Uaxuctum is a prehistoric Mayan sacred place in modern-day Guatemala. The temple city was rediscovered in 1916, and it has appealed to the imagination ever since because the Mayans apparently destroyed it themselves for religious reasons.
The Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, whose work and life are also the subject of Giacinto Scelsi. The First Motion of the Immovable by the same director Sebastiano d’Ayala Valva, took the story as the inspiration for his orchestral work Uaxuctum (1966). The music is among the most complex he ever wrote, and it was 21 years before the piece was even performed. The unusual instrumentation includes six double basses, an oil drum and a vast array of wind instruments. The musicians don’t just play conventionally, but they also gasp as they blow or rub their instruments. Meanwhile, the choir and solo vocalists make wordless guttural or nasal sounds.
The performance by the Radio France Choir and Philharmonic Orchestra was filmed with VR cameras to encourage us to enter the trancelike state that Scelsi envisioned. We’re sometimes among and sometimes above the musicians, immersed in sound. The grand concert hall dissolves and the temples of the ancient Mayan city appear—music and image converge.