Tag Archives: Rand Steiger

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.

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