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Mirah and Spectratone International get buggy
Although no other group of animal on Earth is as diverse as insects, Homo sapiens still largely misunderstand the importance of these critters that have been around for millions of years before humanoids.
So, with regret and a heavy heart, I confess I killed a bug. It was a year ago and, really, the details are too grim and embarrassing to repeat, but what it comes down to is that I was too drowsy to usher a little earwig to dry safety while in the shower. How shameful, knowing I failed to share space with the harmless arthropod.
A few years before this pathetic murder, a humanoid named Lori Goldston—a cellist formerly of Black Cat Orchestra fame—began to ruminate about the life of insects, as she spent more time in her garden following the birth of her son. In 2006, curiosity became inspiration for a song cycle for her current Seattle-based ensemble, Spectratone International, which was commissioned by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, co-commissioned by the Seattle International Children’s Festival and premiered at the latter.
Spectratone then enlisted fellow K Records labelmate singer-songwriter Mirah to collaborate, adding lyrics to the music they composed. Filmmaker Britta Johnson also came on board, creating 12 short animated films to accompany the music. The end result, a multimedia performance called Share This Place—a pleasant foray into unusual indie-rock territory, and it’ll be foraying into The Press Club this Tuesday.
Although the suite’s theme is insects, it “belittles it a little to say it’s about bugs,” Mirah said. The songs shed light on the life of insects and, ultimately, humanity, by drawing comparisons between us and them; bridging the gap between the “creepy crawlies” and us human types. The project is about “examining things that are considered bad, icky or unpleasant and reconsidering that,” Goldston said, which surely includes reconsidering needless bug extermination (even if the bug did see you naked in the shower).
On a recent summer morning after watering the garden at her Portland, Ore., home, Mirah admitted that much research was necessary in order to pen lyrics about insects.
“I read a lot … I had almost zero help and had zero background,” she said, noting the writings of late-19th-century naturalist and entomologist Jean Henri Fabre were a vital source of information.
However, just because some lyrics include words like “proboscis” (go ahead, look it up), Mirah realized the lives of insects are naturally dramatic. She used artistic license to embellish, as in her use of classic mythology in “Song of Psyche,” which highlights the compassion of the ants, whom she calls “gentle beasts,” aiding Psyche in her time of need.
The storytelling doesn’t end with Mirah’s euphoniously voiced words and the richly textured sounds from Spectratone’s acoustic ensemble: Kane Matthis, oud; Kyle Hanson, accordion; Jane Hall, percussion; and of course, Goldston, cello. Johnson’s accompanying 12 stop-motion short films are projected circularly behind the musicians as they perform; the animated insects are assembled from found objects, like pen caps, ashtrays, cans, felt and cork, giving it a very DIY aesthetic. Its lo-fi appearance contrasts with the classical and the traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation of Spectratone.
For instance, the bouncy ditty “Credo Cigalia” is about noisy cicadas that drove Fabre nutty, Goldston explained, and Johnson depicts them charmingly, incessantly clacking their legs, constructed of the temples (arms) of eyeglasses.
Much of the fun is determining which insect is being featured. There are six kinds in the song cycle, and since two have been mentioned here, the other four are (backwards, so as not to ruin the satisfaction of anyone who would prefer to figure it out on his or her own): selteeb gnud, seilf, smrowwolg and seilfrettub. A hint: None of them are earwigs.
I’ve repented the earwig killing and haven’t slaughtered one of the many that share space with me since. But … I’m not sure that worm survived after it crawled out of my pluot last week. Crap. Looks like I need to learn how to share my lunch now.