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In a Musical Labyrinth

Posted by on Monday, March 28, 2011 in Featured, Spring 2011.

Stan Link, associate professor of the philosophy and analysis of music, on the Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan.

Josh McGuire, senior lecturer in aural studies, and Stan Link, associate professor of the philosophy and analysis of music, traveled to Mexico City to premiere Link’s Toda la Tierra, for amplified classical guitar, two speakers and computer-generated accompaniment at the El Chopo Museum last September. The concert was part of the Music of the Stones project, in which visual artist Will Berry commissioned musical responses from several composers, including Blair alum Zach Miskin, BMus’06, to a series of large works he created by printing with rolling discs of lava rock on 30-foot-long Japanese paper. The installation of the scrolls in a gallery of the museum was also accompanied by ambient sound installations, including two extended works commissioned from Link at the beginning of the Music of the Stones project. The source sounds for these pieces included a clay flute that Link brought back from the pyramid city of Teotihuacan 34 years earlier. Ironically, this little souvenir was ultimately what brought McGuire and Link to Mexico City.

McGuire performed Toda La Tierra from a score that Link composed to simulate the 10 paths of the lava disks across the paper as well as the eye’s wandering path over the image. In this respect, McGuire became a kind of “co-composer” of the piece, which is never played the same way twice. By following the connections among the 10 cycles Link composed to represent the 10 lava disks, a new event emerges every time he plays it. McGuire’s trip through this musical labyrinth takes place against a background soundscape that Link constructed entirely from sounds made from paper and rocks. McGuire’s guitar in conjunction with the soundscape then forms the setting for four texts. The texts consist of Mexican poems, both contemporary and ancient, that refer to paper and stones. The title, Toda la Tierra, comes from an Aztec “flower and song” poem by Nezahualcoyot (Hungry Coyote), a poet/ruler who lived in pre-Cortes Mexico from 1402-1472. The poem describes the transience of human life, and ends with the line, “Vanished are these glories, just as the fearful smoke vanishes that belches forth from the infernal fires of Popocatepetl. Nothing recalls them but the written page.” Each of McGuire’s performances then mirrors the transience of human existence—which might be recorded, but can never be recreated.

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