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.