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Absorbing animal matter

One of my summer projects, a new quartet for my favorite American Music Chamber Band, The Avian Orchestra, is finishing up with all the usual score-editing and parts-making hooplah. The piece, titled These Inflected Tentacles, is for marimba, piano, violin, and cello, and should weigh in at about 10 minutes or so. Here below, to “excite acid secretion”1, is the program note I just wrote:

In 1875 Charles Darwin published his book Insectivorous Plants, in which he documents the discovery, dissection, and subjection of various meat-eating flora to 19th-century experimentation ranging from the curious to the cruel and unusual. The book documents a lifetime of indefatigable dedication to the Scientific Method, but one cannot help smile at the man’s poking and prodding, dipping and burning. In four short movements, the quartet quotes Darwin recording his observations as he gleefully drops bits of meat, eggs, glass, hair, and anything else he can think of on his plants. Just to see what happens.

These Inflected Tentacles was commissioned by The Avian Orchestra for their 2011 program on botany, “Vegetative States”.


Drosera rotundifolia from Darwin’s Insectivorous Plants. (1875, p.10)


The movements are:

i. “The tentacles were as usual rendered of a very bright red, with the glands almost white like porcelain, yet tinged with pink.”

ii. “when the glands of the disc have bits of meat given them, they transmit a motor impulse to the exterior tentacles”

iii. “Falling drops of water do not cause inflection.”

iv. “a live insect is more efficient than a dead one”


My good friends from Avian, Peter Flint and the amazing players who brought you The Vinyl Six, will premiere the piece in Delaware and New York later this month, in concerts where we will all eat bugs.2


1 Darwin’s Insectivorous Plants (1875, p.297)
2 We won’t. I don’t think.

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