Firefeeder's Dance (2019)
For wind ensemble
Human kind has often asked why we are alone as an intelligent species. While other animals demonstrate ability to manipulate their environment (chimpanzees, some birds, octopuses) or mourn their dead (elephants), we have yet in our recorded history to encounter a species that demonstrates intelligence to the same degree that we do. If we look at our prehistory, however, we find that we as Homo sapiens were not as alone as we feel now.
Homo neanderthalensis, more commonly known as the Neanderthals was a species (or debatably subspecies) of hominid separate from us. For years, these specimens have been depicted as brutish, stupid and anti-social, driven mostly out of animal instinct, but the last half-century or so of archiological discovery flys in the face of these preconseptions. While contested, there is evidence to support the ideas that Neanderthals were the first peoples to intentionally bury their dead, may have practiced the earliest forms of totemism/animism, built instruments out of bone, participated in song and dance, and like us, had an attachment to fire. While no finds have suggested that Neanderthals could create fire, we have found enormous ash pits they left behind. It is most likely that fire would naturally occur through an event like a lightning strike or a drought, and the Neanderthals would do everything they could to keep it going for as long as possible.
We have no record as to what Neanderthal music would have sounded like (they left no sheet music behind for us to read), but it doesn’t seem unreasonable they would have connected fire, up-tempo music, dance, and possibly even ritual much in the same way that Homo sapiens would. This composition begins with the sound of the flute on its own, to pay homage to the single tool this species had in their orchestrational toolboxes, and grows into a percussion-driven groove section. Just as the Neanderthals would have likely only used shorter musical figures, the main rhythmic figure around which the work is based is only 4 measures in length (in cut time) and comes back over and over again to serve as the basis for the rest of the work, trading off with the groove section. Swells of sound leading into one another that sound almost like a piano recording played in reverse present a ghostly quality, intended to represent spirits or spiritual essence linked to the Neanderthal’s animism. Finally, the whole piece builds, with the main motive momentarily becoming more complicated, right before reaching its end.