Programme Notes


Unknown Terrors is a musical journey into the geography of the imagination and the mythology of exploration. It was partly inspired by James Cowan’s book, The Mapmaker’s Dream, which  gives poetic voice to the sixteenth century cartographer Fra Mauro. Fra Mauro lived in a monastery on the island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni near Venice, where he listened to the stories of travellers - merchants, seamen, adventurers, explorers - using their descriptions to create his own maps. The most striking surviving example is his beautiful ‘Planisphere’ of 1549.

I found a modern counterpart to Mauro’s Planisphere in some remarkable photographs of the earth taken from space in a book called Orbit by Apt, Helfert and Wilkinson.They show lakes, rivers, deltas, mountain ranges, deserts, islands, oceans, land masses and human activity: agriculture, cities, fires, pollution. Like maps, these pictures challenge us to imagine the world anew; a place of extraordinary beauty, strength and fragility.

Both of these sources hint at a deeper mythic structure: a journey undertaken by a hero or heroine to hell - and back. Orpheus, Persephone, the Ancient Mesopotamian Goddess Inanna, Jonah. These stories possess a structure which recurs again and again in stories throughout the world, providing - perhaps - a kind of ‘map’ for the innermost path of human adventure.