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Mysterium, Music from the Labyrinth

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Mysterium, Music from the Labyrinth is the first CD compilation of music by John Burke dedicated to the labyrinth process. Performed by Ensemble Vivant, it begins and ends with Mysterium, the work upon which the entire labyrinth repertoire is based, and a work that is indelibly associated with the artistry of these fine musicians. The centrepiece of the recording is Hieratikos for piano trio, a continuous 55-minute arc that guides the listener through the classic rite of passage and its three phases: separation, transition and reincorporation. This is a singular departure for classical music in that it is intended as a dynamic support for walking meditation. Moreover, one is encouraged to upload it to a handheld device and use it to accompany physical-symbolic journeys of one's own devising.

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Roger Knox's review of Mysterium, Music from the Labyrinth in Whole Note Magazine:

Liner Notes

"Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the Shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreeable, and therefore not popular." Carl Gustav Jung

Circumambulation, or the walking in circles around venerated objects and sacred sites, is an ancient ritual found in many spiritual traditions. It is variously known as pradakshina in Hinduism, tawaf in Islam, and kora in Tibetan Buddhism. Kinhin, the clockwise walking meditation practiced in the Japanese Zendo, eschews a central object, and instead focuses on the breath. In Jungian psychology "the circumambulation of the Self," the alchemical path to individuation, is walked symbolically.

While cross cultural, the ceremonial pilgrimage has been relatively absent in the West. In recent years, however, it has found expression in the contemplative practice of walking the labyrinth, especially the celebrated design found at Chartres Cathedral in France. During the Middle Ages, it served as a surrogate pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Today, it fuses the spirit of pilgrimage to sacred sites, Buddhist walking meditation, and archetypal psychology into a single practicumone that calls out for music to realize its hidden potential.

The music normally associated with the labyrinth favours the slow, the subdued, and the non-rhetorical. Genres such as Gregorian chant, the devotional music of other cultures, and new age music are commonplace. While using the quietistic voice for specific purposes, the music heard on this recording charts an altogether more exigent trajectory. It models the classic rite of passage in its three phases: separation, transition, and incorporation. It considers how the techniques of development, metamorphosis, and evolutionthe hard-won armamentarium of Western classical musiccan entrain a parallel transformation in the psyche. Implicit in this is the recognition that the mythic journey, the journey toward wholeness, is predicated on the integration of the shadow, the un-lived life, with its attendant challenges. Without obstacles there can be no growth; the labyrinth, when met with inspired facilitation, becomes a singular crucible in which to catalyze it.

Despite its classical roots, what is presented on this recording is not concert music. Its intended utility places it outside the Western classical canon. Hieratikos, for example, could be likened to the sonic driving of shamanic drumming, which is not "percussion music" in the conventional sense, but an auditory horse of a different colour, meant to be ridden by the mind. The guiding principle is that music is internalized differently while walking than when passively ensconced in the concert hall. At the labyrinth, what would otherwise be an aesthetic experience becomes an energetically embodied one (dance is kinetically embodied), to which alternative psychoacoustic cues and protocols apply.

Like the labyrinth and its counterpart the mandala, circularity is the source code of this music. The pieces arrayed here, as well as the larger repertoire from which they are drawn, are all based on a recursive sequence of twelve harmonies that morphs from consonance, through nuanced gradations of dissonance, back to consonance. In its stereotypical aspect it aspires to the condition of such icons as the blues progression and flamenco's Andalusian cadenceprimal utterances susceptible of endless elaboration.

Mysterium is the harmonic formula at its most beguiling, a musical "consensus reality" to be subverted and transmogrified. It bookends the recording in a way reminiscent of the Aria in Bach's Goldberg Variations, a work that famously takes an unassuming harmonic progression on a transcendent voyage of discovery. The salient fact is that the Aria we end with is not the Aria we began with. By virtue of having left home it has changed, and we have changed with it. Thus, in its final piano sextet appearance, Mysterium becomes a litmus test, a means of checking in on ourselves in the wake of what has gone before.

Lungta literally means "windhorse," and refers to a creature in Tibetan mythology. Esoterically, it stands for life force or subtle energy, which, as with the shaman's drum, is the mount on which the mind rides, like a rider on a horse. The pianist extemporizes on the harmonic sequence to raise a wind of delight and power in preparation for the formal enactment to follow.

Hieratikos, the Greek word for sacerdotal or priestly, is the solar plexus of the journey. A vast expansion and intensification of the harmonic sequence, it describes a self-contained arc within the global arc of the recording, the inner sanctum within the temple's larger precincts. The opening meditative induction introduces a shape-shifting traverse through soundscapes sunlit and storm tossedharmonic fields as states of being. The denouement is liminality, a threshold condition of ambiguity or disorientation that marks the ritual loss of the old identity in preparation for the acquisition of the new one. It is here that music, the sacred geometry of the labyrinth, and the inner work of the labyrinth pilgrims can synergistically meet. The movement concludes with a pacifying reintegration, followed by the return of Mysterium.

This is music for use, in the spirit of the Latin dictum solvitur ambulando: "it is solved by walking." Whether at the Chartres labyrinth, a labyrinth of wilderness trails, a labyrinth of neighbourhood streets . . . or a virtual labyrinth of the mind . . . this is music that embraces challenge and offers a template by which to navigate it.
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A precursor work to the labyrinthmusic. Compelling…

Remember Your Power

is an hour-long chamber work that is the primary forerunner of the Labyrinth Project. Intended to be performed in an alternative concert environment, it renders the fourth wall dividing audience and performers permeable (which the labyrinth ultimately dissolves). Its three movements model the classic tripartite structure of the archetype of initiation and personal transformation that mythologist Joseph Campbell called The Hero's Journey.

This recording also includes John Burke's String Quartet (1994), which was awarded the Jules Léger Prize for New Chamber Music in 1995.