First up, an apology for the recent batch of self-depreciatingly rubbish posts. I haven’t been at all well, but I am quite relieved to realise that as well as the back problem I have had a bad stomach bug that has also affected Julie and my unfortunate father who has been here looking after me. I’m relieved amply because I have an explanation for the extension of my illness. I would of course much rather my family weren’t suffering…. Anyway I set out this morning determined to put a lot of this behind me and to some degree have. enough anyway, to spend some time with some music and write about it…
So the CD I have been trying to listen to for the past few days has been the first (I think) solo release by the Greek (but currently resident in the UK) zither player Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga released by Organised Music from Thessaloniki, the label owned by soon-to-be resident of the UK Kostis Kilymis. Named Stroke by stroke,Â the disc is a collection of twenty-one brief tracks , the longest of which clocks in at a fraction under six minutes, the shortest (and the first) lasting just twelve seconds. The pieces each showcase what must probably be described as a different extended technique for the zither, using no effects, overdubbing or processing and just assorted objects applied to the instrument. All of the tracks are by Dimitra alone, except for a couple which required the support of an extra pair of hands, provided by Michalis Kyratsous. The tracks all run with no silences between them, not overlapping but cutting straight from one to another.
Now, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga’s music in the duo Ap’strophe alongside Ferran fages is really great. she knows her instrument well, and on the two discs issued by that group she wraps her music around Fages’ assorted gritty contributions to great effect. Those CDs are fine examples of great collaborative, conversational improvisation. This Cd is however a very different kind of release. It really does seem to fall into that difficult category of solo releases that can only really be described (perhaps unfairly) as a catalogue of extended technique possibilities. Across all twenty-one pieces here, from the stray soft chimes of the opening Gargaretta to the beautiful mix of bowed and struck sounds of the longest piece Dorodango, which almost sounds like it is talking to us, the sounds are uniformly gorgeous. In general, what we hear can be split into either struck, chiming sounds or longer, sometimes electronically tinged, sometimes more obviously bowed sounds. In places they are combined. As a collection of short pieces that display what Dimitra is capable of producing from her instrument, as a portfolio of quite lovely little vignettes it works very well, but rarely, even across the six minute piece do the tracks extend beyond the semi-static placement of a signal sound into something with more of a narrative, something more than an example of what is possible. There is little progression to any of the pieces, and while this can still work well on a longer work, say a Sachiko M solo or something similar, the tracks here are all a little too short for their stasis to take hold in a more interesting manner.
Because of my recent conditions nd repeated attempts to write about music here I ended up listening to this album six or seven times, and while I perhaps should search for a better word to use, I’m afraid after two or three plays it became a little boring. I actually ended up enjoying listening out more for the unintentional external sounds that creep in here and there, traffic sounds mainly as the pics were each recorded at Dimitra’s Athens apartment. Then, as it has been quite humid here recently I took to trying to find pitches in the pieces that matched the sounds coming in from my open window, passing cars again, but also trains and the gentle roar of the nearby power station. This is of course as good a way as any to enjoy a CD, and perhaps it was Dimitra’s intention to some degree, but while Stroke by stroke does display some wonderful sounds that in themselves add up tot he entire body of a zither, musically I perhaps wanted a little more meat on the bones- longer tracks maybe that carry more emotive content, shift and change rather than just present a single technique. In some ways listening to the album as a whole, where there are no gaps between the pieces does provide this sense of progression, but finding links between each successive track is hard, and its difficult to get the idea of a catalogue of potential sounds out of my head.
So, some lovely sounds executed perfectly, in oddly attractive packaging, but maybe not a disc that leaves the kind of lasting impression I would have preferred.