About the Music

    Labyrinthmusic is an expanding body of work dedicated to facilitating an inner journey. While contemplative in spirit, it calls upon the sophisticated and challenging resources of contemporary concert music to entrain a dynamic evolutionary and transformative arc. The entire repertoire is founded upon a sequence of twelve harmoniesa harmonic Ariadne’s Threadthat emulates the labyrinth’s circular geometry.

    The string quartet was the medium of choice for the Labyrinth Project, beginning in 1998. Commissions from outstanding solo artists resulted in a series of quintets with string quartet, followed over time by music for mixed ensembles up to chamber orchestra. The catalogue at present contains in excess of fifty works.

    The musical labyrinth is neither concert nor ritual in the conventional sense, but a third thing, more than the sum of its parts. It is a shapeshifting mosaic. For example, the saxophone quartet Gyaling, in the spirit of Tibetan ceremonial music, can serve as an opening fanfare to establish sacred space and exuberantly proclaim the harmonic source code in a decisive way. The reductive pieces, comprising the majority of the music intended for walking, range from the ambient minimalism of Sanctum I and II to the enigmatic ruminations of Hymn and Sanctum III. Certain works, such as Seeing with the Wise Woman, have optional internal repeats that greatly extend performance duration, effecting a shift from the aesthetic to the energetic, potentially crossing the threshold of trance. Similarly, the rarified sonority of Reiki is not merely a poetic evocation of subtle energy but the thing itself. The Icaro series evokes Amazonian shamanic spirit songs that guide aspirants through the non-ordinary states of consciousness encountered during entheogenic ceremonies. Hieratikos models the structure of the classic rite of passage in a single movement of more than an hour's duration, a call to adventure for both musicians and labyrinth pilgrims alike. Modular and scalable, the repertoire is designed to be adaptable to a wide range of performance situations and resources.   

    Labyrinthmusic runs the gamut from meditative introspection to concert hall extroversion. While the contemplative mode is complete in itself and can serve as the sole basis for an event, at some point it will be appropriate to conclude with a formal concert. The hour-long chamber work Remember Your Power is one suitable destination, giving closure to the journey and providing a portal by which to reengage the wider world. A possible format for a deeply immersive evening-length event might consist of an extended period of labyrinth walking, a performance of Remember Your Power, concluding with a meal or other celebratory action.

    Sheet Music

    Vocal Works

    Mysterium, for soprano and guitar (2000) 6'
    The Labyrinth Ascending, for piano/piano duet/flutes/recorders (two players), soprano/celtic harp (one player) and violoncello (2006) 40'
    Chant, for treble voice and string quartet (2009) 6'30"
    Toning, treble voice and string quartet (2009) 4'-?_
    Chorale I, for mixed chorus (2001) 2'
    Chorale II, for mixed chorus (2001) 2'
    Runic Light, for mixed chorus and string quartet (2004) 10'
    Secret Offering, for bass clarinet, mixed chorus and violin (2013) 15'


    Mysterium, for piano (2000) 6'
    Mysterium, for flute (2002) 6'
    Mysterium, for guitar (2002) 6'
    Mysterium, for harp (2002) 6'
    Spiracle, for clarinet (2002) 20'-?
    Lungta, for piano (2006) duration ad libitum
    L'arco di Arjuna, for violin (2007) 6'
    Liminal I, for piano (2007) duration ad libitum
    Spiracle II, for flute (2007) 5'30"


    Reiki, for string quartet (1998) 14'
    Huna, for two pianos (1999) 10'
    Mysterium, for string quartet (2000) 6'
    Seeing With The Wise Woman, for gongs, harp and string quartet (2000) 15'-?
    The Call, for 2 oboes (2000) 4'
    Elixir I, for string quartet (2001) 15-?
    Epiphanies, for alto flute and string quartet (2001) 15'-?
    Sanctum I, for string quartet (2001) duration ad libitum
    Sanctum II, for string quartet (2001) duration ad libitum
    Versicle I, for 8 instruments (perc, hp, pno, vln(2), vla, vc, cb) (2001) (duration ad libitum for I-IV)
    Versicle II, for 10 instruments (afl, cl, gtr, hp, pno, vln(2), vla, vc, cb) (2001)
    Versicle III, for mixed chorus and 7 instruments (afl, cl, vlln(2), vla, vc, cb) (2001)
    Versicle IV, for 10 instruments (afl, cl, perc, hp, pno, vln(2), vla, vc, cb (2001)
    Hymn, for clarinet and string quartet (2002) 15'
    Icaro I, for string quartet (2002) 15'-?
    Icaro II, for 2 violins and harpsichord (2002) 10'
    Icaro III, for flute, musical saw, crystal glasses and glass wind chimes (one performer) (2002) 25'
    Mysterium, for piano trio (2002) 6'
    Mysterium, for saxophone quartet (2002) 6'
    Gyaling, for saxophone quartet (2003) 16'
    Kore, for violoncello and piano (2003) 5'
    Labyrinthmusic, for piano and string quintet (vln(2), vla, vc, cb) (2003) 30'
    La Sombra Espiral, for guitar and string quartet (2004) 11'
    "…in a sort of runic rhyme…", for 10 instruments (fl/afl, core ang, cl, tpt, tbn, perc, pno, vlin, vc, cb) (2005) 10'
    Numina I, for 6 violins (2005) 13'
    One Breath, for chamber orchestra (1 1 1 1 - 1 1 0 0, vln(3), vla, vc, cb) (2005) 10'
    Elixir II, for 8 strings (vln(2), vla(2), vc(2), cb(2)) (2006) 15'
    The Fourth Moment, for 2 sopranos, alto and 10 instruments arrayed spatially (1 1 1 1 - 1 1 1 1, perc(2)) (2006) 10'
    Alchemical Blue, for flute, clarinet, gongs and violin (2007) 5'
    Japa, for clarinet, percussion, piano and violoncello (2007) duration ad libitum
    Opera Interna, for 8 instruments (fl, perc, hp, vln(2), vla, vc) (2000-07) 60'
    Songlines, for flute, clarinet, violin, violoncello and piano (2007) 8'
    Zeno's Plaint, for violin and piano (2007) 5'
    Hieratikos, for piano trio (2009) 50'
    This Next Space, (in collaboration with John Celona) for 15 instruments arrayed spatially (1 1 1 1 - 1 1 1 0, mar, vib, pno, vln(2), vla, vc, cb) (2013) 15'30"
    Secret Offering, for SATB chorus, violin and bass clarinet (2014) 13'
    Ô bel enfant, for two pianos (2015) 14'

    Certain of the above works have durations appropriate to both a conventional performance and to the open-ended timescale of the labyrinth. An indication such as “15'-?” denotes a standard “concert” duration of ca.15 minutes, which can then be expanded ad libitum through the use of repeats provided in the music.

    Obtaining the music

    Due to the recent passing of the composer, the sheet music for many of the above works are not yet available through the Canadian Music Centre, though we encourage you to explore John Burke’s music there. If you would like to learn more about obtaining John’s music, please CONTACT US..


    Recordings of music written expressly for the labyrinth, as well as crossover works intended for concert performance can be accessed here:

    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.


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

    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.


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