Schizocosa is the culmination of a three-way collaboration between science, dance, and music. It began during my first week at UNL as a graduate student when I began emailing Assistant Professor Susan Levine requesting the opportunity for a collaboration. Through Susan I have been able to work with several dance students. She showed enthusiasm for collaborating with me as well. I first met Dr. Eileen Hebets during a picnic at the school our children attend. When she described the research she does I knew instantly her work was something I could use in creating new music. When the three of us met for the first time in Dr. Hebets’ lab Susan and I were floored by the incredibly complex, noisy, and dance-like courtship rituals Dr. Hebets had filmed while doing her research. All three of us knew we had something unique.

In terms of the biological aspects of this project, much of the research in Dr. Hebets’ laboratory focuses on the evolution and function of complex signaling. While many displays throughout the animal kingdom simultaneously utilize multiple signals, often in multiple modalities, the function and significance of these complex displays are not well understood. The primary goal of this research program is to understand the various selection pressures that might drive the evolution of complex signaling, with a special focus on courtship signaling. The methods used to achieve this goal incorporate multiple levels of analysis including broad comparative approaches concentrating on behavior and morphology, manipulative laboratory and field experiments, as well as more mechanistic approaches incorporating electrophysiology and endocrine assays. Currently, the wolf spider genus Schizocosa is the primary focus of these questions regarding complex signal function.

For the music, Schizocosa is a musique concrète piece using only sounds generated by the spiders themselves.  The sounds produced by these spiders are highly rhythmic and very percussive.  In terms of tonal space, the sounds range from the very high (above 16 kHz) to the extremely low (below 50 Hz).  In creating the music for Schizocosa I wanted to avoid any cultural clichés associated with spiders, such as the ominous clickety-sound associated with giant spiders in B-movie horror films.  The end result is a cross between the glitch and noise music of Jan Jelinek and Taylor Deupree with the ambient music of Brian Eno.

The samples were taken from audio and video recordings created in Dr. Eileen Hebets’ research laboratory.  Some of the samples are presented in an unedited form, while others underwent extensive sonic manipulation through the use of filtering, pitch- and timescale-mapping, and time- and spacial-based effects.  The composition has five distinct sections within a larger arch form of 8:08 in length from first downbeat to last.

From the perspective of dance, this work is neither a “spider dance” nor a mating ritual copied by the eight limbs of two dancing couples. Instead, this is a choreographic exploration of what the movements of these creatures can suggest to the development of a work.  This work may have facets that hint at archetypal concepts like union, attraction, and rejection in the broader senses, but they are the spiders’ movements that inspire the investigation, rather than being gestures to be imitated.

The creative process for the dance used improvisational explorations as the basis for work that became set, or mostly set. We are using visual cues from the spiders themselves and then manipulating these in a variety of ways, as well as deriving inspiration from facets of writings on spiders, both scientific and literary.


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