issue 27 :: September 2015

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Interview: Costis Drygianakis

Costis Drygianakis

Greek composer Costis Drygianakis sent his Post-Optical Landscapes CD to N D in 1999 or so and it immediately struck me as an exceptionally exciting collage work. To this day I remember first hearing a particular passage where crowd noises enter the mix, expanding my mind as few other musique concret (or works trying to be that) did. Besides the info in the press release, we knew little about him. This is another interview that should have been conducted years before.

After a long absence from music making, Drygianakis returns with new music and recordings picking up where he left off. Many of these works can now be found on his Sound Cloud page.

—Josh Ronsen
What was the musical environment in which you grew up? How did you become interested in music?
I was born in 1965 in Volos, a town of about 100,000 inhabitants at that time, in central Greece. My father was a pediatrician. My parents were both amateur musicians; they practiced music seldom, but they loved to listen. There was a record player in the house before my birth, so I grew up listening to records; a little bit of Greek folk, a little bit of European classics and international hits, a little more of the “art-folk” Greek music of that time, like e.g. Dionyssis Savvopoulos, Mikis Theodorakis, etc. The record player was a very important part of my childhood. Inevitably, I developed the conception that music is something recorded, not something performed. I started planning my own “albums” when I was in elementary school, drawing covers and writing down imaginary track lists. My parents decided, rather reluctantly, to send me to a music school at the age of 10, but this was a totally unsuccessful experiment; I wasn’t interested at all in practicing piano exercises though I was rather gifted in music theory (as I probably was in mathematics, as well). At the age of 11 my mother (my father had already died of a heart attack) succumbed to my pressure and bought me a small portable cassette recorder. I started immediately making recordings of whatever I could; of course at that time I had no idea about musique concrete and such things. In spring 1977 I had my first experience of groups like Kraftwerk, Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, which of course was a kind of revelation for me. In fact, musical life in Greece was rather “closed in,” mainly because of the dictatorship (1967 – 1974); but after 1977 there was a boom of publications of international pop/rock music of all kinds, from disco to progressive rock and from jazz to punk. For me, a major change came in 1981, when my friend Kostas Pandopoulos tried to modify an old cassette player, which came out to behave somehow like a synthesizer; we went on making various recordings with whatever means we could use and two years later we “published” two cassettes for a small circle of friends. As the activity of our “band” started becoming more demanding, Kostas gradually left off and I went on with the project of Optical Musics, which at that time was perceived more as a band than as a project. The first LP of it was published in 1987.

As you can guess from the text above, it is difficult to point out when and how I got interested in music and especially in recordings and albums. I grew up with it. It was something inevitable, it was like “the apple tree that produces apples,” to put it in the words of Paul Klee. I don’t think that I was talented in music, but clearly I was willing and rather decisive to get involved with it. I would also mention that there was a general lack of means at those times in Greece; synthesizers were still pretty expensive and multi-track recordings were something like a distant dream for us. Actually, the 1987 LP was recorded with two Revox A-77 [reel-to-reel tape recorer] and a cassette player.
What were you using as models for these early releases? The weird parts of these German and English rock groups?
Concerning the first two tapes, yes. I would mention tracks like David Bowie’s “Moss Garden” and “Neuköln,” and also Brian Eno’s “Sombre Reptiles” among the influences which I can trace concretely. But at the same time, there were even more layers of influence, mainly the free jazz and the free improvisation of, let’s say, Don Cherry or our compatriot Sakis Papadimitriou. This refers especially to the material we “published” in 1983 – 84; publishing actually means that you believe in this material, you consider it good and completed. There were lots of other recordings as well, which didn’t make it to publishing, yet, and which were much closer to old electro-acoustic music. Of course, this was rather coincidental, as we had no experience of the music of Pierre Henry or Pierre Schaeffer.

By the time ofthe publication of the first LP, I think that my musical vocabulary was significantly enriched; and I was much more able to apply this knowledge, in terms of available equipment and of know-how. For the influences of Optical Musics Volume I, I would also add Karlheinz Stockhausen (especially his earlier works), Maurizio Kagel (works like Staatstheater), for sure Jani Christou (mainly his last works), Einstuerzende Neubauten and the European free improvisation (like the material published by FMP), just to mention a few. For sure, there were also some traces of modal improvisation, too.
How was the 1987 LP received at the time? What do you think of it now, looking back at it?
We got some very encouraging reviews, but it was some time later; the first ones appeared almost one year after the release. Till then, there was nothing but silence; in general, at that time, things were much slower than today. My friends Thanasis Chondros and Alexandra Katsiani were very helpful in promoting the LP, sending it to people they had contacts with, like e.g. Chris Cutler. After the praises in the press, there was also some demand, which meant an interest of small, independent distributors, in Greece and abroad. But, if you ask for my personal feeling, it was mainly a feeling of failure and of great loneliness. I guess that it had a lot to do with the slow pace of communications at those times; in terms of my physical environment, I was somehow like the “voice of him that crieth in the wilderness” and the external communication, mainly through letters, was not enough to relief my spirit. I think that it really took some years to feel deeply that the whole thing was not a failure, that it was not a “goose egg,” and that it touched some people, in such a way that it gave another kind of meaning to the process of making and finally publishing music.

The process of publishing, I would say, was also quite tiresome, as I had to do almost everything myself; and I clearly remember that right after publishing the LP, the only thing I wanted was to quit the effort. Actually the procedure of publishing itself, at that time, was somehow like the tombstone of this musical activity, something like getting-rid-of-it. In fact even the “band” was not sharing much of my obsession about making music and especially about doing it seriously; all this procedure of rehearsals and recordings, and then more rehearsals and more recordings was not very fascinating for most of them. For me too it was a lesson, I ended up realizing that Optical Musics was not a band, but a project. The next time, I was prepared for it and I accepted it easily.

Speaking of the LP as music, it’s been many years that I think I would like very much to do it from the very beginning, were it possible. Probably keeping only a few of the initial recordings and recording all the rest once again. I think the same ideas can be worked in a much more essential way; which was impossible at that time.
What precipitated the change from the early tape recorder works to the seemingly more musical works of the first LP?
I think there isn’t such a big difference in approach between the early tapes and the LP. But the LP was much better organized, it was structured much more precisely than the tapes, which include a bigger proportion of raw improvisations. Of course this was at first a question of media; it was the possibility of multiple recordings that permitted it to happen. In a press release written for the publication of the LP, I acknowledged the tape recorders as the main tool for constructing this music.

As far as I can tell now, the will to make music of a more conventional type was in the air at that time, and this mood was shared by most people who participated in the “band.” In fact it became even stronger the years that followed the release of the first LP, at least till the early 1990s. And of course such a more “musical” approach was more appreciated by our environment. Kostas Pandopoulos himself was a strong supporter of the idea; he constantly introduced questions whether all kinds of experimental music were too intellectual, too self-referring and thus lacking of any essential content. Maybe his approach was somehow exaggerated, but I think it included a healthy skepticism too. In the years that followed we made several efforts to produce more conventional music, incorporating mainly modal structures. The published results of these efforts were a tape entitled Hours and Seasons and the Second Volume of Optical Musics in 1993 and 1994, respectively. Of course, the advent of personal computers and samplers was very helpful in this direction; in fact, once again it was the technology that permitted the realization of ideas which earlier were but a distant dream.

I think it took some more years for me to become fully conscious that I was a composer of electro-acoustic, experimental music, and to accept my identity as such. This was, I think, somewhere in late 1996.
Were there musicians doing similar things around you at the time? Were you living in Athens?
There were a few. I was not in Athens but in Thessaloniki, as a student of Physics in the University, from 1982 to 1986. In Thessaloniki, there was a rather lively scene of free improvisation, with Sakis Papadimitriou and Floros Floridis as its main exponents; since 1984, there was an annual festival of jazz and free improvisation, so I had an opportunity to see some famous people playing live. I would mention especially Han Bennink and Richard Teitelbaum as the most influential cases. Volos was rather too calm, though in Chalki, near Larissa (some 50 km from Volos) there was also a group playing free improvisation, the Chalki Collective, which had published an LP in 1984. I got acquainted with them somewhere in 1986, through a common friend.

In Thessaloniki, a couple of friends who proved to be very influential were Thanassis Chondros and Alexandra Katsiani. They were focused mainly on visual arts, but they ruthlessly incorporated all kinds of other media (like sound or speech etc) in their work. Not only they introduced me to several tendencies of modern art (I remember hearing from them about Hermann Nitsch and Marina Abramovic for the first time in 1984), but also they infused me with a lot of decisiveness, especially about DIY publications.

I should note here that in provincial places like Volos, the borderlines between the various musical styles are very thin, and in fact, the difference between mainstream and non-mainstream music is frequently indiscernible and questionable. Conventional jazz music or conventional West-European classical music, for example, are frequently perceived as something really uncommon, as a sign of serious education and of highly elaborated approach; this finally means that the distance between the mainstream and the non-mainstream styles is not so big, as it is in the main urban centers. Consequently, there is a lot of communication among people who practice otherwise distinct genres, like jazz or heavy metal or punk or, finally, free improvisation and electro-acoustics, and this means lots of mutual influences too. My acquaintance and collaboration with Stathis Theocharakis clearly is an example of how this framework affects us.
Were you performing during these early years?
Rarely. In the period till 1987, we played in public no more than five times, and in fact even later, the live performances were very few. I was much more interested in recorded sound. In fact, it took even longer for me to get accustomed to the idea of “performing” recorded sounds, as I have been doing the last two years.
Performing in the Yuria festival, Athens, November 2014

You studied physics? Where? What were your primary interests in the field?
I studied at the University of Thessaloniki. Astronomy and astrophysics fascinated me, since childhood. But I was rather disappointed with the University system and decided to quit after graduating. Maybe it was my mistake and most probably it was my own responsibility that I never came to good terms with the University. I thought I would work as a teacher and I did for a couple of years; it was also disappointing and when I found a work as a computer programmer in a local studio, I quit.
People always ask me how physics has effected my interest or playing in music, so I now pass that question to you.
Anyway, for sure, many mathematical tools can be used in constructing music, the same way they are used in physics. Concepts of physics can be applied in music composition, as well. I guess you can use any kind of discipline as a tool for constructing music; Iannis Xenakis was a pioneer of this idea, incorporating in composition ideas from mathematics, architecture and everything else. Diagrams and music scores, for example, share a lot of common features. I wonder if it would be possible to apply in music ideas and methods from sciences like economics or archaeology.

By the way, I must admit that my perception of music was always visual, to a great extent. I think I always “saw” music instead of hearing it. That’s why I named my projects “Optical Musics.” These visual perceptions haunted me as long as I can remember; sounds had concrete colors, rhythms had concrete shapes etc. Complete pieces were somehow like canvases. The visuality of music can work on very different levels; the architectural volumes of Xenakis or Krzysztof Penderecki I think are a typical example of visualization, the “soundtracks-of-no-film” of Tangerine Dream is another variant of it. I think music has a strong potential to create images in the mind of the listener; in my case, I use this visuality as a way of constructing the music, too.
You mentioned Jani Christou, who was a prolific composer from 1962 until his death in 1970. But there seems (from to be only a few released records of his music before the 1992 Editions RZ LP that introduced me to his work. Was his music easier to hear in Greece? Was it being performed?
Rarely was it performed. But we had been lucky, with my friend Kostas, to find one of his LP releases, the “Late works,” in a local music shop in Volos, and we bought it because of the reference “for one actor, instrumental group and tapes” on the back cover. Till that time, we had only heard about such works by Stockhausen, Kagel etc, but never listened to any examples. We took it home and played it and we were left jaws hanging, as Theodore Antoniou conducted the orchestra announcing traffic lights (“red”, “yellow”, “green”) and Spyros Sakkas murmured, moaned, sighed, shouted, screamed, and all these things. And the whole thing was meaningful, it was not just a collage of strange sounds. It was October 1981, this LP was initially published in 1974. In 1986 there was one more work of Christou published in Greece, the Mysterion, also quite impressive even in its recorded version. Of course, Christou works have to be seen performed live on stage, there is a lot of things which are not recordable, but they leave a trace in the recording too (e.g. Sakkas walking behind the orchestra and delving into the space, in the example above).
One of the things that impressed me about Christou, as well as Kagel whom you also mentioned, is his efforts to bring theater into his music. Did these extra-musical ideas ever influenced you?
For sure they did. I tried sometimes to incorporate theatrical action in my pieces, but I think all of my efforts failed. What was successful, and still fascinates me, is this “sound imprint” of the action. As you don’t see things, you have to imagine what happens. But in this case, I think it’s interesting that imagination can be triggered to go far beyond the original action.

I think also that probably this is a reason that I find ceremonial musics so fascinating. Listening to an actual ceremony includes so many details which in conventional music are frequently overlooked as meaningless. More over, in real ceremonies there is this feeling that there is something that lies beyond the music, beyond even the sound, and only an imperceptible ghost of it can be captured on record.
What did you work on between the first LP in 1987 and the Hours and Seasons cassette in 1993?

Along with Kostas Pandopoulos, we worked a lot for one more LP, which we named “The Pentheus Myth,” but we didn’t finish it. Since October 1990 I started working on Optical Musics Volume II, though in a rather slow pace. Hours and Seasons were composed and recorded in four days, in early April 1993, at a time where Volume II was almost already finished. During all these years, I collaborated on some more commercial projects too, some were released, some others not.
On Optical Musics Volume II, how did you develop the use of pre-recorded material in conjunction with original material from musicians? It creates a fascinatingly rich collage. The musicians you recorded for this record, Costas Karagunus, et al, were they playing from scores, or from verbal instruction?
The main instrument behind Volume II was an Akai sampler, which made possible the transformation of many sounds from existing recordings. As the samplers of that time couldn’t contain more than some seconds of sound, in fact everything was reconstructed right after, using both a computer sequencer and an analog tape recorder. When the sampled sounds were rebuilt as a number of backgrounds, the musicians dropped in and improvised, according to traditional improvisation forms like the taqsim or the alaap. There were no scores for the improvisations, but the prepared backgrounds introduced concrete ways of musical thinking. Experienced modal improvisers, like Ross Daly and Socrates Sinopoulos were captured right at the first take; musicians less accustomed to modal improvisation had to be instructed more carefully, but this was also done verbally.

As I said already, at that period I was much interested for the qualities of “traditional” music which I thought that had disappeared from the experimental idioms, and this interest triggered a lot of my involvement with the “traditional” material; either sampled and transformed, either played from the very beginning by musicians who mastered these old styles. But somehow it was becoming clear also that this was not an imitation, it was a new approach. Today, I am still happy believing that it didn’t follow any of the easy solutions and it didn’t become too pop-ish, but I might be wrong, as well.
Do you ever consider the ethics of using samples of other people’s music? I use a lot of samples in my work, but they are usually processed and occulted beyond recognition.
It’s a very complicated topic, and it covers many more issues than just samples. I don’t think there is any question of ethics, for there is no virgin birth in art. It has to do in general with mimesis opposed to innovation. Walter Ong (in his famous book Orality and Literacy) has written in detail about such themes. In all cultures, innovation and mimesis co-exist, though the point of balance is different.

In the past, this question was bothering me much more. It was exactly as you describe it, I used to process the samples far beyond recognition. I guess it was Heiner Goebbels who, with his own work, had me released from my ambiguities. I think a sample is, first and foremost, a reference, and it’s not a shame to confess that you quote some other creator. That’s why I insist on making references to my sources with all possible details.
The title post optical landscapes suggests a definite break with earlier ways of working. How was this record, still one of my favorites, created?
Yes, there was a break. There were no more Optical Musics; the band/project/label/name had been definitely abandoned. I had decided to go solo, although when I started working on this album, in October 1997, it was planned to be called Optical Musics Volume III. In fact I had been going solo long before, but only at that time, somewhere in 1998, I accepted it. This was the second important change of those years; the first one, which was somewhere in late 1996, was the acceptance of the fact that I was doing contemporary, experimental music, and it was my identity, not something to be ashamed of. I got rid of the envy to do something more conventional, more “musical.” It was somehow as if a kind of period of puberty ended and I felt myself much more adult, musically. I guess it had to do a lot with my involvement with conventional styles in the first part of the 1990s; in addition to working as a computer programmer for music, I also taught computer programming in Volos Municipal Conservatory, so I had had enough of it. Maybe it was a question of age, as well, but I guess it was also a question of contacts, too, as at that time the Municipality of Volos organized a yearly festival of music theatre, and many important people, like e.g. Heiner Goebbels and Theodore Antoniou came to Volos for some period of time. Heiner Goebbels already knew Optical Musics Volume II (I guess, through the Greek director Michael Marmarinos) and his comments were really encouraging. Antoniou was also a good influence, as he had a huge experience of contemporary music and his views and comments were really to the point.

As all my previous works, the post-optical landscapes were also created on analog tape. There is no sequencer there. The last 15 minutes of the album there are my first experiments with sound-editing programs, but the whole thing was mixed manually on DAT. I worked alone at home, plus I used to record my musician friends mainly on DAT in the Conservatory, and then brought them together on tape. I had absolutely no plan; I let the material guide me, in the same way sculptors are frequently guided by the peculiarities of the stone they carve. I worked really fervently, the first part was completed in less than two months but then, at about the tenth minute of the second part, I was suddenly blocked. It took a break of two more months, and then in two weeks or so I finished the second part.

A diary of my efforts to move to this new direction, from May to September 1997, can be heard on the album Thoughispeakwiththetongues …, which finally came out a little after post-optical landscapes.
When you say there was no plan to post-optical landscapes, not even a plan of who to invite to participate? This record, as I will write in the introduction, remains marvelous and fresh to my ears. I think of it as a collage work, a master of the formless form if you will. Did visual art collages influence you, or were there musical collages, the Hafler Trio, for example, that taught you anything?
No, not even this. When I started, I had made only two decisions; one was that it would be a work consisting of two large tracks, about 33 minutes each, the second was the sound that opens the composition, which is, in fact, a Greek baglamas played with a metal tube as a bow and which is clearly inspired by Jani Christou’s Enantiodromia. Everything else came up during the procedure. Of course, I knew the kids that were studying in the Conservatory, I knew what instruments they played, which ones would like to participate and improvise etc, and also I had a rather clear idea of the recorded materials that laid in my closets, but almost no decision about which ones I would use and where. I was also decisive that I would avoid any kind of obvious rhythms (loop or sequencer originated) and of dominant tonalities (of eastern or western type). This was the starting point.

In general, I worked by constructing a skeleton of 4 – 5 recorded channels, which somehow ensures a kind of flux for each piece, and then I added details. In fact, this way of working hasn’t changed a lot till now.

Visual arts for sure influenced me, and I dare to say, their influence was stronger than that of the music collages, like the ones of the Hafler Trio or Nurse With Wound. I would refer to many visual artists ranging from Wassily Kandinsky to Robert Rauschenberg and from Dada to Fluxus, as cases that left a strong trace in my mind. For sure, meeting Heiner Goebbels and working with him was a very pleasant shock at that time; I think he liberated me of many prejudices that plagued me till then.

Anyway, I must admit it’s a bit difficult to reply accurately to such questions, as almost 20 years have passed since then. In 1999 several strong changes happened in my life; one of them was that I became much more consistent about my work as a composer, keeping notes and writing down ideas and thoughts, and possibly many things became conscious only at that time, while in the period of working on the post-optical landscapes they were somehow in limbo or, at least, more vague. My contact with the visual arts also intensified in that period; so possibly newer knowledge is now projected on some older facts.
How did you meet Nicolas Malevitsis, who contributed to post-optical, as well as the new one? Others might recognize him as Nicholas Genital Grinder from the Absurd record label.
It was Nicolas who found me in early 1993; funny enough, it happened through Robert Zank, of the Edition RZ. I really have no clue how he came to know Optical Musics. Anyway, he was enthusiastic, he asked me for some copies of that old LP, we soon became friends. For sure, meeting him enhanced my optimism and I must admit that it was through him that I came in contact with some of the then recent tendencies of the experimental scene, like the aforementioned Hafler Trio and Nurse with Wound or Merzbow and his “noise.” At that time (from 1994 to 2001, most probably) he bombarded me with his recordings of various noises, which he suggested I treat even further. Some such collaborative experiments appeared in various contexts, but many are still somewhere in my house, waiting for their chance to be used. Recently he housed a long interview of me in his new publication Emvoes(I think it’s translated as Tinnitus).

Walking on Meteora, Central Greece, December 2014

You started your label EDO to release your own work, but then expanded into releasing other people’s work. 0+ was the only of these that I heard, which seemed like a huge departure from your work. Was there a philosophy guiding what would be released? Many of the titles were in Greek: was there a conscious effort to release Greek music to Greek listeners? As opposed to having text in English for world-wide consumption?
No, I think I would put it in another way. I triggered the formation of the label in order to release some music which I thought was interesting, including mine as well. EDO (which is translated in English as “Here”) was formally and essentially a non-profit organization. I can’t say the departure from my work was huge, but for sure I was interested to cover a wider variety of non-commercial music idioms, which frequently couldn’t find a way to discography; this included styles like electro-acoustics, free improvisation, experimental ambient etc, and finally there was even an album of archival recordings of church music. By the way, all the releases (except the first, unofficial one) were bilingual, and Cranc was trilingual, as Rhodri and Angharad Davies are Welsh. Clearly it was not only for Greeks.

Now, 15 years later, I would dare to say that the whole effort failed, in all levels. At first, commercially: we never managed to get back even the hard expenditure, like the costs for the CD-pressing factory and the printing industry (which in fact were the only ones to be paid in cash). Secondly, while we received pretty good reviews, and not only in Greek media, I think we didn’t manage to create a further dialogue about the necessity of all these non-conforming styles. But this discussion has one more aspect, which we touched again before; what is non-conforming in Greece is not equally unusual in, let’s say, the U.S.A. Some of these releases were received abroad as “non-experimental.” The diversity of the works published created one more problem with the distributors, which were quite uncertain to which style they should classify EDO. And there was a third, and even deeper problem; many (though not all) of the artists that participated in the releases, were totally reluctant in helping the promotion of their own releases. I think there is (or, at least, there was) a kind of depression affecting all people dealing with experimental music, at least in provincial Greece (and maybe in the big cities as well); an extreme lack of self-confidence, a feeling of vanity. Or at least, this was the case till round 2000. I have a feeling, that a few years later (let’s say, after 2005) a whole new generation of composers of electro-acoustic music sprung up in Athens (and in Thessaloniki), as well as a good number of small independent labels, and the whole scene in Greece became much much more lively than it was. I guess that the wider dissemination of the use of internet was also very helpful in this.
From 2001 to 2012, your recorded output decreased dramatically. I was surprised to find new recordings from you last year. What were you doing in the interim?
The period from 1999 to 2012 was somehow strange. At first, it started auspiciously; it was a period of general financial rise in Greece, which was crucial in the creation of Edo as well. I re-organized my home studio, got some new equipment etc. I resigned from my work in the Municipality as well in order to have more time to devote to my own plans. But finally, the whole thing didn’t work out. At first, the situation with Edo absorbed a lot of my energy; this became even worse as I was willing to help friends to produce and release their own music (including even amateur heavy metal bands), and finally I ended up running after the music of others, and not of mine. In late 1999 I had put the base for a new album; but, right after, preparing the music for the exhibition of Manolis Giannadakis [Itinerary], where I tried to incorporate some of my new ideas, I became totally confused. (Fortunately, at least the music of Itinerary came out as a 3’’ CD-r in 2012). Whole months passed by, and I was unable to add a single sound to what I had done already. I tried to start something else, and then again something else; till the autumn of 2002, I hadn’t made any essential steps further. Most probably, it was my mistake that I explored new beginnings, where I should seek a way to carry on what I had already started (and it was already an almost-20-minute-long piece at the time I left it). Most probably, also, it was a problem that I had no deadlines, and thus I kept thinking in a maximalist, greedy way, making plans that were far away from any possible fulfillment. Probably I was a bit lazy in realizing my plans, as well.

All of these were left hanging on as in 2002 I discovered the pop-folk music of modern Russia and some months later I started working for Difono, the biggest music magazine in Greece at that time, writing about the music of different countries (especially about lesser known cultures). The whole thing was really interesting, including a lot of traveling, so it absorbed all my energy and made me postpone everything else. In the same year, we got acquainted with Olya Gluschenko, with whom the very next year we decided to get engaged in a permanent relation. Olya is Russian, so I decided to move to Russia for some months, and actually I still spend considerable amounts of time there; this made the creation of new music an even more complicated issue. I would say it was not a question of practical difficulties, but rather a matter of will; in Russia there were some fascinating topics, as, e.g., the Soviet discography, which I wished to explore. I am still discovering new things, but of course not in the pace I did in my first years.

I quit Difono in late 2009. In late 2010 its publication ceased. As my mother’s health was deteriorating, because of her age, I didn’t even search for another job. Finally, my mother passed away in 2012. Since 2011 (in fact, even a little earlier) I started again meshing up with composing; after her death, composition became a valuable tool for sentimental consolidation. That’s how Blown Into Breeze came out; maybe not so much as a kind of mourning, but rather as a kind of meditation on the topic of bereavement. Of our own forthcoming bereavement, as well.
During your period of musical inactivity, were you thinking of or dreaming of new pieces?
Of course I did. I clearly remember when I first heard Olya’s uncle speaking, rather murmuring, I immediately thought, “what a voice!” while at that time I couldn’t understand but a few words. But thinking and dreaming is totally different from creating. I was totally inactive in the period from mid-2003 to mid-2007; in fact then I started catching up little by little, but only in 2012 I found the necessary decisiveness to sit down and complete a new project. I think it mainly was a matter of will.
What are a few of the musics you discovered that you felt should be more widely known?
This is a very good question, and it doesn’t apply only to experimental musics of any kind (which, by definition, address a restricted public) but to popular musics as well. I have come across many musics which I think they deserve to be widely known, though it’s a question how we define “widely.” Audiences are more or less a local phenomenon (and, after all, the Western world is also somehow local, though possibly modern anthropologists like Arjun Appadurai would express their opposition to this phrase). Let’s take, as an example, the songs of Renat Ibrahimov from Tatarstan. His was, and he still is, a star in his homeland. Outside it, he is practically unknown. I love his old recordings (in the 1970’s) very much, and I try to disseminate them as far as I can. By the way, I doubt that these old recordings are of any appeal in his homeland today, as well.

It’s rather difficult to choose some particular musicians. Anyway, in addition to Renat Ibrahimov, I would mention Nurlan Onerbayev from Kazakhstan, Yusuf-al Manyalawi from Egypt and Eli Fara from Albania. Just as examples. On the other hand, I doubt that well-known American or European musicians (I m just thinking of Captain Beefheart at this very moment) are somehow known, let’s say, in the Russian countryside. So the question of who is widely known and who is not, is even more complex than it seems to be.

In addition to music already published, yes, from time to time I come across unpublished music too. This was the case of the Roma musicians form Sofades, Greece, which we recorded with Vaggelis Bandelas in 1992. This recording was published, at last, in early 2015 (a sample here:, and we hope we’ll have an English edition soon. Though I can guess that, for somebody who lives away from Greece, there is but little difference between this particular Roma music and the main local traditions of this region.
When living in Russia, did you have the chance to work with any Russian musicians?
I had, but only with researchers and practitioners of local folklore. I guess that Voronezh, though it’s a city of about one million inhabitants, it’s not so active in terms of experimental music; or at least, I haven’t come across any local experimental music here. Though, many years ago, I remember finding pirated albums of Aube and Zoviet France in local stores, which means there is some interest for such genres here, as well.

Performing in The Melter festival, Athens, April 2014

How has your general working method chanced since Post-Optical Landscapes? Your newer works, to me, sound very similar to your older works, this collage of a wide-range of musicians and samples.
I think not. The older ones, before the post-optical landscapes, had a much more restricted vocabulary. In earlier times I had no access to such a wide variety of sounds, and also the possibilities of working with them were restricted, without the help of computers. I have the opposite feeling, that after post-optical landscapes I have stuck to the techniques I used there. Of course, maybe it’s just my obsession. If there is one important new element in my work after post-optical landscapes I would say that it is the development of a kind of “polyphony,” in terms of different elements that follow their own ways, they keep their own integrity, but sound simultaneously. I think I would like to describe it rather as transparency, for finally the ear distinguishes some of them in favor of others; but in subsequent listenings, it’s very probable that something totally different stands out.
Swimming with Mermingo, near Volos, July 2014

I am happy that you’ve started releasing music again. Have you been employing any of the new technologies in your work? Do new options in technology inspire you creatively, or do you know what you want to do and use the tools at hand?
Now I’m working with a Reaper, after years of working with the E-magic Logic (the old version that worked under Windows), plus a Soundforge for audio editing. Soundforge is one of my main tools, though I must admit I m not totally aware of the possibilities of all these new programs. I wouldn’t say they inspire me, but for sure they are very potential tools. Of course sometimes I’m just playing with sound editing, and when some interesting results come out, I keep them aside for further use.

For sure I’m faithful to the old ideas of Brian Eno about forcing the equipment to work in a way different from the one intended; and thus exploring exactly its inadequacies. Sometimes of course this means forcing yourself too to go the hard way round. No doubt that the instruments always guided the music to concrete directions, somehow. Beethoven’s sonatas wouldn’t have been possible without the piano, Bach’s toccatas without the church organ, etc. I accept the computer media which are available to me as a frame for work, and frequently I allow them to lead me. Sometimes I wish I had more technology available, but to say the truth, as the years go by, I’m less and less capable of learning to use new technologies. Maybe I’m simply less patient than I was 20 or 30 years ago.

I would say also that working with computers gives a different perspective in the creative thought. When the sound is treated as a graph and as a set of numbers, it becomes a totally different thing. It’s not volatile anymore, it’s frequently approached by the eye and not by the ear. This was the case with the development of music notation as well, but now we have proceeded to include all kinds of sounds, not only those produced by the so-called musical instruments. Somehow this reminds the work of a sculptor or a painter; the recorded work exists after it has been finished, and not while it is performed, as it was the case with the music on older times.

A reconstruction of the home-made instruments of the 1980’s: the credenza-chord

Are there any plans to release your music writings in book form?

I wouldn’t like to release my writing for Difono. Maybe some of them are worthy, but I think there are much better writings on these topics. About my notes on composition, for the moment there are no concrete plans, though some fragments have appeared (most of them, as parts of interviews, in Greek language). There are two questions here; one is that they are scattered diary notes, written with no intention for publication, and I wonder if they are intelligible and, finally, of interest for anybody; and if you take for granted that they are of some interest, then we go to the second question, which is the translation, in order to reach a wider public who can’t understand Greek.
You’ve told me you are assembling a record of the music of Jewish communities around Volos. Can you discern how they have absorbed Greek musical ideas into their music? I am assuming you are recording their religious music, but maybe you are also recording klezmer music as well.
Saying the truth, the whole project is still in very vague form, and I can’t tell whether and when it will come out. As far as I know, there was no klezmer music, but Jewish people were actively involved in the Greek music scene, like Rosa Eskenazi and the Matsas family.

Apart from Thessaloniki, which was inhabited by Sephards, most Greek Jews were Romaniot. All of them faced several cases of hostility. A high percent was annihilated in the times of WWII, and the remaining ones fled (mainly) to Israel; in fact today the Jewish population in Greece does not exceed 10,000 people. Four samples of Greek Jewish chanting had been published in the album Jewish Music, compiled by Alain Danielou here (tracks B1 - B4).
You have been actively posting pieces on SoundCloud for download. Do you like the ease of online releases? Do you think these are an inferior form of music? I’m old enough that the idea of a physical product to somehow legitimize a recording has become ingrained in me. That’s not to say I haven’t taken advantage of online downloads to track down some very rare, important recordings that I probably would not have heard otherwise.
I love the physical medium too. But maybe it’s just a kind of prejudice. You see, I grew up in a provincial town in Greece, a country of the European periphery; living here, earlier, if you wish to listen to some particular music, you should go and buy the record. Now, the digital media make all this much easier, you have access to almost all kinds of music, everywhere in the world, but I still love that old procedure; you had to search, to learn, to find, to pay for it, so when you started listening to the music, you had already been invested into it, and you had a kind of religious devotion to the music. Of course, me too I was also fascinated with the facilities of the digital media when they appeared; but one day, in 2009, I realized that I spent all my time downloading and archiving music material which I never had the time to listen to. So I quit. Of course there are still cases that I enjoy downloading.

Regardless of my respect for the physical media, I must admit I listen to music almost exclusively from three mp3 players; one in the car, one on my desk and on in the kitchen. I enjoy them, but saying the truth, I think that mp3 players have changed the way we listen to music. I frequently feel buried under piles of stuff, which I rarely come to know well, I rarely come to a deeper relation with. Most music I listen to the last years is something like one-night-stands. I think it’s bad, it’s a kind of miss. Music cannot work in such a fast manner, it takes time.
Was there a guiding principle behind your new CD, whose title I hope you will translate for me?
The title comes from the Psalms of David. It is the 50th psalm (according to the numbering used by the Orthodox Christian church); in fact it doesn’t correspond exactly to the Jewish original, it is a poetic expression introduced by the Septuagint. It is more or less translated as “unclear and secret.” The original Hebrew text is something like “Behold, you desired that truth be in the hidden places, and in the concealed part you teach me wisdom” and it has become “The unclear and secret aspects of your wisdom you made clear to me.” This particular psalm, the so-called “psalm of the redemption” is used extensively in the rituals of the Orthodox Christians.

Unclear and Secret was initially conceived to be the third part of a trilogy, Blown into breeze being the first part. The second part was intended to be called Notebook, and to be based on recordings of narrations. This was somewhere in spring 2013. While Breeze was the outcome of a personal mourning, Unclear and Secret was intended to be a wider approach to death, seen through family relationships, archaeological findings, war atrocities and so on. An old church painting of St. Sisoes, mediating over the (supposed) tomb of Alexander the Great, and exclamating “Death, who can escape you?” was somehow a starting point (more info on St Sisoes here). On the way, things went different than intended. Unclear and Secret was finished first and got published and presented in Athens, in the Bordeline festival, while the Notebook finally became Notebooks: Voices of the city and ethnographic soundscapes and was finally presented in the conference Museums in Motion, in Volos, July 2015. It is available here:, and it is to be followed soon by an introductory note in the conference proceedings.

I can’t really tell if the Unclear and Secret project was finally successful. I keep a feeling that it was released somehow unripen, and that the issue of the war atrocities somehow muffled the topic of death. Of course, maybe it’s just my feeling, my own precariousness. Maybe I will come back to this theme of death one day.
Here we see the inclusion of Nicolas Malevitsis again. How does the recording of different people affect the evolution of a piece or the record as as whole?
It’s not only Nicolas, there are lots of people. I like to have contributions of all kinds, actually I am fascinated by them. In some cases I record other people myself, in other cases I ask them to send me their recordings. For sure, I do extensive manipulation on some sounds, but also, I use some others just the way they are. I think they add a lot of color, a lot of personality. In this sense, it seems that my method of working reminds somehow the one of a theatre or a film director, who has to work with different, unique personalities, and assemble their presence in a coherent whole. Choosing people, in this case, means a lot; it actually means you define where the music goes, by choosing the suitable collaborators. For example, the presence of Stylianos Tziritas and his very particular clarinet was crucial for the development of the second track of Blown into breeze.
You performed live in Crete in April of this year, and part of that performance is posted on SoundCloud. How did that performance take place? Crete has an almost magical alure to us who are far away from it.

Was the sound composition you presented made with the performance location in Crete in mind? How much leeway do you give yourself when presenting live material? Is there live mixing, or just eq manipulations?
Crete is really a magic place, and this magic is present in the landscape, in the antiquities, in the climate, in the details of everyday life. No doubt. In Soundcloud, there was a reduced version of the complete piece; reduced in the sense that the spatial dimension was suppressed in order to become a usual two-channel mp3. In the live setting, in addition to the sounds that came from the PA, I had also a Dictaphone in my hands; I was situated in the middle of the audience, controlling the mixing desk myself. Not a lot of things, just a final touch of volumes and EQ. The Dictaphone was playing small fragments of Cretan folk songs, easily recognizable, in contrast to the rather abstract sounds that came from the PA. Of course, these Cretan folk songs were selected and used with the Cretan audience in mind; an audience which, by the way, was anything but prepared to listen to electroacoustic music from an almost invisible performer. I was pretty disappointed with the noisy audience, but in a surprising manner, I got many Facebook friend requests from the people who were there.

Performing in Entropia festival, Heraklion, Crete, April 2015

In general, I like this notion that every time I play in public, there is something unique. I like to add a touch of particularity, in terms of space or time. On the other hand, I am afraid that too much improvisation can lead to chaos, and so I prepare specific versions of my music for any “live” performance. In Crete I felt somehow at home, as my father’s family originated from there, and from times to times I had a lot of contacts with the island; this contact produced a lot of field recordings, which I was happy to use.
What are the joys of living and working in Greece for you? I rarely get the chance to travel. I would love visit all of the small islands in the Aegean Sea.
I would love too. They are so nice. Some are really like rocks scattered in the vast blue sea. I think that living in Greece is still nice, regardless of the bad economic situation. At least in the countryside; in Athens things are obviously worse for a significant part of the population.
The island of Dasia, at the west of Skopelos, September 2011

What are your plans for the future?
Tomorrow we ll go for an excursion in Pelion, and then I really don’t know! :-) But I hope I ll be able to manufacture some more music of mine, as well as to publish some more music of the world that surrounds me, and which I think it’s worthy to be heard further.
All pictures (excluding record covers) were taken by Olya Gluschenko.
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