Air Traffic (2023)

trumpet and electronics

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Often my inspiration for new pieces comes from observing the natural world or worrying about what’s happening to it. In Air Traffic, I’m thinking about honey bees. In his book Honeybee Democracy, Thomas D. Seeley, a scientist at Cornell, gives a detailed account of the behavior of these bees. His main idea — which seems charmingly idealistic, especially these days — is that humans could learn a thing or two from the social cohesion and cooperative decision-making of honey bees. But it’s his research into the honey bees’ ability to scout out a new home and navigate there, while keeping together a hive of thousands, that interests me most. Seeley and his colleagues performed experiments suggesting that certain scout bees guide the others to a new home they’ve discovered: the scouts fly quickly, in a straight line through the bee swarm, thus encouraging the other bees to follow, instead of flying randomly in all directions. My piece enacts such a swarm in its middle section, using a colony of synthetic “bees” that fly around the concert hall, while the trumpeter, as scout bee, gets them to fly right. When the bees find their home, they break into a celebratory song, with a swinging beat.

But there are real bees in this piece, too! To help me get a better sense of what honey bees are like up close, I met with Indiana University biologists Lílian Caesar and Chris Robinson at the university hives. I dropped microphones in a hive and witnessed a terrifying, claustrophobic, and frenzied sound world, which you will hear accompanying the trumpet. I even donned a bee suit to better see what they were up to. You will hear a bit of my conversation with Lílian at the end of the piece. The bees do not intimidate her. I thank Lílian for allowing me to use her voice.

In Air Traffic, I aim to surround the trumpet with fragments of its own live sound or with synthetic voices, using an immersive eight-channel loudspeaker arrangement. In addition to the synthetic bees mentioned above, the piece features an algorithmically constructed jazz accompaniment to the trumpeter, whom I ask to improvise within a musical environment unmoored from a clear harmonic grounding. It’s meant to come across as an exuberant free-jazz romp, before subsiding into a return of the opening soundscape, situated in a hay field with cars passing in the distance and bees buzzing from the nearby hives.

Unfortunately, honey bees, while essential for agriculture, tend to out-compete native pollinators, which are also under threat from climate change and pesticides. If you want to help native bees, and you have some kind of yard, replace your grass with native plants. Bees will show up for asters, bee balm, boneset, and others. Most of these bees are solitary, not living in huge hives, so they will be happy to visit you.


  • Eddie Ludema, trumpet. New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (upcoming)
  • Eddie Ludema, trumpet. SEAMUS National Conference, Louisiana State University School of Music, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 4/6/24
  • Joshua Krovetz, trumpet. Sonic Explorations, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, 3/20/24
  • Eddie Ludema, trumpet. Missouri Experimental Sonic Arts Festival (MOXsonic), University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, Missouri, 3/16/24
  • Eddie Ludema, trumpet. Electronic Music Midwest, Lewis University, Romeoville, Illinois, 3/2/24
  • Eddie Ludema, trumpet. CECM Faculty Concert, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, 9/16/23