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Wunderkammer (electroacoustic music, 2010)


First performance - MacRobert Building, Aberdeen in sound, November 2010

Between 1854 and 1862 the explorer Alfred Russel Wallace travelled throughout the Malay Archipelago (now Malaysia and Indonesia) studying nature and collecting "specimens of natural history".

"When I reached England in the spring of 1862, I found myself surrounded by a room full of packing cases containing the collections that I had, from time to time, sent home for my private use. These comprised nearly three thousand birdskins of about one thousand species, at least twenty thousand beetles and butterflies of about seven thousand species, and some quadrupeds and land shells besides. A large proportion of these I had not seen for years, and in my then weakened state of health, the unpacking, sorting, and arranging of such a mass of specimens occupied a long time...
I find that my Eastern collections amounted to:
310 specimens of Mammalia.
100 specimens of Reptiles.
8,050 specimens of Birds.
7,500 specimens of Shells.
13,100 specimens of Lepidoptera.
83,200 specimens of Coleoptera.
13,400 specimens of other Insects.
125,660 specimens of natural history in all."
(from The Malay Peninsula, Alfred Russel Wallace, 1869)

One hundred and fifty years later I visited some of the jungle Wallace had explored and made my own (rather smaller) collection of sounds. I imagine the glass collecting-bottles Wallace used for insects, and the fish, "all well preserved in clear spirit in hundreds of glass jars". And the Wunderkammern or 'cabinets of curiosities' of preceding centuries - fabulous collections of objects and artefacts, gathered together, ordered and displayed to stimulate curiosity and wonder in the viewer!