Scorpion Tales (2012)
Duration: ca. 12'00"
Audio Excerpt - Mvt. I [MP3] | Audio Excerpt - Mvt. II [MP3] | Audio Excerpt - Mvt. III [MP3]
Gruesome creatures have always fascinated me, so when Duo Scorpio asked me if I would be interested in writing them a new piece, and their only request was that I incorporate the scorpion as a theme, I was happy to oblige.
The first movement, Trinidad Scorpion, is inspired by a fiery red pepper called the Trinidad Scorpion "Butch T", currently the hottest pepper in the world. It measures a blistering 1,463,700 Scoville Heat Units (SHU). (A typical jalapeno pepper measures around 5,000 SHU, while a habanero pepper measures up to 350,000 SHU.) The tempo is appropriately marked con fuoco, and the contrapuntal middle section is subtly infused with Calypso rhythms.
Promenade à deux is the title of the second movement, borrowed from a colorful description of the scorpion's complex courting and mating ritual. This begins when the male and female locate and identify each other using a mixture of pheromones and vibrational communication. The courtship starts with the male grasping the female's pedipalps with his own; the pair then perform a "dance" called the promenade à deux. The courtship ritual can involve several other behaviours such as juddering and a cheliceral kiss, in which the male's claw-like mouthparts grasp the female's. In some cases, the male will inject her with a small amount of venom, perhaps as a means of pacifying her. Once mating is complete, they separate. The male generally retreats quickly, most likely to avoid being cannibalised by the female, although sexual cannibalism is infrequent with scorpions. Scorpions glow fluorescent under black lights, so I imagine the scorpions basking in a fluorescent afterglow after completing their courtship.
The third movement, The Tale of Orion, is inspired by an ancient Greek myth. According to legend, Orion boasted to goddess Artemis and her mother, Leto, that he would kill every animal on earth. Although Artemis was known to be a hunter herself, she offered protection to all creatures. Artemis and her mother sent a scorpion to deal with Orion. The pair battled and the scorpion killed Orion. The contest was apparently lively enough to catch Zeus's attention, so he raised the scorpion to heaven and afterwards, at the request of Artemis, did the same for Orion. This served as a reminder for mortals to curb their excessive pride. A second version describes Orion and Artemis growing fond of each other. Learning of this development, Apollo, Artemis's twin brother, grew angry and sent a scorpion to attack Orion. After Orion was killed, Artemis asked Zeus to put Orion up in the sky. So every winter Orion hunts in the sky, but every summer he flees as the constellation of the scorpion approaches.
Scorpion Tales was commissioned by harpists Kathryn Andrews and Kristi Shade of Duo Scorpio through a grant from the American Harp Society.
Reviews and Quotes
"A triptych commission from Robert Paterson, Scorpion Tales is the centerpiece here. Terse noirisms, creepy syncopation and divergent, Andriessen-esque bell-like tones span the entirety of the harps’ sonic capabilities in the opening segment. In the middle section, an eerie twinkling gives way to a courtly, anthemic waltz lowlit by coyly baroque harmonies. It concludes with The Tale of Orion, a rhythmically playful, Brazilian-tinged narrative bookended by starlit austerity."
"Review of Duo Scorpio's Scorpion Tales Album:
"The title composition for the disc, Robert Paterson’s Scorpion Tales, is a three movement work which treats the duo more as one hyper-instrument. Gestures and textures stay unified throughout the duo, blurring the lines between Andrews and Shade and presenting singularly focused musical shapes."
– Jay Batzner, Sequenza21
"Review of Duo Scorpio's Scorpion Tales Album:
"The disc takes its name from the nearly 15-minute work contributed by Robert Paterson (a commission by Duo Scorpio and the American Harp Society), each of its three movements a play off of the scorpion—animal, vegetable (hot pepper), and Greek mythological legend. Plenty of those iconic cascading harp lines run through each of the movements, but they appear in the mix amid intricately orchestrated moments, two harps and four hands filling the sonic image from top to bottom to deliver a neatly locking quartet-worth of sonic information. The play of harmonics, the dark and loose vibration of low strings, and the tight unison playing elsewhere accent the balanced clockwork-like integration of these passages."
– Molly Sheridan, NewMusicBox
"The title work is an efflorescent view into the mystery of the scorpion itself. Commissioned with funds from an American Harp Society Grant, Paterson was thrilled to be asked, saying he loves creepy crawlies and the duo only asked that the scorpion theme would be featured. The first movement is a calypso inspired by the world’s hottest pepper. Next it’s the gruesomely fascinating mating ritual of the scorpion where the male gives just a small dose of venom to his chosen one, as though offering to buy her a drink after asking “Do you come here often?” The set finishes with the Tale of Orion, who, when planning to decimate all the animals of the earth, is himself killed by a scorpion."
– Alison Young, Harp Column Magazine