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[The desert] that seems to remember everything that has happened to it, that remembers and ends up destroying everything that happens to it. Ariel Dorfman

​Atacama is a new piece for horns and strings. It is written for four Natural French horns in F, G, Eb and D and standard String Quartet. Here are some words I wrote before embarking on composing the piece :

A ridge silhouetted against a slow moving starfield. The longevity, the wildness, the remoteness. The scintillation of the starlight, the strength of the landscape. Radio dishes are horn-shaped technology for looking back in astronomical time - History written in the stars. Geo glyphs are relics of previous civilizations - History written in the desert. The inter-relatedness of the horns - parabolic dishes, hyperbolic horns. A huddle of scintillation in the strings. A desert made for looking at our origins. The driest place, The highest desert, Nearest to the stars, Guarding our ancestors’ ritualistic artwork . Seeing so many stars, did the ancients copy the celestial vastness in their art? Is the ALMA telescope therefore minutely mapping the ancients’ inspiration?

To help focus my mind I put up pictures in the studio of the ancient geo glyphs that are found in the Atacama desert and photos of the ALMA telescope.

I chose the four different keys of the horns so that I could combine them in different ways to produce a more chromatic harmony than would otherwise be available to me if I had used four natural horns in the same key. I make much use of stopped and ‘bent’ notes and hand glissandi. The music moves through different episodes, coalescing into a Tango-like theme before dissolving into shimmering atmospherics.

A recording has just been made at the Henry Wood Hall featuring The Guild of Hornplayers and the Carducci Quartet.