Butterflies are for me symbolic of transience and fragility, of beauty and transformation. In this way, they seem to embody Earth in the grip of the ecological crisis. This metaphor acted as the ground in which ‘butterfly massacre’ is rooted.
The Fibonacci sequence, woven into the fabric of nature from fronds to pine cones to bee generations, is also central to the construction of ‘butterfly massacre.’ Although the sequence does not seem to relate to butterflies, I was interested in bringing the two together in this piece. Each passage leading up to a silence is a Fibonacci number of beats in length. There are 13 such passages, the last one 233 beats long, this being the thirteenth Fibonacci number. Both 13 and 233 are Fibonacci primes. In writing the piece in this way, I hoped to give a sense of direction and cohesion to the work. This last section, played on large, hard mallets, in contrast to the more intimate fingertips, small, soft mallets, and medium hard mallets, is marked, ‘like a butterfly being bludgeoned.’ In line with the violence of this image, the music is brutally mechanical: constant, syncopated crotchets on the lowest temple block, which appears here for the first time in the piece, slowing down at the 1/3 and 2/3 points in the section. The duration of this passage is roughly half that of the entire piece. Whilst this may seem excessive, there is no subtlety to the violence of ecological destruction. If the previous sections, with their quivering, winged rhythms, symbolise butterflies, then this last passage represents the massacre.
When writing music which engages with ecological subject matter, my intention is usually to make work which responds to the crisis, rather than representing it. That is, rather than seeking to convey a specific point, such as ‘The forests are burning,’ or in this case, ‘The butterflies are dying,’ I hope to create work which explores the sacredness and fragility of the living Earth. In some ways, ‘butterfly massacre’ may seem more representational, more a mirror or way of drawing attention to the crisis. An aspect of the work which potentially shifts the balance is the ritual the percussionist is required to perform. In asking the player to live an intense connection to nature as a starting-point for the piece itself, I hope to challenge the disconnect which can be constructed between humans and the rest of nature, and perhaps in doing so, to offer materials I feel are vital to healing this perceived rift.