Polyagogy / Keyboard: a double-set reissue of two compilations of Greek experimental music

Various Artists, Polyagogy / Keyboard, Creelpone, 2 x CD 240 – 241 (?)

Way back in the 1970s or 80s a Greek-based record label called Music-box issued two compilation LPs of work by experimental Greek composers, “Polyagogy” and “Music for Keyboards” in double quick succession, “Music for Keyboards” following straight after “Polyagogy” as can be seen from their serial numbers on the pictorial reproductions of the original vinyl discs on the sleeve of this double-CD reissue from Creelpone, that most excellent emporium of fine experimental music blasts from the past! And while this double feature overall is no less in quality and quantity than other releases from Creelpone, the compilations in themselves can be rather inconsistent with some tracks standing out much more than others for the impact they leave on listeners long after the recordings have finished.

“Polyagogy” boasts the talents of no less than Iannis Xenakis who comes first with the very powerful and noisy droning “Mycenes A” which, while austere and structurally based on the mathematics and statistics that Xenakis was famous for to create his compositions, is dramatic and epic in scope, and draws listener’s attention ever onwards. Xenakis sets a high standard for the rest of “Polyagogy” to follow, so high that perhaps it’s inevitable that other tracks don’t quite match “Mycenes A” in its intensity. Of the other works that follow in its wake, the one that stands out the most is Haris Xanthoudakis (who also appears on an earlier Creelpone reissue “Greek Electronic Music – 1”) with “L, comme Bunuel ou la foret des symboles”, a more playful if meandering track.

The other two pieces by Dimitris Kamarotos and Vassilis Riziotis have their own individual if low-key charms and if released on their own might have made more of an impression than they do here. While the Kamarotos track has a smoky, jazzy quality due to the use of clarinet and piano among other instruments, and the Riziotis work can be dark and mysterious, both seem quite fragmented and lacking in direction.

The works on “Music for Keyboards” are less formal and more impressionistic, and come across as soundtracks for mini-movies of mystery, ambiguous mood and sudden explosions of emotional intensity and drama. Vangelis Katsoulis’ “The Night” has an appropriately spooky feel and while it does send shivers up the spine in parts, on the whole it’s quite a pleasant, even friendly piece. The following track by Lena Platonos has peaks and valleys of intense feeling in those passages where solo piano dominates, and turns into a tiny sci-fi soundtrack in its last few moments. Michael Gregoriou’s fussy and mediaeval-sounding “For the Unicorn …” leaves me a bit cold though fans of alt-mediaeval sword’n’sorcery fantasy Game-of-Thrones TV shows might be interested. Minas Alexiades’ “Prayers” is just as busy, and quite pleasant to hear but never quite matches the Platonos track for atmosphere and high emotion.

The inconsistent quality among these works speaks for the variety of ideas and approaches used by the individual composers showcased on these compilation recordings, and gives a snapshot of the experimental music scene that existed in Greece about forty years ago. I’d like to think that the range of music demonstrated on these two discs is still characteristic of music and experimental music especially in Greece today.

Contact: Broken Music

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