Yiorgis Sakellariou’s Nympholepsy is a portrait in sound of the historical ghosts inhabiting the ruins of Ancient Messene, a city on the Greek peninsula of The Peloponnese. Over the centuries, the site saw several waves of settlement and conquest, of building, destruction and reconstruction, beginning with foundation by the Achaeans and culminating with the city’s reestablishment in 369 BCE after the defeat of Sparta by Thebes at Leuctra. Much more recently–in 2018–the ruins of Ancient Messene were the focus of a Tuned City event in which a number of sound artists were commissioned to explore the themes of place and memory and their implications for the situated nature of listening. Sakellariou was one of the artists invited to participate; Nympholepsy is the work that resulted.
The audio interpretation of an ancient city would seem to be a natural fit for Sakellariou. Trained as an ethnomusicologist and active since the early 2000s as a composer of electronic music and a field recordist, Sakellariou has produced a body of work largely concerned with ferreting out and disclosing the networks of association that tie together an environment and the listeners situated within it. For Nympholepsy he took field recordings of Ancient Messene and combined them with manipulated recordings of the voice of Savina Yannetou, a Greek vocalist as conversant with early music as she is with contemporary improvisation. Sakellariou alters the sound of Yannetou’s voice artfully, changing its pitch and timbre, setting up rhythmic patterns and blocks of sound, and occasionally stripping it down to traces of its grain with the underlying breath exposed. Structurally, the twenty-three minute-long piece is a work of accumulation and densification as Sakellariou adds layers of sound elements and pressures them into thickening masses—an especially appropriate response to a place that itself was the product of an accretion of peoples and their material cultures over long periods of time.
With Desert Tracks, Michel Redolfi (1951) set out to create an image in sound of the desert—its vast spaces, both topographical and audio—of the American Southwest.
Involved in electronic experimental music since his late teens in his native Marseilles, Redolfi went on to work with Pierre Henry, Luc Ferrari and others in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s. Prior to that, in 1973-1984, he was pursuing electronic composition in California at UC San Diego and the California Institute of the Arts. In 1987, he returned to the US where he went into the Mojave Desert, Death Valley and Palm Canyon to make a series of recordings. These form the basis of the Desert Tracks, originally released in 1988. This re-release on LP and CD contains the 1988 album, as well as an additional ten minute track on the CD version.
As can be imagined, the sounds are stark and austere, creating a portrait in sound that reflects something essential about the harsh desert environment. But the portrait is an abstract one, consisting in looming, often unstable chords with a bright, bell-like sheen to them; the punctuating sounds of scrapes, rattling and crackling; and always a reversion to silence. Occasionally a recognizable sound emerges—a human voice, however modified, or what sounds like a train approaching a crossing—but for the most part the sounds are suggestive rather than depictive. Redolfi plays with foreground and background sounds, and the occasional Doppler effect, to create a sense of spatial depth analogous to the physical distances encountered in the desert.
Silence can be thought of as the nothingness transcending sound, or an only apparently empty vessel containing sonic multitudes. In Silentium, a new long piece from Greek composer Yiorgis Sakellariou, silence manages to be both.
The basis for Silentium is a set of recordings Sakellariou made of church bells, organs and ambient sounds during a residency in Prague in December, 2015. The finished work is a long, single composition of nearly fifty minutes.
Appropriately enough, Silentium begins in silence or near silence. By the eight-minute mark an organ drone presents itself as a thick, unsettling and unsettled chord that abruptly fades away into the quiet ebb and flow of a high-frequency tingling. The rest of the piece is a natural progression of seeming waves of thunder or rushes of wind, the distant sounds of chiming bells, falling rain, birdsong, and sounds whose sources can only be guessed at. Throughout, there are long stretches where nothing seems to happen—just as there are sudden upsurges of sound, sometimes dramatically loud, sometimes unexpectedly persistent. The intermittency of sounds and silences serves to emphasize both as in essence temporally finite phenomena, each standing at the limit of the other.
In sum, Silentium is a recording with a lot of space in it. In fact, space seems to be its subject: Space as exemplified in silence and in the ambient sounds that frequently stand in for silence, thereby not incidentally providing an aural map of a specific physical territory.
The atmosphere is an open field of communications, the air a chaotic meeting ground of audible sounds as well as a more recondite network of radio and television signals, radar emissions and the effluvia of various wireless devices. Steve Ashby’s Crackles and Codes and Winter Birds present two different but complementary portraits of the waves pervading the air.
Ashby, a guitarist, composer and electronics experimentalist in Richmond, VA, assembles sound elements sourced from field recordings and composed passages and constructs them into thick soundscapes suggestive of particular times or locations. Winter Birds, a five-track work based on field recordings taken during the winter of 2015, is evocative of the damp, grey winters of the Mid-Atlantic region. Ashby sampled birdsong, wind chimes and other sounds in the air and processed them into a sonic image that recalls those moments at twilight when birdsong becomes particularly salient. Crackles and Codes is a single drone-based track that seems to call up the ghosts of untuned radios. Over the course of its eighteen and a half minutes a slowly moving, foreboding melody on guitar emerges and disappears into a thick background of resonant, suspended harmony.
From Portland Eye and Ear Control:
Thursday, November 19th
8pm, $5 suggested donation (no one turned away)
1603 NE alberta
Sound-Minds Fortress: Strings and Harmonium (members include Warren Lee, Mary Sutton, and Gabriel Will)
Travis Johns: Electronics from San Fran!
Scott Stobbe and Ensemble: New works for ensemble by Scott Stobbe incorporating inspiration and field recordings from his recent travels in Europe.