Egyptian Love Poem in Nihilist Cipher
guitare amplifiée , voix
durée: 8:00
Mauricio Carrasco

Egyptian Love Poem In Nihilist Cipher was commissioned by Mauricio Carrasco. The piece consists of five iterations of a secret love poem by the fourteenth century Egyptian poet and mystic Muhammad al-Nawaji bin Hasan bin Ali bin Othman (1383-1455), titled To A Handsome Boy With Ink-Stained Lips. The poem is encrypted using the 1880s Russian Nihilist cipher (originally used to help organize terrorism against the tsarist regime). This relatively straightforward cipher translates text into numbers, using the combination of a Polybius square, plaintext and a ‘keyword’ chosen by the encrypter. In this guitar piece, the poem was ‘ciphered’ into a stream of two-digit numerical values, and a series of rhythmic motives were assigned to each value, creating a rhythmic chain of ‘letters’. Each movement uses this same chain (i.e. the text of the poem), but with a different harmonic framework, made up of relatively static and discrete chords. Significant parts of the text are further emphasized through vocalizations, which take pertinent fragments of the rhythmic ‘cipher’, and reiterate them. The vocal ‘text’, in fact, spells out a poem of its own, a sort of re-imagining of the original al-Nawaji text.