on music and beauty

Tag: Kogi

Aluna in depth

Aluna is a 30′ work for viola, ensemble and live electronics written for renowned viola virtuoso Rivka Golani. In Aluna instrumentation, form, harmonic structure, and the use of technology all derive from a single, powerful model: the rich and complex creation myth of the Kogi, an indigenous community living on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia.

The starting idea for Aluna 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 Aluna 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 Aluna 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 Aluna 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.



High up on the slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia, under the snowy peaks and overlooking the Caribbean Sea, live the Kogi Indians. Contrary to the fate of many indigenous people in South America, the Kogi have managed to maintain their cultural identity and traditional way of life. Their geographical isolation has certainly helped, but the main reason is the unusually articulated, profound and interconnected set of beliefs and rituals that govern their life. Mythic thought and everyday life are so intertwined that many anthropologists have recognised the exceptionality of the Kogi among other Indian tribes of Central and Southern America.

The Kogi universe is based on a creation myth centred on the figure of the Great Mother. Originally she was aluna, pure thought. This word has multiple meanings in the Kogi language: memory, spirit, imagination. This mythological narrative has been the main source of inspiration for Aluna. The role of the Great Mother, and how she spins the world into existence from the dark primeval waters, has determined the form of the piece and the interaction between the soloist and the ensemble. The music of the ensemble is always derived from the solo viola part. Technology is used in the piece to project the viola sound in space and to allow the soloist to control and transform the sounds of the ensemble in real time.

When dealing with different cultures, I am always very interested in a kind of reverse ethnology, whereby we use concepts and knowledge from “primitive” people to try and shed light on our own culture. Aluna sets out to recreate a musical equivalent of the incredibly rich and profound creation myth of the Kogi. No musical tourism and no exotic flavours then, rather the attempt to transcend cultural differences by marrying Western compositional techniques with a world view from a remote culture.

Written in 2005 for Rivka Golani, the renowned virtuoso viola player, Aluna is dedicated to the memory of my mother. Aluna was first performed on 24 June 2005 with Rivka Golani, solo viola, and the Thallein Ensemble conducted by Lionel Friend in the Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire.

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Flute (doubling Piccolo)
Clarinet in Bb (doubling Bass Clarinet in Bb)
Horn in F
Trumpet in Bb
Percussion (Marimba, Glockenspiel)
Live Electronics (one performer)
2 Violins
Double Bass

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