How can the desert dunes make beautiful music?

Explore the subtle sounds and movement of the desert at the world premiere of a unique choreomusical.


Winds shift particles of sand as they lift and settle on the dune, creating new patterns on the surface. As you look up, the extent of these shifting particles becomes evident as an endless sea of sand extends as far as the eye can see like undulating dunes being carried out in every direction.

The desert is an awesome landscape that seems to surprise even those who have grown up in it. It’s this mystery and awe that inspired composer Carlos Guedes to create choreomusical, Jinn.

Making its world premiere at The Arts Center at NYUAD on 10th and 11th October, Jinn explores the intrinsic link between movement and sound through video, dance, music and sound effects.

“The largeness of the Empty Quarter is quite striking,” Carlos tells me, speaking about an inspirational trip to Liwa. “It struck me that there was just sand as far as you could see.

“The other thing [I noticed] was the fractal character of the desert. You have the big dunes and the little waves on the sand; they’re pretty much the same type of thing, so you lose a sense of scale.


“I was also inspired by was the sound of the body moving in the sand. I was fascinated at how the sound of the sand was a nice way to sonify a movement, and that’s what this piece is about: the sonification of movement, playing with scale and that awe of the infinity of the desert.”

Since first presenting the show – albeit on a much smaller scale – in 2016, Carlos and his team of collaborators, which includes flutist and singer Cristina Ioan and dancer-choreographer Kiori Kawai, have tweaked the piece, made use of new technology and added new elements. Using clips filmed in the Empty Quarter as well as music and live motion capture, the result is a sort of magical interpretation of the way particles assemble and disassemble into alternating apparitions as the material becomes non-material.

It may sound like Jinn is delving into a spiritual world – after all, the concept of jinn refers to Arab-Islamic mythological spirits that are capable of possessing humans – but Carlos insists the piece is unrelated to religion, despite the name.

“I didn’t know about jinn until about two weeks after [this piece] was originally presented,” Carlos admits. “I had this idea from the beginning of a dancer coming down a dune, capturing the image and sound of that movement, and then removing the body from the film, and basically having just the movement being drawn in the sand.

“I wanted to call the piece Sand Ghost. I started asking for stories about ghosts and the desert, and at some point I came across the jinn, and I thought that would be nice to call the piece.

“For me, it’s nothing to do with [the religious or mystical angle],” Carlos continues. “It’s to do with something that has a ghostly presence and I think sound has a ghostly presence in movement, and vice versa.”


Reflecting this fluidity, many of the performance elements of Jinn – including the sounds Carlos makes in his sand box, Cristina’s flute pieces and Kiori’s dance movements – will be improvised, as they each react to the other and disperse in different directions as though chasing shifting particles of sand.

And just as the desert is made up of millions of units, so is the Jinn team comprised of various artists, each offering their own interpretation of the landscape’s sound and movement for a creative piece that the team hopes will give audiences something unique to enjoy together.

“I think that non-verbal communication is extremely important and the performing arts – even when you’re talking about theatre with text – has a lot going on, and you can not only access different types of reality, but also the non-verbal aspect of it is very important in that it can make people feel together, because they’re experiencing the same thing.

“The performing arts in itself is a community project; it’s impossible for one person to do all that, and that brings people together.”

Jinn premieres on 10th and 11th October. Free, but reservation required. The Arts
Center at NYUAD, Saadiyat Island. 8pm. Visit:

WORDS Rachael Perrett
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