Journal list

Travels with an Astrolabe | The Music Diary

A Galway Early Music Festival concert

Leonie Curtin (violin, hurdy-gurdy, rebec), Ciara Taaffe (harps), Wolodymyr Smishkewych (vocals, sinfonie, percussion), Steven Player (guitars, gittern)

Although we moderns appreciate belonging to an age that values ​​science and reason, we cannot claim ownership of knowledge by virtue of our age. The medieval period – sometimes pejoratively called the “Dark Ages” – in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Asia was teeming with mathematicians and philosopher-scientists who studied nature, the heavens, as well as the human spirit. The more generously named “Renaissance” benefited from a flowering of the liberal arts and continued study of the sciences, and although we are often reminded of the darker side of life in those centuries, it is just as true that we have barbarism in our own days unfold across the world, and a vehement denial of science and the scientific method is disturbingly rampant even in the most so-called “developed” countries.

In all ages, however, there have been beacons: in science, philosophy, the arts… and these enlightened people have left us virtual and philosophical tools to guide us on our earthly journeys of personal and scientific discovery. Like the astrolabe of yesteryear, these tools are tools of discovery in a world full of chaos, a way of gauging the movements of the stars and time. Ancient brass astrolabes found their earliest use with navigators, explorers who crossed seas and oceans and, having lost their original pole star, relied on science and technology to aid them in their travels.

In our Travels with an Astrolabe, we invite you on a journey of exploration by sailing the seas and rivers of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and finally across the Atlantic to the Americas. It is particularly fitting that we make this trip to Galway, the gateway to the west of Ireland, where a large majority of Spanish and Portuguese astrolabes have been salvaged from shipwrecks! Our journeys will take us along paths along the Silk Road, through the steppes of Ukraine and along the Black Sea through the Bosphorus. Then, through the Mediterranean, we sail until we reach the Iberian Peninsula and the northern coasts of Africa before launching across the Atlantic Ocean to discover how the traditional dances of Africa have become encapsulated in the collections dance of the Spanish colonizers. We’ll hear the songs and dances of Oswald von Wolkenstein and Dmitri Cantemir, two musician-diplomats who have traveled far and wide and described their travels (and sometimes their giggles) in very musical terms.

From the dawn of the sun in the east, to the far west of the lands of Altramar, travel with us to explore the marriage of science, mysticism, travel and poetry through music, in Journeys with an Astrolabe.