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Cladonia bellidiflora

Not in fact a plant, but a lichen. I saw some of these little beauties when I took shelter next to a damp rock on a wet, sullen winter’s day in the Affric Hills. Now I’m quite fascinated by lichens, which seem to surround us in their huge variety wherever the air is clean enough.

A lichen is a symbiotic association between a fungus and an alga. The fungus provides the structure for the alga to grow in, while the alga provides nutrition for the fungus; without one, the other could not survive, and they grow very slowly together.

When I began to think about a starting-point for my piece for High Heels and Horse Hair’s TRANSPLANTED project, this symbiosis really appealed to me. The two instruments (violin and cello) would play music that intertwined, and when one changed direction the other would follow. Sometimes it wouldn’t be clear which instrument played which notes, the two sounding as a single organism; at other times they would drift apart, only to reunite.

I worked at the piece in short bursts spread over a couple of months, making very little attempt to develop or extend music I’d already written: the point was to create this sense of following, of dependency, whatever the material, season or terrain; so I allowed the music to wander, changing pace and looping back but always consisting of one sound made up of two entities.

The name seems to suggest the beauty of a flower, which would certainly be appropriate, but maybe it has something to do with war (bellum). If any Latin scholar out there wishes to enlighten me…

The piece is to be paired with Hawthorn from Oswald’s Airs for the Seasons, and I was pleased to see that this piece also uses elements of ‘following’, with its imitative openings and quasi-canons. So the two should sit nicely together!

Now that most of the work has been done in first draft, I’m looking forward to showing it to Sonia and Alice and trying a few of the ideas out. A particular challenge was to find a way of fitting all of the music onto a single side of paper (even and A2 sheet!), so we’ll perhaps work out some ways of making the notation as economical as possible, as well as trying out some very long, slow glissandi…

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