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Darwin Among The Machines

(2023) For Choir, Organ, Brass Quintet - 6'

Darwin Among The Machines

Three Excerpts From The Prophecy of Cellarius

In 1863, Samuel Butler, having studied The Origin of Species, penned a letter to The Press (New Zealand), on the subject of machines as their own form of mechanical life which would rapidly evolve to dottingly enslave and then surpase humanity. The text has a religious tenor, describing the machines in the manner of christian morality of the time; of machines herding us 'they will treat us kindly; they will not kill us and eat us as we do our sheep', of us living in symbiosis with them. The text extols the benefits of the machines as perfect, emotionless beings free from human fallibility and sin, but warns against their eventual transcendance to 'the next phase' - 'we are ourselves, daily making our successors'.

Eventually he concludes that war to destroy the machines is the only solution. I found the idea of viewing our relationship with machines through a pseudo-religious frame very intriguing. I have set a selection of text from the letter, arranged into three thematic 'excerpts':


I. Our Relationship with The Machines

II. The Morality of The Machines

III. A Machine Enters The Next Phase


In the latter section, the triumphant final evolution of the machine to 'the next phase', is a direct quote from Elgar's 'The Dream of Gerontious', for when the soul of Gerontious gazes upon god (my apologies to the organist but I hope they would enjoy their dramatic entrance).

This is the only musical quote in the work. The work is intended to not be taken too seriously.

Samuel Butler signed his letter: Cellarius.