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Monday, January 18, 2016

Back To The Future

Far from New Age, my musical engagement with the labyrinth is, if anything, Old Age. Old in the sense that the inception of the labyrinth in the Gothic cathedrals of the twelfth-century was precisely contemporaneous with the first great flowering of classical music in the West. As the medieval stone labyrinths were first being laid down, the dawn of polyphonic music, the Ars Antiqua, was rising over the choir loft at Notre Dame de Paris, for me a gravid symbolism. 

What is striking about this conjunction is its Borgesian circularity. Almost nine hundred years on, the archetypal journey that is the labyrinth is enjoying a groundswell revival. The ur-composers of the Notre Dame school, Léonin and Pérotin, having essentialized diatonic minimalism ab ovo, now inspire contemporary composers such as Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt and György Ligeti.

But all these are mere harbingers. What can such musical and labyrinthine creation myths tell us about the next turning of the musical dharmic wheel? Might our newly-won, post-Boulezian manumission clear the way for a circularity capable of reorienting the course of Western music itself?

More on that downriver . . .

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