Nazca Lines (1992)

for: chamber orchestra
(1-1-1-1; 2-1-1-1; 1-1-1-1-1; 2 perc.)
duration: 10 minutes
premiered: by the St. Lawrence String Quartet and members of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, Dec. 5, 1992, Wayne Toews, conductor.

Nazca is a town on the south coast of Peru which holds a remarkable mystery. In the bleak, stony desert surrounding the town, between the Andes Mountains to the East, and the Pacific Ocean to the West, the landscape is scarred by a complex network of lines and drawings. “Like a gigantic abandoned sketch pad, the pampa (desert plateau) is crowded with a profusion of man-made designs. Colossal triangles and rectangles stretch for hundreds of meters with startling precision. Geometric designs such as spirals and zigzags can be seen, together with realistic outlines of animals and plants. Many of these naturalistic figures are surprisingly well proportioned when viewed from the air. If you were to visit them on the ground, however, their immense size would make it difficult to recognize their identity without plotting their outlines on paper.” (Lines to the Mountain Gods, Evan Haddingham).

The Lines of Nazca have been studied for many decades, yet the exact reason for their existence is not known. Some theories suggest that the lines are astronomical plottings or are somehow connected with the water/fertility cult. Theories abound, but we will probably never know the exact reason for their existence. They have been dated to somewhere between 500 BC and 500 AD and, along with other artifacts of the period, provide us with remarkable examples of Incan Engineering, methods of worship and artistic expression.

The idea for the musical work Nazca Lines came about not through exposure to the rich musical tradition of Peru, but rather through reading about indigenous cultures. In this anniversary year of the Columbus “discovery” I thought it would be worthwhile to pay tribute to one of the many achievemenents of the Inca people.

Nazca Lines is therefore not based on Peruvian music, nor is it programmatic. The earth drawings at Nazca merely presented me with a spectacle, elegant in its simplicity yet unfathomable in its mystery. This, plus the fact that they are closely analogous to a musical score, seemed a natural springboard for the invention of a piece.

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