Exhibition opening: Thursday, May 28, 2020
Curated by Diana Flatto and Sebastián Zubieta.
The first exhibition of the Guatemalan composer’s útiles sonoros (sound tools) in the United States, Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music presents these innovative instruments alongside the work of contemporary artists. This exhibition connects the musician’s avant-garde sensibility with that of artists including Carlos Amorales, Akira Ikezoe, and Alberto Rodríguez Collía, each of whom has spent time with the composer and created work related to his practice.
As a part of this project, Americas Society has commissioned a new score by Orellana, Efluvios y puntos, which will premiere at the exhibition opening. The instruments will continue to be activated in the gallery over the course of the exhibition, and visitors will be invited to engage with select pieces.
Joaquín Orellana is among the most influential living members of Latin America’s musical avant-garde. Born in Guatemala City in 1930, he studied violin and composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Guatemala and was a fellow at the preeminent Centro Latinoamericano de Estudios Musicales (CLAEM) at the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires. During his time at the CLAEM lab, Orellana encountered contemporary avant-garde innovations and became particularly interested in electronic music, then in its infancy. When he returned to Guatemala in 1968 and found the latest technologies were unavailable, he decided to invent alternatives in order to recreate the sound-world he imagined after his experiences in Argentina. The series of instruments he created became an analogue solution for achieving an electronic musical sound and at the same time, established a cultural identity for Guatemala within Latin America. In 1972 he designed and built the Sonorimba, the first of his útiles sonoros (sound tools) and like many of his instruments that followed, the Sonorimba is based on the marimba, Guatemala’s national instrument. The unique design of Orellana’s instruments makes them function not only as innovative musical instruments but also as sculptural objects.
Orellana’s compositions are deeply connected to the difficult history of Guatemala, providing a soundscape attuned to the oppression of indigenous people and the pains of a decades-long civil war. Influenced by Orellana, the dark social and political environment became a guiding principle for a younger generation of Latin American composers. A new genre of "social-sound" emerged, where composers looked to society and a people’s history for musical inspiration. Orellana’s radical practice combines innovation with a powerful social conscience, and ancestral techniques with avant-garde sensibility.
In keeping with Orellana's practice of encouraging young musicians, a workspace for emerging composers—students in advanced composition at CUNY schools— to engage and practice on the instruments is available at Hunter College’s East Harlem Gallery before the opening of the exhibition. The culmination of this workshop-type project will be a public performance that opens the exhibition Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music at Americas Society on May 28, 2020.
Photo caption: Joaquín Orellana, Imbaluna. Courtesy of Joaquín Orellana.
The presentation of Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. It is also made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
Additional support is provided by MetLife Foundation, Presenting Sponsor of the MetLife Foundation Music of the Americas Concert Series, by the Smart Family Foundation of New York, and by Mex-Am Cultural Foundation.
Americas Society acknowledges the generous support from the Arts of the Americas Circle members: Estrellita B. Brodsky; Kaeli Deane; Diana Fane; Galeria Almeida e Dale; Isabella Hutchinson; Carolina Jannicelli; Luis Oganes; Vivian Pfeiffer and Jeanette van Campenhout, Phillips; Gabriela Pérez Rocchietti; Erica Roberts; Sharon Schultz; Diana López and Herman Sifontes; and Edward J. Sullivan.