InterJournal Complex Systems, 603
Status: Accepted
Manuscript Number: [603]
Submission Date: 20629
in memory of an anthill: Complexity Theory and a String Quartet
Author(s): Paula Matthusen

Subject(s): CX.13, CX.14

Category: Brief Article


in memory of an anthill, is a composition for string quartet based on ideas from cellular automata theory. The score is organized around the choices that individual musicians make to begin, interrupt, and restart the composition at any time. Since each individual musician makes these choices in the context of the choices of the surrounding musicians in the quartet, the composition self-organizes from their interactions. The composition can move along several possible musical “routes,” with each route leading to its own, unique ending. Musical “routes” are not predetermined, but occur naturally as players react to each other’s interpretations during the piece, with each player having an equal voice in the ensemble. If a performer does not like a particular way the piece is heading, he or she can "restart" the performance, thereby directing it away from an unwanted ending. The string quartet would likely consider some of these possible endings, such as those that instruct the performers to break their instruments or throw their bows across the room, to be undesirable. The presence of these endings enhances the dramatic nature of the piece and encourages the quartet to self-organize and cooperate as they redirect the course of the piece away from possible unwanted results. in memory of an anthill relies on the tensions between improvisation and pre- composed music, resulting in an unpredictable work that is never performed the same way twice and yet always remains sonically recognizable and distinct. For the conference, I would present two separate recordings of the piece and discuss its conceptual and structural aspects. The use of cellular automata theory as a foundation for in memory of an anthill results in an exploration of existing musical hierarchies, their fragility, and ability to change.

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