Commissioned by: Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival
Category: Large Ensemble, Graphic
Duration: 10 Minutes
Orchestration: ten harps and rainsticks
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Notes on score: A1 Format. Self-assembly.
First performance: 21 November 2007, St Paul’s Hall, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 2007
21 November 2007 Natural History Museum
25 March 2013 Eastman School of Music, Rochester, NY
Exhibited as part of 90th Anniversary Exhibition of the BBC Music Library, 2013
In Anthill I was interested in exploring the social conduct of ant-life and the way this could be transposed into the world of sound. An ant colony is run without the authority of a central management nor the hierarchy of a commanding superior or leader. The function of the ant-queen is merely to lay eggs and single-handedly produce all other ants of that colony. In fact, each ant assigns itself a task for each day to work for the overall good of the colony. What first attracted me to using this seemingly ideal socialist model for this piece was the potential to treat the ten instruments in an equal way and give each the same importance within the piece. This way I could make the ten harps work together while each one still remains completely independent. This generates a freedom of choice for the multiple performers which touches on free improvisation in the sense that the performers listen and react to one another. Even though the structure and the character of the piece are completely predetermined, the sound produced within that structure will vary with each performance.
The ten harps are consequently simulating the activity and sound of foraging ants, their aim being to bring back ‘food’ to their ‘nest’. All players belong to ‘colony A’ and this is where the piece will start. From ‘colony A’ they are free to wander through ‘landscapes’, either ‘cross-country’ or by using pull-out ‘trails’ hidden beneath the upper layer of the score, in search of places marked by a ‘flower’. Here they can pick up objects to bring back to their ‘colony’ – this is represented by inserting objects like corks and paper between the strings of the harps.
During the course of the ten-minute performance, the foraging activity will be interrupted three times by a ‘summer rain’ and after the second time, all foragers participate in the so-called ‘hymn’.
For a performance of Anthill, all harpists follow their own customized score guiding them through a fun stroll within the colourful landscapes of tunings, playing techniques and dynamics. This piece was commissioned by and first performed at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in 2007. (C.K.)