January 4, 2021 - Americas Society - Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music
January 4, 2021

Americas Society

Carlos Amorales in collaboration with Julian Lede, Orellana’s Fantasia, 2013. Black-and-white video with sound, music by Joaquín Orellana (still). Courtesy of Kurimanzutto Gallery, Mexico City and New York, and Estudio Amorales.


Joaquín Orellana
The Spine of Music
January 20–March 5, 2021

Americas Society
680 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10065
Hours: Wednesday–Friday 12–6pm


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Curated by Diana Flatto and Sebastián Zubieta

Press Preview: By appointment, please contact mediarelations [​at​] as-coa.org.

The unique design of Joaquín Orellana’s útiles sonoros (sound tools) makes them function not only as instruments but also as art objects. In them, Orellana marries musical innovation with social conscience and ancestral techniques with an avant-garde sensibility. Born in Guatemala City in 1930, Orellana studied violin and composition at the National Conservatory of Music in Guatemala. Following his early success there, he trained as a fellow at the Centro Latinoamericano de Estudios Musicales (CLAEM) at the Instituto Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires, where he became interested in electronic music, then in its infancy. When he returned to Guatemala and found the latest technologies were unavailable, he constructed his útiles sonoros as an acoustic solution for achieving electronic musical sound. Basing many of his designs on the marimba, Guatemala’s national instrument, he expanded his country’s cultural identity with his sound tools and music. 

Orellana’s compositions are deeply connected to the difficult history of Guatemala, providing a soundscape attuned to the oppression of indigenous people and the pains of a decades-long civil war. Orellana’s cultural production within the dark social and political environment became a guiding principle for the genre of “social-sound,” inspiring a younger generation of Latin American composers as well as international visual artists. Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music includes work by artists Carlos Amorales, María Adela Díaz, Akira Ikezoe, and Alberto Rodríguez Collía that was created in collaboration with Orellana or inspired by his practice. As a part of this project, Americas Society has commissioned a new score by Orellana—Efluvios y puntos—which will premiere at Americas Society.

This exhibition is accompanied by the next publication in the gallery’s pocket book series including texts by the co-curators and illustrations of the útiles sonoros, archival material and scores, as well as the works by the contemporary artists.

Learn more about the exhibition and the pocketbook

Attend the Virtual Opening on January 19.

The presentation of Joaquín Orellana: The Spine of Music is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. It is also made possible, in part, by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Additional support is provided by MetLife Foundation, Presenting Sponsor of the MetLife Foundation Music of the Americas Concert Series; the Smart Family Foundation of New York; Mex-Am Cultural Foundation; and the Japan Foundation, New York. In-kind support is provided by Kurimanzutto Gallery Mexico City and New York. The publication of the pocketbook is made possible, in part, by a grant from Furthermore: a program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund.

Americas Society acknowledges the generous support from the Arts of the Americas Circle members: Estrellita B. Brodsky; Virginia Cowles Schroth; Diana Fane; Galería Almeida e Dale; Isabella Hutchinson; Carolina Jannicelli; Vivian Pfeiffer and Jeanette van Campenhout, Phillips; Gabriela Pérez Rocchietti; Erica Roberts; Sharon Schultz; Diana López and Herman Sifontes; and Edward J. Sullivan.

Americas Society
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The Spine of Music
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