2012 (06:30)
Shakuhachi or alto flute, tape
Written for Riley Lee

With their upright carriage, forelegs held together as if in prayer, and graceful swaying movements, the group of insects we now call mantids must once have reminded us of holy men. Across cultures and ages, the insects have in the past been given the names “preacher,” “diviner,” “prophet,” and “soothsayer”. Today, we still know them as “praying mantis.” Seemingly at odds with these notions of piety, the insects’ behaviour shows all the parsimony and pragmatism of nature. They are powerful and stealthy predators, fiercely territorial, ruthless in combat, and even sexually cannibalistic – female mantids behead and consume their mates after copulation. This juxtaposition of the divine and the visceral is what fascinates, and, when we anthropomorphize, even scandalizes us; how could something so holy be so brutal? The tape part of this piece was constructed from samples of Riley Lee’s 1996 recording of a traditional Japanese piece called “Tamuke”, sometimes translated as “prayer gesture.”

– WG, 2012

First performed by
Riley Lee

Mantid . Catalogue 107 . Copyright © Wally Gunn . March 2012