A Few Thoughts on Ritual

Los Munequitos de Matanzas:
Tocorro (traditional)

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I finally got around to watching Maya Deren’s documentary Devine Horsemen: the Living Gods of Haiti last night – a great anthropological study with insightful commentary and stunning footage and music from traditional Voudoun rituals. I highly recommend downloading it from UbuWeb (on of my favourite websites).

I’ve long been drawn to traditional rituals. Growing up I Tucson, I fondly remember seeing and reading about the rituals of people native to Arizona and the rest of the American Southwest.

Musically, I’ve long been drawn towards traditional Cuban ritualistic music. When I still lived in Tucson, I had the honor of becoming friends and playing music with a Cuban percussionist, Guillermo “Bubba” Faz. We met when I joined in a salsa band, quickly hit it off, and decided to form our own more traditional and experimental ensemble.

Bubba taught me about some of the traditional Lumuní rhythms, Cantos, and rituals for the various Orishas. At one point, I even underwent a ritual that cleansed hands so that I could play the bata drums. On another occasion, he introduced me to the head drummer, Jesús Alfonso Miró, for Los Munequitos de Matanzas (the preeminent interpreters of traditional Cuban music from the Matanzas, or rural, region)

I’ve always been struck by how these traditional rituals inform contemporary or modern art. Furthermore, I’m often amazed at the esthetic force achieved when one incorporates the ritual in contemporary art or music. For example, off the top of my head I think of power in the music of Vivier, Radulescu, Grisey’s Quatre Chants Pour Franchir le Seuil, La Monte Young’s Well-Tuned Piano, late Feldman, and parts of Stockhausen’s two best works – Mantra and Stimmung.

For my current project, Inner Music, I see this ritualistic element as the archetypal formal and structural model. The work unfolds like a series of Cantos structurally bound by some similar parameters that each seeks to invoke a different individual, yet unified, character. As the work progresses the intensity grows and the dance’s freedom and ecstasy intensify until finally an ultimate threshold is reached and, well, I don’t want to give away the ending because that’s a secret…

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