The following is an interview with Maia Scott, which appeared in the Winter 2011 edition of the Veriditas Labyrinth Journal:
M.S.: Would you tell us a little bit about yourself and what drew you to focus your work within the New Music genre?
J.B.: My musical background is somewhat unusual, at least for North America, in that from childhood I attended a cathedral schola cantorum. Along with academic subjects I studied Gregorian chant, music theory and piano, and was performing choral repertoire from Renaissance to modern. This gave me a broad experience of Western music, which proved advantageous later on, and imprinted on me music’s role in a ritual process. I can see now that my eventual immersion in the musical avant-garde was part of a search to access what might be called an “esoteric” function for music―more an energetic than a conventionally aesthetic one―but not, as it turned out, quite what the official avant-garde might have had in mind.
In your vita you mention Don G. Campbell (The Mozart Effect), Jean Houston, and Lauren Artress guiding you deeper into the world of music and consciousness. Would you describe any particular memorable happenings or personal discoveries in this process?
Classical music in principle is a bright light, but as Goethe pointed out: the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. By the mid-90s the postmodern, flatland ethos of my contemporary music world had begun to deliver some useful wake-up calls, and it became clear that it was time to venture beyond the status quo. In typical fashion that’s when the synchronicities started showing up, leading initially to Don Campbell and his Sound School, which in effect found me. A classical musician himself (and student at a young age of renowned teacher Nadia Boulanger), it was Don who pointed out the possibility of a new ethos for music, beyond entertainment and aesthetic connoisseurship, which would flow from my intention. The communicative impact of my work shifted dramatically as a result of this and similar encounters, yet still it seemed possible to go further. I had been vaguely aware of Lauren Artress’ association with the labyrinth prior to this, but now began to intuit that my music could bring something unique to the labyrinth experience. A workshop with Lauren in 2000 confirmed me in this direction and I began to develop a repertoire of chamber music designed to facilitate the labyrinth journey in a challenging way. I was also aware that Jean Houston had initially introduced Lauren to the labyrinth, so I subsequently attended her Mystery School to delve deeper into this and other related lore.
We would love to hear about your creative process―the art, science and philosophy―leading to the production of your collection of labyrinth works.
I attended that first workshop with Lauren Artress at Grace Cathedral, and others subsequently, to learn how music was being used at the labyrinth. What became clear was that the preferred music―Gregorian chant, world music, new age music, the devotional music of other cultures and so on―is essentially modal. That is to say, it is non-architectonic and free floating, which tends to suspend one in the now. On the other hand, Beethoven’s non-modal (i.e. tonal) music, for example, with its dramatically charged leveraging of time and emphatic appeal to memory and anticipation, to past and future, would not be so appropriate here. It occurred to me that, given what I know as a classical composer, it might be possible to combine the best of both worlds: a quality of nowness quickened by an impetus towards forward motion and transformation―the aural counterpart to what happens when one physically walks a labyrinth. To this end the entire repertoire is based on a circular, evolving sequence of twelve harmonies that models the archetype of initiation in a homeopathic way. Thus each piece, while autonomous, manifests the same underlying metamorphic principle. Put another way, this is music that aspires to the condition of the shaman’s drum: one drum, many journeys.
Please take us deep into one of your concert experiences and describe your sense of musicians and observers as your music takes shape.
In working with the labyrinth, what I quickly realized is how it fundamentally changes the rules of the game musically. Most striking is how it elegantly subverts the familiar egoic dance of the concert world―a serious eye-opener, given the extent to which ego has shaped the DNA of Western music―but that’s another interview! Instead, what effortlessly emerges at the labyrinth is an egoless intention of service. For once the music isn’t about “me”; it’s about the inner work of the participants. Thus my role as a musician is to be clear about the state of being that I can help facilitate for the listener and to work backwards to find the best means to accomplish that. Similarly, the labyrinth pilgrims aren’t there to be entertained or served up some form of elitist diversion, but to work on themselves. This radically shifts the dynamic between the performers and the recipients from the fourth wall of the concert hall to a symbiotic meeting of hearts and minds―a bracing return to first principles. The performing artists spontaneously find themselves merging their own collective musical journey with the collective physical journey unfolding on the labyrinth, which is its own kind of magic. I know from personal experience as a piano improviser that this empathic bond can be particularly potent, and it can be predicated on virtually no music at all. Less is uniquely more here. And if conditions are right, there can emerge a mysterious synergy between music and the labyrinth that results in what is neither a concert nor a ritual, but a third thing, greater than the sum of its parts.
The labyrinth led you down a unique and powerful path. Do you see yourself taking this venture even deeper? And where do you see yourself down the road?
I have not begun to tap the full potential of this journey, because of what it continues to reveal about the arcana of classical music in the West. I look forward to one day creating an immersive experience that would uncompromisingly take people as deep as they are willing and able to go, and which would be facilitated as a formal rite of passage. At recent labyrinth events I have heard comments to the effect that here is something that ought to be made available on a continuing basis to those who could derive benefit from it. I have been visioning a centre dedicated to sound and consciousness where this and other approaches could be optimally realized. In practical terms it would be a circular structure founded on a labyrinth floor plan, with multimedia capabilities and optimized acoustics, a crucial consideration when one trades the concert hall for alternative spaces. The point being that set and setting are integral to this process, in contrast to the usual preoccupations of installation and environmental art.
Do you have any advice or wisdom to share with facilitators and labyrinth enthusiasts regarding music/sound healing and work with the labyrinth?
I have found the labyrinth to be a unique laboratory in which to research the effects of sound on consciousness, and a way to drill down to some kind of empirical truth about music that I couldn't have unearthed in any other way. I would invite and encourage others to take their own journey in this spirit, in whatever form that might take, the labyrinth being just the beginning. If we are in fact on the verge of a major collective shift in consciousness as many predict, then I feel that music can and should be instrumental in getting us there. As a classical musician, I see the remarkable trajectory of Western music as the long march towards precisely that.