In 2015, I spent some time in the Amazon jungle of Peru. I spent much of my time there with a shaman and other solo travelers in a maloca, a large, circular structure built from native materials. Four narrow windows made of corrugated plastic were built into the fronds and branches that comprised the roof, rising lengthwise toward the apex.
Looking up from the inside, even in the darkest hours of nighttime, these four windows shone brightly from the moonlight forming what eventually looked like a singular illuminated shape. And similar to how staring at a familiar word long enough can temporarily morph it into something that looks foreign or absurd, the silhouette of space between these windows took the form of a mysterious but compassionate being – like an all-knowing, maternal figure looking over our group as if to say, “Don’t worry. All is well.”
I hear myself describing this experience, recognizing how it can sound a little new-agey, but it was a meaningful experience in which I found some comfort in letting go of the anxieties that can sometimes accompany daily life in the modern western world.
Windows of the Maloca is a tribute to this experience. It doesn’t aim to create a narrative, but rather to symbolize the way in which the components of an ecosystem exist together as a community. No matter how small the organism, it affects some other part of the whole, even if it doesn't seem immediately apparent.
I chose to use a repeating metric framework of 7/8+7/8+7/8+6/8, and this structure remains consistent throughout the entire piece. A faint, repetitive pattern on the rim of a lone snare drum introduces this theme, and various layers and colors slowly start to intervene, painting a complex landscape. Sometimes mysterious, occasionally aggressive, and at other points suggesting beauty and hope, this work lasts approximately 5.5 minutes and requires 14 players.
Windows of the Maloca was commissioned by Brandon Kunka, director of the Roswell High School percussion ensemble (Roswell, GA) and will be premiered at the Georgia Music Educators Association (GMEA) conference in Athens, Georgia in January 2017.