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Organized with Americas Society
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, Laboratorio: Joaquín Orellana is a workspace for emerging composers—students in advanced composition at CUNY schools—to engage and practice on the instruments. 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. Visitors will be able to play the instruments and experience the sonic trajectory of Orellana’s creations.
Laboratorio: Joaquín Orellana is organized by Diana Flatto, Sebastián Zubieta, and Arden Sherman and is a project for the exhibition Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music, at Americas Society, New York. The project is made possible by the support of Hunter East Harlem Gallery, Americas Society, Hunter College Department of Music, and the Office of the President, Hunter College.
The exhibition Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music is supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
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