Psychogeographical Prosopopoeia (it’s all Greek to me)

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Yannis Kyriakides
Resorts & Ruins
UNSOUNDS 33u CD (2013)

Moving on from his sonic renderings of geographical contours, the Projector-approved ‘Cypriot genius’ Yanni Kyriakides treats us to a new form of psychogeographic meditation in Resorts & Ruins: one concerned with the long-term effects of erosion on locales physical and mnemonic. He relates these themes by means of juxtaposition: impersonal expanses of electroacoustic dark matter colliding with warm fragments of traditional music sampled from different vocal traditions including Turkish pop, Cypriot epic song, and opera. These add both a serendipitous ‘Sublime Frequencies’ air to the listening experience, while suggesting the irrepressibility of half-remembered events. By such means, Kyriakides provides an entrancing alternative history lesson: one poised perfectly between intellect and artistry; ambitious enough to render me regretful of doodling my way through the years of my school education.

Erosion as a consequence of neglect comprises the central concern in ‘Varosha (Disco Debris)’; pretty much the album’s sonic centrepiece, in which the above song forms erupt at inopportune moments during robotic tour-guide narration. This infuses and alternates with an expanding and unstable metallic background, which spans the half-hour duration and provides uncomfortable reminder of the indelibility of past traumas, whether personal or historical. Events centre on the eponymous Varosha – a Cypriot ‘ghost town’ – invaded by Turkish forces in July 1974 and maintained as a fenced-off ‘political bargaining chip’ ever since. The contrast between approachable samples and lunar dispassion evokes an idyllic summer rendered memorable for the wrong reasons. As it happens, the summer in question constitutes Kyriakides’ earliest memory: he holidayed at the location with his family when the Turkish invasion occurred, and spent a memorable day in a hotel basement, drawing on the floor: perhaps the floor plan for the present work?

More illustrious associations are invoked in ‘The 100 Words’: a composition of ‘synthesized voices and electronic sound’, commissioned and created at the GRM studios in Paris, performed at the Presence Electronique festival in 2012, and enjoyed by me in my living room. I must say, the reverberating sub-bass that emboldens fragmented instructions to ‘look’ and eventually ‘speak’ is shoving my eardrums dangerously close together – a suffering I heartily recommend to fellow audio masochists. It is accompanied by further samples; these taken from an obsolescent form of song traditionally sung at Cypriot weddings, which relates the sense of destiny that has drawn the betrothed couple together since birth. Simultaneously disintegrating while throbbing with greater and greater intensity, revealing greater detail in each sweep, the piece gains magnificent momentum over its 21-minute lifespan, as the components are revised and intermeshed. GRM certainly got their money’s worth!

Dividing the above, extended compositions in searing slices of sound are the three ‘Covertures’, which tweak a similar set of variables each round. Here too narrates the dispassionate voice of officialdom, commanding a process thus: ‘open [ rising drone ] ‘close’ [ silence ] ‘open’ [ drone ] ‘close’ [ silence ] ‘open’ [ drone ] ‘close’ [ silence ] and so on – in the first section at least. Said drones offer fearsome, galactic ringing that should not fail to facilitate listener concentration. Kyriakides describes these ‘walls’ as ‘frozen instants’ captured in the opening and closing sections of a performance of a Monteverdi opera. Beneath the glassy blasts one can easily discern the raucous sounds of an energetic crowd, though whether it expresses violence or appreciation constitutes and ambiguity that confers on the piece a powerful reminder of how the value of a cultural experience can easily be determined by factors outside of the performer’s intention. How many gigs have been made or marred by an audience, one might ask. It also brings to mind an account given by Genesis P. Orridge of a ploy used by William Burroughs to take revenge on a Greek-owned café in London, where he had been slighted by an insolent waiter. Slinking back and forward, past the establishment, Burroughs spent time airing tape recordings of riots so as to establish an air of disquiet. This he followed up by taking a photograph of the area and splicing together two sections of the street sans café. Apparently the café went out of business soon afterwards and the space proved poison for anyone trying to set up shop thereafter. Beats firebombing I suppose. Anyway, these pieces were developed from a series of ‘sound walls’ used in an installation for a collective exhibition entitled ‘Opera Aperta’, held at the Dutch Pavilion, Venice, in 2011. Kyriakides has evidently rather careful in his section selection, as the sound is ever captivating.

I’ve a well-developed soft spot for electroacoustic music such as this, which is perhaps why I cannot find any words of criticism for it, as it satisfies intellectually, emotionally and as a self-contained listening experience. Thus it receives a glowing thumbs-up from me. The CD is accompanied by a set of saturated colour postcards of Cypriot locations entitled “The Golden Seaside”. Based on based on images of Varosha, the cards offer a vivid, hyperrealist counterpoint to the faded photograph aesthetic of Fennesz’ ‘Endless Summer’, while remaining consistent with the concepts explored within Kyriakides’ fascinating music.

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