Home Musical score 400-year-old score based on bees inspires new Edinburgh exhibition

400-year-old score based on bees inspires new Edinburgh exhibition

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Angelica Mesiti with her exhibition ‘In the Round’.

The choir piece was written by Elizabethan polymath Charles Butler, a pioneer of English beekeeping.

Its four-part vocal harmony mimics a sound known as piping, which queen bees produce during certain periods of their development.

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Artist Angelica Mesiti edited the score to produce her own sound installation, The Swarming Song, recorded at the Reid Concert Hall, University of Edinburgh.

It will be part of his In the Round exhibition which opens Friday at the university’s Talbot Rice Gallery.

Mesiti is known for her large-scale video works and the major pieces on display include three internationally renowned video installations.

One – Over the Air and Underground – is inspired by forms of communication in nature and uses ultraviolet light to represent the way bees see the world.

The exhibition presents new works by Mesiti aroused by the cultural collections of the university and around 50 artefacts from these will be on display.

These include a 1634 edition of Butler’s groundbreaking beekeeping guide, The Feminine Monarchy, which contains a copy of the Hampshire Cleric’s choir score.

In the first edition of 1609, Butler represented the noise of the piping using a musical notation system.

In the next edition in 1623 he had developed it into a four-part vocal composition titled The Bees Madrigal – some 300 years before Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote his famous Flight of the Bumblebee.

The book challenges Aristotle’s view that a male ruled the hive, proposing that the bees be ruled by a queen.

Mesiti said her video installation Assembly, commissioned for the Venice Biennale in 2019, involved extensive work on musical notation and when she saw the 17th century score in the university’s collection, she was inspired to apply similar treatment.

“The other reason it was interesting was that one of the main works in the exhibition titled Over the Air and Underground… involves thinking about several different forms of communication that occur in the natural world, including bees. and bee vision and how bees see the world. “

The installation includes images of flowers taken under ultraviolet light which, according to Mesiti, “mimics the way bees see the world”.

Another part of the work involves a fungal web spread over a series of flowers as the voices perform in a tone that “tree roots communicate,” she added.

She said the work examines “different ways of thinking about how information is exchanged and communication is done in other worlds besides humans.”


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