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earth. pillar. sky. (2020, rev. 2021)     

for guqin solo

Commissioned by AIR Contemporary Music Collective.

-Original version performed by Xuemeng Wu, 77 Theatre; Beijing, China, January 2021

-Revised version recorded by Xuemeng Wu, November 2021

On a molecular level the past has always contained a violent multiplicity of lines of flight. Every kind of historical music is a deterritorializing map of a previous music. In the case of the guqin—against a mythology which suggests that the instrument has no origin, that erases its genesis in a specific political economy—we can point to the instrument’s emergence—an emergence only now beginning to be traced in the archeological record—in the late Zhou. It is music that emerges concurrently with a literati class consciousness, with a nomadization of court music. The guqin’s performance practice, a clear binary of ringing, immutable harmonics and fluid, parlando slides, is a portable “map” of the now vanished yayue (court music) of the Zhou dynastic court. In the upheaval of the Spring and Autumn period, this grand orchestral yayue music of immense cultural significance, safeguarded by the centralized court, threatened to be lost; scholars, expelled from their posts in the central royal domain, could only replicate this music’s serene bells and writhing aviary of bamboo pipes with the portable seven-stringed guqin.

A map is a rhizome: the mapping of court music onto the guqin is an extension of lines of flight, lines which continue to extend, in, into imagined performance practices. This extension can be conceived of as a speculative reconstruction of a historical instant, of a brief “hundred schools of thought”: perhaps in the early phases of the solo instrument’s evolution, there were as many kinds of guqin maps as there were literati. Before the reterritorialization of the guqin into a unified tradition there was a vast geography of maps, a vast bestiary of possible transcriptions of court music. In it is similarly this map of court music that proliferates into a geography of intertwined performance practices.

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