Category Archives: Song of the Week

Music of the Burgess Shale

This is the second of two posts about the Burgess Shale. The first went up last week.

Last week I took you on a virtual trip to the Burgess Shale. This area of Cambrian-era fossils didn’t just inspire paleontologists, geologists and climate scientists, but musicians as well.

In 1994, composer Rand Steiger wrote an orchestral piece for the Los Angeles Philharmonic called “Burgess Shale”, inspired by Stephen Jay Gould’s book about the fossils. Each movement is named after a different organism.

Of the movement “Anomalocaris”, Steiger writes:

“This was by far the largest and fiercest creature found in the shale, and it was also the most disfigured by the calamity (probably a mud slide) that instantly snatched the life of these creatures and preserved them. The most interesting thing is that parts of anomalocaris were thought to be four individual creatures; it wasn’t until recently that it was discovered that they were component parts of the same animal. SO the music for this section became a monstrous concoction featuring tuba, along with contrabass clarinet, horn, and lower strings.”

I can’t manage to find any working clips of the Burgess Shale piece online [UPDATE: See comments section – the audio links on Steiger’s site have been fixed], but in this video Steiger talks about his inspiration for the work.

Scientific awe & wonder in Colleen Brown’s Swallowed Whole

Standing in my kitchen, I first heard this track on the CBC Radio program Key of A. Beautiful, haunting? Check. And inspired by Carl Sagan. What? The name caught me ear and I turned to the radio and, yes out loud, asked again “What?”. That brief mention was enough to make me very curious, and I tracked down Colleen Brown, the Edmonton singer-songwriter responsible for this gem to ask her about it. Continue reading

Race for the Prize

There aren’t many mainstream songs about scientists. I only know of two. One is quite well-known but I don’t like it and it doesn’t really seem to be about science anyway. The other one is The Flaming Lips’ “Race for the Prize”. It was released in 1999 on The Soft Bulletin, and describes a competition between two scientists who are in a race to find “the cure” (not the band, all lower case).

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Toys at sea

In January 1992, a container with yellow duckies and other bath toys fell from a cargo ship in a heavy storm. The container opened in the accident, and the contents spilled out into the Pacific.

Cargo ships lose a few hundred containers at sea every year. The containers usually sink, and the contents end up on the bottom of the ocean. These bath toys, however, were made to float – and float they did.

Song inspired by the travelling bath toys, by Rich Eilbert

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Moot Point

The word “moot” is doesn’t come up much in song lyrics*. My cursory search turned up 30 unique songs that use the word. Almost half use “moot” in a way that may not be consistent with normal usage of the word – at least to my reading.

Inarguably, the most famous use of “moot” in a song is in Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl”.

I’ll play along with this charade
That doesn’t seem to be a reason to change
You know I feel so dirty when they start talking cute
I wanna tell her that I love but the point is probably moot

It is pretty hard to miss. They lyric sticks out like a sore thumb, in part because “cute” and “moot” almost rhyme but don’t. Like an uncanny valley, if such a thing actually exists, of rhyme.

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