Systema Naturae is about discovery. It is a meditation on the process, rather than the act, of making them, depicting the ways in which we classify, organise and most importantly give name to the minutiae of the natural world. A four-part ‘play’ comprising a series of pseudo-textbooks, Maura Lanza and Andrea Valle have created a vast, open-world metaphor for our own histories of observation and categorisation.
Inspired by medieval encyclopaedias known as bestiarias, herbarias and lapidaria – texts that listed types of animals, plants and stones – Lanza and Valle envisioned an imaginary ecosystem of their own. Organised as if it were a musical transposition of this information, the score for Systema Naturae is structured like a reference catalogue, such as the eponymous work written by Carl Linneaus in the 18th century. Each individual part of the piece, performed by the composers alongside Explore Ensemble, focuses on a newly named fauna or flora. With over 50 pieces spanning four distinct movements, their lorebook is densely comprehensive, containing an entire natural world of mythology.
In imagining new beings, Lanza and Valle began treating the music itself as a biological discovery, creating new, object-like instrumentation for their orchestra, manipulated by the duo, who serve as a ‘mechanised orchestra’ alongside their performers. They also imagined new bodily actions for the traditional instruments at hand; strings are prepared differently on the inside, and performers, arranged in different shapes on the stage, are asked to use extended techniques when they play. Bringing these two families of sound together, Lanza and Valle create a new ecosystem, an environment of observable instruments.