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Lake Goblin: The Influence of Nature in Physical and Supernatural Worlds

Now through December 15, 2019

Miller Nichols Library, Ground Floor

Portrait of UMKC Music/Media Library Lake GoblinThe Music/Media Library Lake Goblin (also called marimo/moss ball/lake ball) joined the UMKC Libraries family on October 5, 2019. Since its arrival, we have felt buoyed, more joyous and more attentive to our environment. Our marimo serves many purposes, including, but not limited to: stress reliever, desk greeter, emotional support life form, engagement advocate, and earthquake detector.

Botanist Anton Eleutherius Sauter first identified this particular strain of algae (Aegagropila linnaei) in Lake Zeller in Austria in the 1920s, but Japanese botanist Takiya Kawakami coined the name “marimo” (mari = bouncy ball and mo = water plant) in 1898. The Ainu, indigenous people in Japan’s Hokkaido, call them torosampe (lake goblin) or tokarip (lake roller).

Inspired by our lake goblin, we brought together materials from our collection influenced by nature, the environment and the supernatural, elements of the known and the unknown, and examined how the marimo helps us consider our place in the world.

Nature and Environment

Marimo are found natively in only a few places in the world. The oldest recorded marimo is estimated to be over 200 years old.

In the 1920s, people started to notice that marimo were disappearing from their natural habitats and began conservation efforts to protect them. The Ainu established a three-day festival, Marimo Matsuri, in 1950 at Lake Akan in Hokkaido to celebrate the marimo, to cleanse them and return them to the lake every October 8-10. Folk songs, dances and rituals are integral to the festival. Sarah Mehlop Strong  details aspects of Ainu music in Ainu Spirits Singing, available via the library catalog. 

In 2014, a study in Iceland revealed that the moss balls (known in Icelandic as kúluskítur, or “ball of muck”) in Lake Mývatn (Midge Lake) could not be found. Moss balls are an important part of the ecosystem, feeding the midges that feed birds and other insects and so forth, and the prognosis was dire. However, in 2019, moss balls reappeared – as did the swarms of midges – and lending more positive predictions for the future.

Because of their protected status, most commercially available marimo are made by rolling free-floating algae into a ball, most likely from Ukraine.

In consideration for these efforts of conservation, we explored music of the environment, either inspired by nature, set in nature, or used to draw attention to ecological concerns.

While not many composers specify algae or moss as inspiration, they do look to lakes and landscape. John Luther Adam’s “Dark Waves,” “Everything that rises,” “Where the waves splash, hitting again and again” brings to mind the way the lake current turns marimo, giving it the ball-like shape, while Toru Takemitsu wrote “Water Music” and “I Hear Water Dreaming”  Anna Þorvaldsdóttir also imagines a quiet, flowing soundworld drawn from nature, accompanied by these words: 

flow free

Of course, we include writing from the granddaddy of all soundscapes, R. Murray Schafer, who prosthelytize acoustic ecology and practiced “soundwalks” to become more attuned to the environment and reduce our impact on it. 

Popular artists have also expressed their concern about the environmental challenges and climate change, like Nine Inch Nails, Björk, Boom Shaka, Prince, and David Bowie. 

The Supernatural and Metaphysical World

Folklore attaches tales and stories to many natural phenomena. Marimo serve in the mythology of the Ainu, the souls of either heartbroken girls or reunited lovers, while around the world the idea of mythical water creatures has stirred many a composer.

Our lake goblin encouraged us to seek out some of its fellow creatures, their stories set to music.

These creatures are sometimes wicked, sometimes benign, often lovelorn. “Rusalka,” the most popular Czech-language opera by Antonin Dvorák', tells of a water sprite who loved an unfaithful prince. Clara Schumann and her contemporary Franz Liszt both wrote lieder about “Lorelie,” while later Alfredo Catalani wrote an opera in 1890 featuring water nymphs, once human women, betrayed by their lovers.

In Norway, trolls and goblins lurk in the woods and folklore, inspiring Edvard Grieg, who wrote “Sylfide” in 6 Lyric Pieces. George Crumb gave us the seasonal classics “Eleven Echoes of Autumn” and “Songs, Drones, and Dances of Death,” while Quincy Jones presented “The Witching Hour” and “Seaweed” on his album Golden Boy

In 2012, Michael Burton and Michiko Nitta collaborated with mezzo-soprano Louise Ashcroft and actor Samuel Lewis to create The Algae Opera. The vocalist in this work wears a mask that captures her breath and pumps the CO2 from her performance into small tanks of algae to create fertilizer for the algae to feed and grow. 

Of course, some of the water creatures might not be fiction: stories of the Loch Ness Monster thrive in Scotland, while Iceland supports its own lake monster theories with the Lagarfljót worm. Thea Musgrave wrote “Loch Ness: A Postcard from Scotland,” creating an orchestral interpretation of the monster, as performed by the tuba, who stands when the monster rises to the surface, and sits when it sinks, not unlike our lake goblin.

We'll also post recordings and articles on facebook (@UMKCMusicMediaLibrary) and twitter (@umkcmusicmedia), so follow us to learn more. 

Selected Resource List: Visit the display for a full list. 


Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People. DS832 .A365 1999

Buch, David J. Magic Flutes & Enchanted Forest: the Supernatural in Eighteenth-Century Musical Theater. ML1720.3 .B83 2008

Moisala, Pirkko; Leppänen; Tiainen, Milla; and Väätäinen, Hanna. “Algae Opera.” ML3800 .M888 2017

Schafer, R. Murray. Music in the Environment; The Tuning of the World. ML3805 .S3 c.2


Adams, John Luther. Dark Waves.  M314.A33 D37 2012

Adams, John Luther. Everything that Rises. M452.A32 E83 2012

Cage, John. Child of Tree. M146 .C23 C44 1975

Crumb, George. Eleven Echoes of Autumn. fM422.C85 E4 1972 

Crumb. Songs, Drones, and Refrains from Death. fM1613.3.C92 S6 1971 

Dvorák, Antonín. Rusalka. M1503.D998 R8 2006

Dvorák, Antonín. The Watersprite [Water Goblin]. msM1002 .D97 op.107 B4 1960

Musgrave, Thea. Loch Ness: A postcard from Scotland. M1045 .M984 L62 2012

Thorvaldsdottir, Anna. Dreaming. M1045.A6 D63 2017


All about Dragons. “Loch Ness.” Disneyland: DQ 1301

Beaver, Paul. In a Wild Sanctuary. Warner Brothers Records: WS 1850

Environmental Sounds (Disc II). Yorkshire Records: 27022  

Jones, Quincy. Golden Boy. “The Witching Hour” and  “Seaweed.”  Mercury: MG 20938 

Jones, Trevor. Labyrnith, the Soundtrack. EMI America: SV-17206

Songs, Drones, and Refrains from Death. Desto Records: DC 7155
Sounds to Make You Shiver. Pickwick: SPC 5101

Takemitsu, Toru. Water music, for tape. RCA: VICS 1334 


Adams, John Luther. Earth and the Great Weather. CD 2002:126

Björk. Volta. Marr CD 2016:1163

Bowie, David. Heathen. Marr CD 2017:139

Chansons des Mers Froides. CD 2015:54

Crumb, George. A Haunted Landscape.CD 97:73

Dvorák, Antonín. The Water Goblin. CD 2014: 2222

Sigur Rós. Takk-.CD 2006:188

Voices of Forgotten Worlds. CD 96:657


Koyaanisqatsi (2002). PN1995.9.E96 K693 2002

Online Sources

Barton, Laura. “Björk Calls for Action to Prevent Destruction of Iceland’s Highlands.” The Guardian.

Kellert, Stephen R. and Wilson, Edward O. The Biophilia Hypothesis.

Strong, Sarah Mehlop. Ainu Spirits Singing: The Living World of Chiri Yukie’s Ainu Shin’yoshu.

Takemitsu, Toru. A String Around Autumn. “I Hear Water Dreaming.” NAXOS Online. 

Ulvaeus & Rothenberg, ed. The Book of Music & Nature.

Posted: October 27, 2019