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In his poem De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) the Roman
poet/philosopher Lucretius (c. 99 – c. 55 BCE) explores Epicurean
physics and philosophy through richly poetic language and metaphors, as
he presents an entire cosmology: based on the principles of atomism,
Lucretius tries to explain the nature of the mind and soul, and the
development of the world. While some of his ideas have been proven
scientifically wrong, some of his thoughts seem strikingly reasonable
even for the contemporary reader.
Lucretius believes that, while everything in the universe is finite,
the smallest elements (“The First Beginnings of Things”) themselves are
eternal – moving through the void they collide, create forms and
dissolve, just to collide again in order to create new forms.
For Lucretius life is a beautiful chance-driven Dance of the
Elements. His ideas, popular and highly controversial in Roman
intellectual circles, were soon to be banned and eventually forgotten
during the rise of Christianity. The poem was by chance rediscovered in the 15th century by the famous
humanist Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459), most likely in the scriptorium
of a monastery in Fulda, Germany. During the renaissance it eventually
became a foundation stone of modern western philosophy and natural
When Soila Valkama, the ars acustica-editor of Finnish broadcaster Yleisradio commissioned us to produce a sound-composition, we suggested to her a playful attempt of a sonic translation of Lucretius’ ideas. The listener embarks on a journey in which a universe of sound unfolds. Smallest sonic elements float through space, dark and chaotic, merge to create concrete forms, transform into different consistencies, from water to wind, from stone to dust, steadily in motion in a constant process of becoming and dissolving.
Late in the piece the sounds of mammals and humans arrive, blurring
again into a palimpsest-like structure when the circle is closing.
We used field-recordings of nature, as an analogue for the “concrete forms” that are created by the colliding elements, but also concrete musical structures: fragments of melodies, tonalities, and rhythmic patterns in contrast to the more abstract material. Intertwined with the sound-composition we encounter fragments of Lucretius’ text in English and in Latin, carefully adapted and translated by Janko, and spoken by his brother, the actor Stefko Hanushevsky. The radio-piece consists of six chapters, transposing the structure of Lucretius’ six books into the compositional structure.