Antiphonies / Kavafis Songs: a remarkable double set of soundscape poetry

Nikiforos Rotas, Antiphonies / Kavafis Songs, Creelpone, 2 x CD CP 230 – 231

Some amazing gems of 1960s and 70s electronic and experimental music have come from Greece, and from a wide variety of composers at that, courtesy of the always amazing Creelpone label whose sole music archaeologist explorer ranges far and wide to dig up obscure treasures for me to pounce my greedy paws on. This double set of sound poems by Nikiforos Rotas may be an unassuming duo – the volume might need to be turned right up to hear the background sounds and echoes behind the music, at risk of ruining the quiet space within – but both discs are huge surprises, not least because they sound different from each other with one disc favouring atmospheric mood music and the other consisting of poems by early 20th-century poet Constantine P Cavafy set to music.

“Antiphonies” seems the more experimental of the two recordings with long tracks of unearthly, ethereal soundscapes of fairy voices lost in darkness, delicate vibrating tones, plaintive droning and crooning space-ambient wash. The music can be very vigorous at times, with choppy blocky vibrating echoes and a demon’s voice squeezing and cursing through the knocking. Play the music loudly enough and you might just get blown away by later droning and whistling, galloping metal gazelles, phantom faerie flautists or burning rivers of hot glowing liquid metal on the disc.

“Kavafis Songs” consists of 14 short songs dominated by Cavafy’s lyrics with the music pared right back to the most basic functions of providing a beat or emphasising the emotion in the words. Track 3 seems to be a conversation between the solo singer and a very reticent stringed lute or guitar-like instrument. Generally conventional instruments like guitar and piano are played in ways unexpected of them, marking out time or the beat as if they were percussion instruments rather than instruments for playing melody or chords.

Each disc is significant by itself though “Antiphonies” for obvious reasons will have more appeal for a wider audience outside the Greek-speaking world. The main value of “Kavafis Songs” for non-Greek speakers would be to demonstrate how poetry can be adapted to music in original ways that still emphasise the spoken word and at the same time highlight unusual aspects of the music. These recordings are part of a valuable heritage of modern Greek music, literature and art.