My commission for the Australian String Quartet was about being inspired by Australia, so Cicadidae is a very honest response to that. The title Cicadidae is the scientific name for the cicada family. For a few years, I’ve been obsessed with cicadas, their rhythmic pattern and song. Cicadidae is an homage to that. But it’s also a poetic statement about climate change. As a result of human-induced climate change many insect species are facing trouble – and possible extinction – and this is very worrying. I imagine cicadas’ evening song – which is such a prominent sound in Australia, and something, living in Europe, I’ve missed so much – to be a chorus singing praise for being alive. It’s almost hymnal.

Kate MooreKate Moore. Photo supplied

A few years back I heard this viral sound clip, about what happens if you slow down cicada song. You get this beautiful tonal harmony, which goes around and around in a loop. I figured it had been manipulated, but I loved it so much that I reimagined it in Cicadidae. I imagined if you slowed cicada song right down, that they’re all singing in harmony – they’re singing this beautiful, very simple, gradually changing harmony.

The string quartet form makes sense to me, thinking about the way in which cicadas make sound – they’re like little stringed instruments. They’re resonating their wings, not unlike strings resonating, and the way that their bodies act as resonant chambers – it’s directly to do with the way in which the strings resonate against a wooden body.

The quartet follows my thinking about creating pieces as sound environments that are ongoing and don’t necessarily have a beginning or end. The piece does have a beginning and end, but it’s like you set the world up for a period of time, so you experience it like a natural environment. It’s a very slowly evolving harmonic progression that keeps cycling through all the major and minor keys. The overall cycle is in one tempo, but within that the underlying measure is constantly changing – the invisible parameters of the music are changing, but the audible parameters are staying the same. I’m fascinated by the tension between the two currents in music – what you can see and hear, and what’s going on beneath the surface.

Cicadidae is a response to the realisation of the possibility of total ecological collapse, in which case spirituality suddenly becomes something very real and, in a broader context, existential. The fragility of living creatures becomes very prominent.


The Australian String Quartet gives the world premiere performances of Kate Moore’s Cicadidae as part of their MOORE BEETHOVEN BRAHMS tour, which goes to Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, May 21 – June 11

Tickets