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The human brain is capable of remarkable feats of understanding and analysis, yet has trouble simply imagining its own death. Death is our blind spot — we cannot conceive of an end to our perceptions and experiences, so we are forced to invent stories about what we will experience after we die.
As a result, human culture overflows with afterworld narratives, and in some cases these have become rich in specific details, textures and landscapes: afterworlds may be light, dark, watery, icy, misty, subterranean, found in the clouds, in the earth, in the sun, in the moon; they may be places of peace and redemption, or places of violence and damnation.
Commissioned by the New Zealand String Quartet
In Exitus, I chose four specific afterworlds as starting points in the musical development of distinct sonic images.
I. QUIDLIVUN [”The Land of the Moon”]
In Inuit mythology, spirits who maintained a virtuous life are taken to Quidlivun, the Land of the Moon, where they find eternal rest.
II. XIBALBÁ [“The Place of Fear”]
In Xibalbá — the Mayan underworld — souls are faced on the descent by tribulations such as rivers of blood and pus, and once there, are faced with deadly trials by darkness, cold, fire, razor blades, hungry jaguars, and shrieking bats.
III. NIFLHEIM [“The House of Mists”]
In Norse mythology, Niflheim is a far northern region of icy fogs and mists, darkness and cold. It is situated on the lowest level of the universe, underneath the third root of Yggdrasil, the world tree. An old Norse hymn tune “Med Jesus vil eg fara” (With Jesus I will journey) is played almost inaudibly by violins and viola, above which the cello traces thin, delicate keenings.
IV. OKA LUSA HACHA [“Black Water River”]
In the afterworld myths of the Choctaw tribe of Native Americans, the soul heads down a long road to the East in search of the good hunting grounds, and faces a trial by crossing a log over the Black Water River. If he has sinned, he falls into the great gushing waterfall beneath.
23 Jan 2009: Gala Opening
21 Jun 2009: NZSQ June 2009
01 Nov 2009: Concert 1: Multicultural NZ
13 Nov 2009: NZSQ: ... Cultural Property
30 Mar 2012: Death and the Maiden: New Zealand String Quartet
Performed by New Zealand String Quartet
Performed by the New Zealand String Quartet at Adam Concert Room, Victoria University, Wellington, in November, 2009