistent aesthetic preference across fractal images. For these reasons many artists have been inspired by fractals to produce their art; here are some examples related to Geology.

'Tile Pattern And Vauxia Sponge' by Michael A Coleman. Vauxia is a sponge from Burgess, a world-known fossil site.

Bruce Pollock's fractal art is inspired by nature, including geologic objects.

A very unusual introduction to fractals: Arthur Clarke (famous for his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey) presents "Fractals, the Colors of Infinity"