Composer Wilfrido Terrazas presents a seven part album length work, The Torres Cycle, which explores ritual, indigenous tradition from his native Mexico, alternative notation, structured improvisation, spatialized live performance techniques, and an evocative instrumentation layout to explore questions of social connection and the mysterious relationship between tradition, history, and the present. A virtuoso flutist, Terrazas presents a musical language in which the power of expression frames the palette of techniques, creating a fresh and urgent soundworld.
|01||Torre del Norte|
Torre del Norte
|Víctor Hugo Fuentes Ramírez, trumpet, Pedro Morales Ortega, trumpet, Iván Trujillo, trumpet, Sarah Belle Reid, trumpet and electronics, Weston Olencki, bass trumpet and trombone, Berk Schneider, trombone, Mattie Barbier, trombone and euphonium||11:59|
|02||Tótem I, Camino sobre la tierra|
Tótem I, Camino sobre la tierra
|Juliana Gaona, oboe, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones, percussion||9:49|
|03||Torre del Este|
Torre del Este
|Michael Jones, percussion, Cory Hills, percussion, Rebecca Lloyd-Jones, percussion||10:56|
|04||Tótem II, Miro hacia el cielo|
Tótem II, Miro hacia el cielo
|Teresa Díaz de Cossío, piccolo, Alexander Ishov, piccolo, Michael Matsuno, piccolo, Wilfrido Terrazas, piccolo||12:42|
|05||Torre del Sur|
Torre del Sur
|Ilana Waniuk, violin, Myra Hinrichs, violin, Stephanie Griffin, viola, Peter Ko, cello, Kathryn Schulmeister, contrabass||11:15|
|06||Tótem III, Estoy en el centro|
Tótem III, Estoy en el centro
|Alexandria Smith, trumpet, Kathryn Schulmeister, contrabass||7:26|
|07||Torre del Oeste|
Torre del Oeste
|Wilfrido Terrazas, flute, Juliana Gaona, oboe and English horn, Madison Greenstone, clarinet, Anthony Burr, bass clarinet||11:39|
Ritual and collective experience lie at the heart of Wilfrido Terrazas’ ambitious seven part work, The Torres Cycle. Structured around four movements invoking the four cardinal directions and three interstitial “tótems” for smaller forces, Terrazas draws on Mesoamerican conceptual traditions to examine the relationship between the absolute quality of direction and the relative nature of perception. Through a score that relies heavily on improvised elements and spatialized performance instructions, Terrazas delivers a powerful message — our understanding of a place, idea, or event is framed by where we stand in relation to it.
For the realization of the work on this recording, Terrazas took advantage of timbral diversity, highlighting different instrumental groups through the various movements. The cycle begins with Torre del Norte, performed by a brass sextet with electronics. Opening with a series of unison pitches that are subtly bent and timbrally modulated, Terrazas invites the listener immediately into a world of communion. As Torre del Norte evolves the texture becomes disjunct and parts individuated, a hive of percolating energy.
The first totem in the collection, Tótem I, Camino sobre la tierra, features oboe and percussion. The oboe glides fluidly between pitches with glissandi, bends, and grainy multi-phonics while the percussion primarily plays light bell sounds. It is patient, searching music until the texture shifts briefly to agitated, rhythmically fragmented material.Read More
Three percussionists perform Torre del Este, an atmospheric movement highlighting wood blocks, chimes, and cymbals. Energetic gestures swirl through the trio, building on each other towards a dense midpoint before receding to the sparse texture of the opening.
Tótem II, Miro hacia el cielo is for four piccolos, including Terrazas, and evolves similarly to Torre del Norte, opening with subtle microtonal discrepancies between sustained pitches. Terrazas creates musical scenarios that increase tension through stretching and pulling at central pitches. Fluttering lines suggest agitated bird song as the music moves into more active material. A gentle, disjunct chorale follows, independent voices circling each other to produce a pulsing sound mass.
Torre del Sur is for string quartet plus double bass, and is built on a fragile scaffold of high pitched cries and whispers. Malleable, expressive lines establish a contrasting layer of activity in the middle register and propel intensification. One gets the sense we are hearing universal sentiments expressed in an extinct language, or one not yet cultivated. The movement charts two large arcs, with a second climax exploding into furious collective improvisation.
Tótem III, Estoy en el centro pairs trumpet and contrabass in an energetic duo dialogue. The movement inverts the trajectory of many of the others in the cycle, opening with active and dense material and gradually moving towards a sparser texture before becoming more active again. The alternation between different trumpet mutes and between arco and pizzicato on the bass create the illusion that there is a quartet inside the duo.
The cycle’s final movement, Torre del Oeste, features a wind quartet with Terrazas on flute, leading the movement with a rhapsodic solo that embeds short melodic fragments inside spiraling, sinewy connective material. As the other three winds enter, the composite texture takes on an undulating quality. The movement provides a cathartic close to a work which achieves cohesion from the patient unfolding of its component parts. If Terrazas’ message is that our perspective on ideas is shaped by where we stand, The Torres Cycle is a musical prescription for our limited capacity to see the big picture, a ritual path seeking collective wholeness.
– Dan Lippel
The Torres Collective
Wilfrido Terrazas, artistic coordinator
All music composed by Wilfrido Terrazas
Produced by Wilfrido Terrazas
Recorded by Andrew Munsey at Studios A and B, Warren Lecture Hall, UC San Diego, 2020-2021
Additional recording by Michael Butler, Filiberto Villavicencio, Sarah Belle Reid, Weston Olencki, Berk Schneider, Mattie Barbier, MB Gordy, Ryan Streber, and Alexandria Smith, 2019-2021
Mixed and mastered by Ramón del Buey at El Palacio de Asturias, Mexico City, September-October 2021
Cover art and design by Esther Gámez Rubio
Liner notes by Amy Cimini
Wilfrido Terrazas is a flutist, improviser, composer, and educator whose work explores the borderlands between improvisation, musical notation, and collective creation. He has performed over 380 world premieres, composed around 70 works, and recorded more than 40 albums, six of them as a soloist or leader. His recordings have been published in Mexico, the US and Europe, on labels like Abolipop, Another Timbre, Bridge, Cero, Creative Sources, New World, Umor, and Wide Hive. Wilfrido has presented his work in 20 countries in Europe and the Americas. He has been a guest performer at international festivals such as Creative Fest (Lisbon), ¡Escucha! (Madrid), Festival Cervantino (Guanajuato), High Zero (Baltimore), MATA (NYC), NUNC! (Chicago), and TENOR (Hamburg), and at venues and series for experimental music like Auditorio Nacional (Madrid), Bowerbird (Philadelphia), Teatro Nacional Cervantes (Buenos Aires), CCRMA (Stanford University), Splendor (Amsterdam), Flagey (Brussels), Littlefield Hall (Mills College), Unerhörte Musik (Berlin), St. Ruprechtskirche (Vienna), The Wulf and REDCAT (Los Angeles), Soup & Sound and The Stone/New School (NYC). He has also carried out residencies at Omi International Arts Center (NY), Atlantic Center for the Arts (Florida) and Ionion Center for the Arts and Culture (Greece).
Wilfrido is a member of two influential Mexico City-based ensembles: the improvisers’ collective Generación Espontánea, widely acknowledged as one of the pioneering groups for freely improvised music in Latin America, and Liminar, one of Mexico’s leading new music groups. Since 2014, Wilfrido co-curates La Semana Internacional de Improvisación, an improvised music festival in Ensenada, his hometown. Other current projects include Filera, a trio with vocalist Carmina Escobar and cellist Natalia Pérez Turner, and the Wilfrido Terrazas Sea Quintet, an Ensenada-based creative music group, paradoxically formed by six people. Recent collaborations include projects with Amy Cimini, Angélica Castelló, Michael Dessen, Lisa Mezzacappa, Roscoe Mitchell, Abdul Moimême, artist G.T. Pellizzi, and poets Ricardo Cázares, Nuria Manzur, and Ronnie Yates. Additionally, his compositions have been performed by José Manuel Alcántara, Anagram Trio, Aldo Aranda, Ensamble Süden, Ghost Ensemble, in^set, International Contemporary Ensemble, Omar López, Low Frequency Trio, Kathryn Schulmeister, Alexandria Smith, and wasteLAnd, among many others. Wilfrido has also published more than 30 texts about music, amongst them four book chapters. Some of his writings can be read in the Pendragon, Routledge, and Suono Mobile presses. He has been an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego since 2017.
Víctor Hugo Fuentes Ramírez is a trumpet player, composer, and music teacher based in Ensenada, Mexico. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, and his musical experiences encompass different genres, from classical to big band, jazz combos, salsa and pop music. Currently, he works as a freelance trumpeter and recording session musician in Ensenada and Tijuana.
Pedro Morales Ortega is a trumpet player and educator. His musical experiences range from orchestral and experimental music to jazz and pop. Convinced of the multiple benefits that music can bring to young people, Pedro has taught in community orchestra projects like Esperanza Azteca and Redes 2025. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, campus Ensenada, and his master’s degree in music performance from the Georgia State University in Atlanta.
Born in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, trumpeter Iván Trujillo is known to be one of his region’s most versatile musicians, playing in various ensembles in genres ranging from jazz to electronica and free improvisation. He is artistic director of La Covacha Big Band and the Iván Trujillo Ensamble, and a co-founder and director of La Semana Internacional de Improvisación in Ensenada. In 2018, Trujillo released his first album, Part Zero, in trio format with the Iván Trujillo Ensamble under the Castor & Pollux Label. He has performed in many festivals around the world such as FONT (NYC), FONT West (San Diego), Glastonbury (UK), and the Cervantino Festival (MX).
Sarah Belle Reid is a performer-composer who plays trumpet, modular synthesizer, and an ever-growing collection of handcrafted electronic instruments. Her unique musical voice explores the intersections between contemporary classical music, experimental and interactive electronics, visual arts, noise music, and improvisation. Often praised for her ability to transport audience members through vivid sonic adventures, Reid’s sonic palette has been described as ranging from “graceful” and “danceable” all the way to “silk-falling-through-space,” and “pit-full-of-centipedes” (San Francisco Classical Voice).
Weston Olencki is a musician, composer, and sound artist. Their work is centered around questions of instrumental music and its contexts/constructs, various mediated practices of listening and improvisation, and the technological, material, and cultural histories of rural space/time. Weston has performed and presented work at the Borealis Festival, ISSUE Project Room, REDCAT, bludenzer tage zeitgemäßer musik, Ghent Jazz Festival, Blanton Museum of Art, philharmonie luxembourg, Squeaky Wheel, Festival Musica, kalvfestivalen, the American Academy in Rome, Roulette Intermedium, Frequency Festival, Indexical, and the OPTION series, and was awarded the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis from the 2016 Darmstadt Ferienkurse.
Berk Schneider, trombone (berkschneider.com), serves as an advocate for the arts by cultivating educational research-creation projects that incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to technology and analysis of social meaning-making devices, promoting prescriptive methods that bring communities of musicians closer together. His collaborations are varied, having worked with musicians such as Joshua Bell, Josh Groban, conductors Valery Gergiev, Brad Lubman, Enno Poppe, Carlos Miguel Prieto, Helmuth Rilling, Robert Spano, composers Beat Furrer, Philip Glass, Helmut Lachenmann, Alvin Lucier, actor Alexander Fehling, the Akron, Firelands, and Houston symphonies, Ensemble Modern, Schauspiel Frankfurt, as well as creative director Heiner Goebbels. He is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory, Rice University, Frankfurt University of Music, and has been a finalist and honorably mentioned in numerous international trombone competitions, including the Robert Marsteller Competition and Lewis Van Haney Philharmonic Prize.
Mattie Barbier is a sound maker focused on experimental intonation, noise, and the physical processes of instruments. They’re a member of RAGE Thormbones, wasteLAnd, wildUp, and are an active soloist on low brass instruments. They primarily work with trombone, as well as euphonium, bass trumpet, electronics, and bagpipes, and teach at CalArts and LA City College.
In 2021, Juliana Gaona joined the music faculty of the University of Texas at El Paso, where she teaches oboe. Born in Bogotá, Colombia, Ms. Gaona is an oboist, chamber and orchestra musician, and improviser. Since moving to the US, she has performed with La Jolla Symphony and Chorus, Meridian Symphony Orchestra, Redlands Symphony, and Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra. She earned a Bachelor of Music degree from the Universidad Central (Bogotá, Colombia) and attended the University of Southern Mississippi, where she studied with Euridice Álvarez. She holds an Artist Diploma degree from San Diego State University as a student of Sarah Skuster. Ms. Gaona is a doctoral candidate in Contemporary Music Oboe Performance at the University of California, San Diego, where she studies with Anthony Burr. She has been exploring different tone and sonic possibilities on the oboe by expanding its performative language and exploring the reactionary and unexpected dynamics of improvisation.
Australian-born percussionist Rebecca Lloyd-Jones has performed professionally across Asia, Europe, North America, and Oceania, pre- senting at several focus days for the Percussive Arts Society International Convention and attended the Roots and Rhizomes program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, Canada. She has presented at the Transplanted Roots Research Symposium and was a guest artist at the VI Semana Internacional de Improvisación 2019 in Ensenada, Mexico. Rebecca graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts and is an alumnus of the Higher Degree Research Department at Queensland Conservatorium. Rebecca is currently a doctoral candidate at University of California San Diego under the tutelage of Steven Schick.
Michael Jones is a percussionist, improviser, and conductor based in San Diego. His work focuses on new works by emerging composers as well as the canonical repertoire of the 20th century avant-garde. He has performed on the LA Philharmonic’s Noon-to-Midnight Festival, the Other Minds Festival, the Dog Star Orchestra Festival, and the Hartford New Music Festival. He can be heard on the New World, Naxos, and Wandelweiser Editions labels. He regularly performs as a member of the percussion group red fish blue fish and the William Winant Percussion Group.
Multi-percussionist, composer, and Grammy award-winning artist Cory Hills thrives on breaking down musical barriers through creative, interdisciplinary projects. An advocate of new music, Hills has individually commissioned and premiered over 150 new works for percussion. Percussive Storytelling, a program that brings classical music and storytelling to kids in underserved communities, was launched by Hills while a fellow at Institute Fabrica. The program recently marked its 700th performance and has reached more than 180,000 children in ten countries. Through Percussive Storytelling, Hills was named as the first-ever fellow in children’s music at the Fred Rogers Center for 2021-2022.
Teresa Díaz de Cossío is a flutist, improviser, and educator. Currently a DMA student at UC San Diego, and flute instructor at Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. From the beginning of her musical endeavors, she was inclined to reach out for meaningful engagements with communities through her creative practice. An iteration is her work as co-organizer/founder of the Festival de Música Nueva, Ensenada. Currently, her research examines the life and work of the composer, teacher, and pianist Alida Vázquez Ayala (1931-2016). It explores how Vázquez navigated race, gender and transnational networks in her teaching, performance, and compositional work between Mexico and New York.
Alexander Ishov is a flutist, music educator, and researcher currently pursuing a Doctorate in Contemporary Music Performance at UC San Diego. New music performances include the Ojai Music Festival, SoundSCAPE, June at Buffalo, and Renga ensemble. Alexander holds degrees from UC San Diego, the Eastman School of Music, and Interlochen Arts Academy. Primary flute mentors include Wilfrido Terrazas, Bonita Boyd, Anne Lindblom Harrow, Nancy Stagnitta, Dr. Kristen Stoner, and Christine Alicot. Alexander is a Miyazawa Emerging Artist.
Michael Matsuno is a flutist whose versatility as a performer encompasses work in classical, experimental and improvised music. He has collaborated with established composers and ensembles such as the Slee Sinfonietta, Harvard Group for New Music, Red Fish Blue Fish, DAD Trio, Wolfgang von Schweinitz, Alvin Lucier, Anthony Vine, Pauline Lay, Carolyn Chen, Matthew Chamberlain, and Jürg Frey. Currently based in Los Angeles, Michael can be heard performing with the San Diego Symphony as well as the Ensemble ECHOI on Monday Evening Concerts, LA’s longest-running contemporary music series. He holds graduate performance degrees from UC San Diego, where he studied under flutists John Fonville and Wilfrido Terrazas.
Ilana Waniuk is a versatile violinist with interests ranging from improvisation to visual arts. Ilana is a founding member and co-artistic director of Tkarón:to (Toronto) - based ensemble Thin Edge New Music Collective and Balancing on the Edge (multidisciplinary production company merging contemporary music and circus arts). Ilana has performed on concert stages across Canada, Italy, Argentina, Poland, Japan, and Germany. She is also the curator/performer behind ‘Filaments’, an evolving concert program dedicated to collaboratively creating interdisciplinary works for violin, electronics and multimedia. Ilana is currently a doctoral candidate in contemporary performance at the University of California San Diego.
Myra Hinrichs, violinist, is currently enrolled at the University of California, San Diego in the doctoral program. Before moving to California, she lived and worked in Chicago after graduating from the Oberlin College and Conservatory. In performance, she is a member of Chartreuse, a contemporary string trio. She appears with other ensembles including Mucca Pazza, the Morton Feldman Chamber Players, and a.pe.ri.od.ic. She has spent a couple of recent summers attending the teacher training courses at Chicago Suzuki Institute and has taught lessons to young and old violinists for many years.
Peter Ko performs and teaches as a cellist. His work as a performer and interpreter of old and new music has led him to opportunities across the USA, Atlantic Canada, and Europe, with collaborations with Mark Fewer, Steve Schick, the Dover String Quartet, Aleck Karis, and Roger Reynolds. Peter is currently studying under Charles Curtis for his DMA at UCSD, and has also studied with Vernon Regehr, Ashley Walters, Felix Fan, and Mario Ramirez.
Praised for her “expressive and captivating performance” (GRAMMY.com), bassist Kathryn Schulmeister brings radiant energy to her creative musical practice ranging from classical to experimental. Kathryn is a member of several contemporary music ensembles including the renowned Australian ELISION Ensemble, Fonema Consort (NYC), and the Echoi Ensemble (LA). Kathryn is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Contemporary Music Performance at the University of California, San Diego, studying with internationally acclaimed bassist/improviser/composer Mark Dresser.
Praised by The New York Times for her “appealingly melancholic sound” and “entertaining array of distortion effects,” Alexandria Smith is a trumpeter, technologist, audio engineer, and multimedia artist that enjoys working at the intersection of all of these disciplines. Her current research and performance interests engage with building, designing, and performing with wearable electronics that ethically translate embodied, biological data into interactive sonic and visual environments. Passionate about taking down barriers to entry in technology, Alexandria has been building open source environments for making music with wearable electronics and teaching audio engineering to female identifying folks. Recent projects include performing on Billy Martin’s record GUILTY (2020), curating a residency at the Stone, performing in a premiere of Alvin Lucier’s Orpheus Variations, teaching at Neofonía, Festival de Música Nueva de Ensenada, writing for the upcoming Arcana X volume, and working on her first solo album. Alexandria is an Assistant Professor of Music Technology at the School of Music Industry at Loyola University New Orleans, and a Ph.D candidate at the University of California San Diego.
Madison Greenstone is a Brooklyn-based performer, writer, and clarinetist of TAK Ensemble and the [Switch~ Ensemble]. Notable performances have been as a soloist at the Vigeland Mausoleum (Oslo), the Merce Cunningham Centennial Night of 100 Solos (LA), and as a soloist presented by ISSUE Project Room. As a writer, Madison has published through the Museum of Art and History in Neuchâtel, TEMPO, Cambridge, and upcoming in Contemporary Music Review. Madison has performed as a soloist and chamber musician at Fondation Abbaye Royaumont (FR), Darmstadt (DE) Petersburg Art Space (DE), Ende Tymes Festival (NYC), Harvard, The Stone, Studio 8 (DE), Princeton, Space for Free Arts (FI) among other venues and presenters. Madison has worked with Michelle Lou, Bryan Jacobs, Suzanne Thorpe, Stephan Moore, John McCowen, Eric Wubbels, Joy Guidry, and RAGE Thormbones. They can be heard on Wandelweiser Editions, Another Timbre, TAK Editions, and Tripticks Tapes.
Anthony Burr is Professor of performance at UCSD. He has performed and recorded extensively across a broad range of contemporary musical genres. Ongoing projects include a duo with Icelandic bassist/composer Skùli Sverrisson, a series of recordings with cellist Charles Curtis and The Clarinets (a trio with Chris Speed and Oscar Noriega).
Mexican flutist and composer Wilfrido Terrazas conceived this epic work as a meditation on different sorts of perception, deftly embracing the four cardinal direction points as the focus in the primary movements. Naturally, what we see, hear, and feel depends on where we are: as Amy Cimini’s poetic liner note essay spells out, what we experience in one location could be totally different in another. It’s heady stuff, but Terrazas, a member of the superb Mexico City ensemble Liminar, has enlisted an impressive cast of interpreters fluent in both notated and improvised music to illuminate these notions. “Torre del Norte” features a shape-shifting brass sextet and electronics expertly warping loose written themes. The perpetually changing timbre, propulsion, and density indicate a certain mutability as the listener seeks to get their bearings straight. “Torre del Sur” employs double bass and a string quartet to sketch out a whispery upper register drift into chaotic mid-range density, rife with striated tones, twang, and delicious ambiguity. Interspersed within these four “Torre” movements are shorter but less substantive “totems,” such as “Tótem I, Camino sobre la tierra,” where Juliana Gaona’s elastic oboe threads the meditative percussive clangs of Rebecca Lloyd-Jones through an effectively arcing structure.
— Peter Margasak, 4.27.2022
New Focus Recordings has released The Torres Cycle, a new CD by Wilfrido Terrazas containing seven tracks of original music composed between 2014 and 2021. Subtitled ‘A Musical Ritual for the Seven Cardinal Directions’, this album explores the significance of direction, place and culture as expressed by the proximity of Southern California to Mexico. As stated in the liner notes: “A deepened relation to cardinal orientation loosens social order and transforms common wisdom oppositions into liminal spaces: the cycle’s sonic presences are improvisational, but its figurations monumental; its scope at once historical, mythological and speculative…” Wilfrido Terrazas is a prolific composer with over 380 world premiers in 20 countries throughout Europe and the Americas. He is a master flutist and educator who is constantly exploring the unique cultural relationship between his place of residence in San Diego and his native Ensenada, Mexico. The Torres Cycle continues this important work with an album performed by top-flight area musicians.
‘Torre’ is Spanish for tower and each of the tracks in the album represent a musical expression inspired by looking outward in a certain direction. Orientation and direction are of great historical and cultural significance in Mexico – think of the celestial alignment of Mayan ceremonial buildings or the dramatic ritual of the Voladores: daring young men representing the four cardinal directions, who fling themselves off a high platform and twirl downward over one hundred feet secured only by ropes around their ankles. Even in our contemporary society, direction has a fundamental influence on our awareness. Along the west coast of Mexico and California, facing east generally means seeing mountains while to the west is the sea and the sunset; both inspire very different emotions. In California, facing south connects our imagination with Mexican culture while the obverse is true facing north from Baja. Terrazas exploits the connection between direction and imagination to create a cross-cultural dialogue expressed in contemporary musical forms.
The opening track, Torre del Norte (2018) explores the four cardinal directions of North, East, South and West. The piece is written for any number of brass players and opens with trumpets sounding long sustained tones. These start on the same nominal note, but the players soon bend the pitches to create new and dramatic dissonance and harmonies. As new tones are added, the tension rises and the texture swells and falls with changes in pitch and volume. At 3:00 the pitches again change with more notes with faster rhythms resulting in a flurry of independent passages flying through the air. The complexity builds to an almost chaotic level with lots of trills, tremolos and rapid runs – perhaps a comment on life north of the border? The playing here is quite amazing, especially in the lower brass. More and more extended techniques and special sounds arrive in broken phrases and uncoordinated rhythms. At length, the ensemble settles down and there is a languid stretch with more conventional tones and harmonies – there is an expansive, Duke Ellington feel to this, perhaps reflecting the rich and savory culture south of the border. The dissonance slowly rises as does the volume, increasing the sense of drama even as the piece suddenly halts in mid-stride. Expertly realized by the brass, Torre del Norte is a powerful reminder of the range of emotions that are evoked when simply facing different directions.
Track 4, Tótem II, Miro hacia el cielo (2019), explores another significant direction – in this case up. Scored for any number of piccolo players, this opens with a long, sustained piccolo tone whose pitch is slightly bent even as others join in at almost the same frequency. All of this soon becomes shrill and very penetrating. The sounds bounce around in the listener’s ear becoming almost painful at times. Short, breathy sounds are heard in the background providing some relief while the pitches in the foreground climb ever higher. By 4:20 some piccolo notes are heard in a more conventional register and this soon evolves into rapid runs and phrases that increase in complexity. The lines are independent and flighty, resembling nothing so much as a flock of chirping birds. At 6:50 the piccolos return to multiple sustained sounds with pitches that are within a few cycles of each other. This slows down to a stretch of breathy sounds that bring out a remote and desolate feeling. A flurry of active phrases appear amid the windy sounds but these gradually decline in number until fading at the finish. Tótem II, Miro hacia el cielo artfully captures exactly what you would expect looking upward into nature’s sky.
Tótem I, Camino sobre la tierra (2019), track 2, roughly translates to ‘I walk on the earth’ and is more introspective. Soft gong chimes followed by silence open this, creating a mystical and exotic feeling. The oboe enters with long, mournful tones that bend upward in pitch. The percussion continues independently, allowing the oboe to continue the exploration of an unknown emotional terrain. At length, a drum beat is heard as the oboe line turns shrill, producing a sense of distant menace. A flurry of oboe runs and percussion sounds follow, bringing Coltrane briefly to mind. The oboe ceases and soft percussive notes fade quietly to the finish. In Camino sobre la tierra it is clear that the most exotic direction is inward.
The other four tracks offer further perspectives on the inner influence of direction. Torre del Sur (2014) or ‘to the south’ is scored for five bowed string parts and opens with very soft sounds suggesting a quiet and rural landscape. More intense and complex stretches arise that sound happily chaotic in detail, yet are cohesive in the whole. There are also soft interludes so that one is reminded of the many complex cultures that are scattered throughout the mostly wide open spaces of the Mexican countryside.
Amy Cimini’s excellent liner notes state that “With Torre del Oeste, the cycle ends with laughter, facing west.” This piece is scored for any number of woodwinds and, as each player enters in turn, the intensity increases and exotic harmonies multiply. This piece can be quietly mysterious at times, becoming more actively shrill and almost painful to the ear. The woodwind players confidently navigate this complex musical terrain as alternating cycles of frenzy and repose continue throughout. Slowly the sounds de-escalate and become just a few solitary twitters, declining in volume as the piece fades to a close. Torre del Oeste certainly could be the musical equivalent of ‘gales of laughter’ and is a fitting conclusion to The Torres Cycle.
Using the concepts of direction and location, The Torres Cycle seeks to delineate the confluence of our cross-border cultures. Wilfrido Terrazas continues to build bridges of cultural understanding through the language of new music.
— Paul Muller, 6.06.2022
Wilfredo Terrazas is a Mexican composer, musicologist, and flute teacher. Similar to Trapani, he uses 'folk' elements - but in a much more 'direct' way. 'Torres Cycle' is a ritual implementation of the four cardinal directions, plus three 'minor' rituals. The release "explores ritual, indigenous tradition from his native Mexico, alternative notation, structured improvisation, spatialised live performance techniques, and an evocative instrumentation layout to explore questions of social connection and the mysterious relationship between tradition, and history, and the present." Well. I get the bit about 'spatialised performances', but this does not necessarily serve a purpose on an audio recording.
The first track, 'North,' is a layered trumpet and trombone piece with a genuine 'Mexican' element (the marching bands). It is well known that wind instruments are difficult to keep in tone and that playing long notes in parallel can wreak havoc. I am sure this was done on purpose here, with the timbre wavering until the piece breaks out into a more chaotic section. Unfortunately, contextualising 'ritual' with recordings by the Hybryds, I fail to be able to follow the intention here - what remains is the audio. And in 'Norte' I would have preferred the layered micro-harmonies to evolve to full strength, leaving out the 'improvised' bit. 'Este' is a percussion piece that creates a 'searching' atmosphere. 'Sur' has a set of string instruments alternating between quiet sections and 'explosions' into free parts. 'Oeste' is a wind quartet. The last two pieces, 'Totem III' and 'Oeste' sound most 'Mexican' to me (in a positive sense) and are the strongest on the release (including the first part of 'Norte', of course) - one using a bugle, the other a flute, and musical phrases that remind of Mexican influence. Nevertheless, the 'eclectic' backdrop of ritual and setting is nothing I would have picked up on without reading the liner notes.
— Robert Steinberger, 4.19.2022
The Ensenada-born flutist and UC San Diego music professor Wilfrido Terrazas released a new album of compositions, "The Torres Cycle," a collection of seven compositions anchored by four "torre" works, each representing a direction: del Norte, del Sur, del Este and del Oeste. Between each torre is an interstitial "tótem." Each track is so distinct, with unique instrumentation, though the recording as a whole feels fluidly epic. I was drawn to one of the tótems, the second track: "Tótem I, Camino sobre la tierra," which features an oboe and percussion. On this composition, Juliana Gaona plays oboe like it's something else entirely: flexing, splitting and bending its sound against the curious percussion of Rebecca Lloyd-Jones. The album was primarily recorded at UC San Diego, then mixed in Mexico City.
— Julia Dixon Evans, 5.04.2022
On the face of it The Torres Cycle, composed between 2014 and 2021 by Mexican composer Wilfrido Terrazas, is a seven-part work devoted to the compass points of north, south, east, and west, adding three other intervening movements. The compass points are torres (towers) while the intervening movements are called tótems. Once this simple outline is grasped, very little else can be. Conceptual music has existed for a long time now, and The Torres Cycle carries a mountain of conceptualizing on its shoulders. If you are attuned to verbal mystification combined with ritual, improvisation, electronica, and a tolerance for microtonal dissonance, you are slotted perfectly into the groove of this album. I doubt that any other audience is realistically anticipated, although Terrazas aims for his music to lead to reconciliation in these divisive times.
The program notes are dense with indecipherable and lofty aspirations. A very simple example: “For Terrazas, the cardinal directions draw reciprocal movements across time and space to create new media for social connection.” You can approach such a project as having planetary significance or descending into chaotic folderol. Let me apply a chain saw to break through the booklet’s thicket of jargon. Except in the imagination of the composer and presumably the Torres Collective (gathered around the music department at the University of California San Diego), this isn’t music of reconciliation. It is experimental music of the kind that excites performers if they want a walk on the wild side and hip followers who keep the experimental scene afloat.
Drawing, we are told, on Meso-American myth and ritual, The Torres Cycle outlines its own ritual practices, which begin by having the musicians face north, south, east, and west at various times in the seven movements (I’ll confess that I don’t know why the four cardinal directions are referred to as seven in the work’s subtitle). It immediately becomes apparent that shorn of rhetorical trappings, Terrazas takes small groups of related instruments and lets each loose to improvise at will—individual performers don’t even need to be together, as noted by the widely separated dates and locations within each movement.
For example, the first movement, “Torre del Norte,” which is devoted to north on the compass, is for any number of brass instruments, in this case five trumpets, three trombones, euphonium, and electronics, who were recorded (or recorded themselves) on five different dates in unrelated locales—Mexico, Vermont, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The only common element is the composer’s direction of which compass point to face. There is only vague mention of a notated score.
In its high-pitched textures, microtonal wavering, and total absence of ensemble, “Torre del Norte” sounds like a tribe of coyotes howling outside your door and growing increasingly crazy. Strangeness of sound is crucial to the whole cycle. The instrumentation is unique for each movement and includes percussion and oboe (“Tótem 1”), three percussionists (“Torre del Este”), four piccolos (“Tótem II”), and trumpet with double bass (“Tótem III”). Having eliminated ensemble or even proximity, and allowing for maximal improvisation, the result isn’t simply a bag of cats, although it is that.
Just as dominant as chaos, however, are timbral effects, in other words, unusual sounds from familiar instruments. “Torre del Sur” calls for a string quartet and double bass (not necessarily together) making cries and whispers in high harmonics, sparsely textured and calling on silences in between sounds. The timbral gestures in each movement are varied and ingenious, and since this seems to be Terrazas’s specialty, timbre serves as a good entry point for the listener. Each movement lasts 10 minutes on average and the bag of cats aspect is continuous, so The Torres Cycle was only tolerable—here I speak solely for myself—one movement at a time, with generous spacing until the next movement was attempted.
I’m aware that little in this review encourages the reader to come within a mile of this album, but Terrazas is prominent and respected in his field, particularly as a flutist—he has premiered 380 (!) new works and composed 70 works of his own. He has performed in over 20 countries and recorded more than 40 albums. Besides his birth and training in Mexico, he studied in San Diego and has some connection with the university there that isn’t specified.
At this point you will know where you stand in respect to an experimental performance project like The Torres Cycle. The scene that Terrazas works inside constitutes a post-avant-garde avant-garde, as it were. It seems to be thriving and has fervent adherents. I must attest, however, that the scene is hard for an outsider to peer into without a sense of bewilderment.
— Huntley Dent, 8.30.2022
The ambitious composer Wilfrido Terrazas presents us a 7 part album here, where ritual, indigenous tradition from his native Mexico, alternative notation, structured improvisation and spatialized live performance techniques make for a very expressive and unique body of work.
“Torre del Norte” opens the listen with much atmosphere, where several trumpets, trombones and euphonium are present in very unorthodox ways that use the instruments for ambience, and “Tótem I, Camino sobre la tierra” follows with Juliana Gaona’s oboe and Rebecca Lloyd-Jones’ percussion emitting a very mysterious tone that hints at classical sounds in very unconventional ways.
In the middle, “Tótem II, Miro hacia el cielo” recruits 4 piccolos that interact with a very iconoclastic droning appeal, while “Tótem III, Estoy en el centro” squeals with trumpet from Alexandria Smith and contrabass by Kathyryn Schulmeister that rumbles with a low intensity.
The final track, “Torre del Oeste”, mashes flute, oboe, english horn, clarinet and bass clarinet into a wind focused presence that’s cathartic while spiraling with much intrigue.
A very fluid, powerful and timbral diverse outing, Terrazas and company create a globally significant and atypically energetic listen here, and it’s something you’re not going to hear anywhere else.
— Tom Haugen, 8.03.2022