‘Sonic emblems & magic squares: Atalanta fugiens and Ludic humanism in the 21st century’

hsmt seminars hilary term 2020 for website

Donna Bilak (Independent Scholar) and Loren Ludwig (Scholar Performer)


Atalanta fugiens is a musical alchemical emblem book that has fascinated readers since its publication 400 years ago. A virtuoso work that fuses music, art, and natural philosophy into a paean to wisdom achieved through alchemical practice, it playfully engages our senses of sound and sight in unpacking the book’s complex, enigmatic alchemical program. Its experience is reimagined in Furnace & Fugue: A Digital Edition of Michael Maier’s Atalanta fugiens (1618) with Scholarly Commentary (Nummedal & Bilak, eds. UVAP, 2020) through, for example, manipulable vocal recordings of Atalanta’s “fugues,” and a multi-functional space that allows readers to curate and share image collections. The Oxford HSMT presentation by Donna Bilak and Loren Ludwig (Furnace & Fugue Music Director and contributor) discusses the ludic qualities of Maier’s book and ways that Furnace & Fugue extends sensory interactivity with Maier’s ideas through digital technology. Atalanta’s “alchemical fugues” are cleverly conceived as musical games whose solutions work across multiple registers (musical, alchemical, and Classical); also, Maier seems to have designed Atalanta’s emblems around a concealed a mathematical puzzle that is revealed to the reader upon decoding clues that are scattered throughout the work. These aspects of Atalanta fugiens challenge our notion of “reading.” As a digital artefact, Furnace & Fugue playfully expands the ludic possibilities suggested in Maier’s book for engaging with musica, alchemy, and history.


The following seminar will be held online with Zoom. For more information please visit: https://www.hsmt.ox.ac.uk/event/sonic-emblems-magic-squares


The History of Science, Medicine and Technology Seminar is convened by Erica Charters (Wolfson College), Rob Iliffe Linacre College), Catherine Jackson (Harris Manchester College), Rob Bailey (University of Oxford) and John Lidwell Durnin (Linacre College)