Monday, April 16, 2007

Things that buzz

I had intended, in setting parts of Virgil's Georgics, to avoid Book Four, which deals with bee-keeping. I'm honestly not that fond of either honey or the social structure of bee colonies, so I've never gioven bees much attention. Book One, about field crops, gave me a passage the setting of which seemed urgent, about war. Books Two and Three, which move on to legumes, trees, and livestock have other attractions I may pursue. But now, with news that the recent serious declines in bee populations (aka "Colony Collapse Disorder") may be due to their damaged navigation capacity caused by interference from the ever-expanding networks of radio communications -- mobile telephones in particular -- perhaps setting some of Book Four is more urgent.

The nectar and pollen business carried out by bees is essential for much more than the production of honey for human consumption, and a reduction in bee populations has ramifications for both agriculture and nature in general. If radio waves do in fact contribute to this decline, then, as marvelous as a cell phone may be, there is certainly a good case to be made either against blanket cell coverage anytime and everywhere or to locate frequency bands which do not lead to this effect.

I'm certain that many composers have used bees as subject matter, well above and beyond Rimsky's too-famous flight, or the numerous settings of Where the bee sucks from The Tempest. Insect sounds, in general, have figured in much recent music, much of that is nocturnal in character and uses electronic resources (for example, Richard Maxfield's Night Music, the first item on my list of Landmarks, but also works of David Tudor, Emanuel Dimas de Melo Pimenta, and even the amplified string quartet in George Crumb's Black Angels).

Addenda: After doing a bit more research, it seems that the mobile phone theory is a highly speculative explanation for Colony Collapse Disorder, and among the several theories in circulation, one concerning pesticides applied to corn (maize) crops appears more likely, but is itself stil speculative. What is abundantly clear is that too little research is being done on the animals who take care of pollination. Although absolutely essential to fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains, beekeeping is the absolute low-end of the modern agricultural system in terms of prestige and profits -- a judgment Virgil would have abhored -- and is a prime example of politics and industrialization making the major mistake of choosing short-term interests over long-tem needs.

This morning, over breakfast, my daughter and I watched a pair of bumble bees pollinating the Mutsu apple tree in our tiny backyard. My appreciation for bees and their relations in the order Hymenoptera has increased immensely. Isn't life grand?

1 comment:

Henry Holland said...

Wow, someone who doesn't like honey. You learn something new on the Internets every day. :-)

My favorite Bee music is in Birtwistle's great The Mask of Orpheus.