Alúna in depth
Alúna is a 30’ work for viola, ensemble and live electronics written for renowned viola virtuoso Rivka Golani. In Alúna instrumentation, form, harmonic structure, and the use of technology all derive from a single, powerful model: the rich and complex creation myth of the Kogis, an indigenous community living on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia.
The starting idea for Alúna was a ritual sequence where a female figure would lead a group of followers through a transformative process. From a musical perspective the solo viola would represent the leading female figure, the ensemble her people, and the electronics the transformative tools. Conceptually the music of the solo viola generates all the musical material of the piece, while the electronics setup allows the soloist to transform her own sound and the sound of the ensemble through her musical gestures.
Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff has been the first anthropologist to disentangle the complexities of the Kogi mythology and to notice the uniqueness of their culture in the wider perspective of South American ethnology. The Kogi creation myth is based on a sequence of nine worlds, representing both a chronological series of events and the permanent structure of their universe. A graphical representation of the latter would consist of two conical shapes joined at the base, with the smaller worlds at the top and the bottom, and at the centre the largest, the fifth world, our world. Accordingly Alúna is composed of nine sections of related lengths. An introduction (“Sea”) and a conclusion (“Blood”) frame the nine “Worlds”. Each of the “worlds” links to the following one through a short “weaving” section.
The importance of weaving in the Kogi culture cannot be overemphasised. Every aspect of their physical and spiritual life is dominated by the act of weaving, and the creation myth as a whole can be visualised as a giant spinning fuse around an imaginary axis passing through the highest peak of the Sierra Nevada.
The music of Alúna is derived entirely from an interwoven fabric of nine harmonic fields, built from nine intervals of a perfect fifth. This harmonic structure expands and contracts according to the form of the piece, but maintains its ritual, static character throughout.
For Alúna I developed an interface written with MaxMSP. It performs a realtime spectral analysis and resynthesis of the viola sound, and spatialise the resulting FFT bins individually. The trajectories reflect the weaving paradigm, both in space and frequency. The generative nature of the viola is reflected in how spectral and amplitude data from the instrument are used to control and transform the sound of the orchestra through a bank of dynamic resonant filters, spectral delays and a convolution engine.