Organised Music from Thessaloniki
To get the caveats out of the way, tonight’s review is of a release on the Organised Music from Thessaloniki label, which is run by Kostis Kilymis, whom I consider to be a friend and may well be meeting for a coffee in the morning. Please take this into account when reading further, though its worth me noting that I haven’t discussed this music at all with Kostis, and this review is likely to make a nice surprise over a black Americano or two tomorrow.
The release then, is a split cassette, with one side by an Athens based composer and percussionist Chris Chondropoulos who appears here under the name Unan, and the other by Nikos Kyriazopoulos whom I think we can also assume is Greek and works with electronics and microphones in different ways. Apparently, the split release was proposed some time back by the head of the Absurd label Nicolas Malevitsis, but now that label sadly no longer seems to exist the release has turned up here. The original premise for the music was that it should be based on, or derived from, bird sounds. The press release for the Unan side of the tape, which is named Mimus suggests that the sounds we hear that make up this little sequence of musique concrete miniatures came from the sounds and textures of scratchy vinyl collected over a long time from Athens record shops. Assuming that this is the case, it seems that Chondropoulos has mixed abstract, textural sounds found amongst the grooves of old vinyl and records of birds singing, as many of the sounds here are too accurately avian to be replications formed through artificial means. There seem to be three or four short works pinned together into one here, with definite sections that focus on certain areas coming and going. We hear the crackle of vinyl, the hiss of low grade white noise, sped up, possibly computer treated sounds that seem to re-emerge as twittering bird-esque passages, real birdsong buried under a degree of vinyl hum, some kind of tribal drumming, and even at one point the sound of a child mimicking the call of what could be a cuckoo. Add to all of this the ever-present murkiness of music recorded to cassette tape and you have a quite densely packed, rather interesting sound world. The whole thing feels like a lo-fi take on musique concrete, the qualities of the bright pink (why?!) cassette it was released on harking back to the early experiments front he concrete field, though closer attention to the way the various sections merge and separate reveals a certain digital sharpness. Mimus is nice, if slightly hard to pin down music, quirkily attractive while not necessarily making a whole lot of sense, but then isn’t that what the charms of musique concrete always were? Very good stuff anyway, and I would like to hear more of Chondropoulos.
Nikos Kyriazopoulos’ side of the cassette, titled Skua is quite different, and technically probably a more clever and skilled approach to the birdsong challenge. He uses simple electronics (an oscillator of some kind maybe?) to produce little squeaks and warbles that do indeed sound very much like the twitter of birds, a piece vaguely reminiscent of Olaf Hochherz’ Ornithology album that I wrote about here. For the most part the music is decidedly electronic, again quite lo-fi, made with home made objects and I think performed in one unedited take. Its OK, well performed, and as I say, making music in this manner with probably homemade instruments that sound so close to birdsong probably isn’t an easy thing to do, but its not really my thing. If the Unan side of the tape was interesting because of its multiple layers and the mystery surrounding the origin of each element, Kyriazopoulos’ contribution is more obvious, and so the musicality of the work has to come through more to make an impact, and while the birdlike qualities of the sounds are remarkable in places it doesn’t hold up so well as a structured piece of music to me.
An interesting tape then, worth it for the Unan side alone and available from the label here, as a cassette or as a digital download if you aren’t hip enough to have access to seventies audio playback systems…