Posts Tagged ‘Yannis Kyriakides’

Unsounds – 57u – 10th February 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Unsounds have a history of releasing magnificently-packaged albums, and Subvoice by Yannis Kyriakides is up there with the best of them. The double CD is housed in a chunky hardcover book binding, which contains an actual book, some forty pages in span.

My introduction to the concept of the subvoice came via William Burroughs, who, around the time he was exploring the myriad potentials of the cut-up technique, made innumerable audio experiments. While most of these involved tape splicing, dropping in and cutting out, some investigated the subvoice in a most literal fashion. Some of these barely audible and even more barely listenable recordings appeared on Nothing Here Now But the Recrdings on Industrial records, with the liner notes describing ‘Throat Microphone Experiment’ – if memory serves – as a not entirely successful attempt to capture subvocal speech.

The definition of ‘subvocal’ is ‘relating to or denoting an unarticulated level of speech comparable to thought’. Kyriakides describes the works in the collection as ‘an investigation into ideas of voice and language [which] range from works in which text is directly encoded into music… to ones in which the voice is examined, dissected and pulled apart’. He explains that ‘in both approaches the underlying idea is to explore what happens when material has a clear semantic form, whether communicated in text or speech, is translated into musical structure’.

While thematically and theoretically linked, the nine pieces – which have a combined running time of almost two and a half hours – are from quite distinct and separate collaborative projects Kyriakides was involved in between 2010 and 2015.

The first piece on disc one, ‘Words and Song Without Words’ is the shortest work, being a couple of seconds under ten minutes, but appropriately introduces the kind of sonic palette Kyriakides and his collaborators – in this instance, Francesco Dillon, who contributes cello – work from. ‘Paramyth’ is eerie, disconsolate, the cracked ramblings splayed in all directions over tense piano and uncomfortable strings, but ultimately peters out into something softer. Skittering strings scurry busily in brief and disjointed flurries, hectically flying here and there, on ‘Toponymy’. Muffed voices bring a discomforting sense of the unheimlich, a sense of the intangible and of something just out of the reach of understanding.

Ominous notes hover and ring on the last piece on the first disc, ‘Circadian Surveillance,’ a twenty-five minute exercise in haunting atmospherics, where distant voices are barely audible under a rumble of turning static and hovering notes which resonate into dead air.

Onto disc two, ‘Der Komponist’ – a composition for orchestra and computer – begins quietly, ominously, with protracted near-silences between delicate, low, slow builds, before horns begin to add cinematic drama. It’s very filmic, very – for wont of a better word – soundtracky, and is reminiscent of some of JG Thirlwell’s more recent orchestral works. The climax is a slow, swelling succession of surging brass, underscored by a rippling digital churn.

‘Politicus (Dawn in the Giardini’ is perhaps the lightest and most playful composition of the nine, and utilises the variability and versatility of the prepared disklavier. The original work was a twelve-hour sound installation. The booklet explains the technical aspects in great detail, and Kyriakides outlines the way in which algorithms based on speech drive the formulation of the piece, here in an abridged fourteen-minute segment. The immense complexities behind the composition are completely hidden from the listener, with the surface completely masking the mechanical depths.

The final piece, ‘Oneiricon’ is a work for ensemble and computers. It’s an exploration of dreams, and is often subtle to the point of subliminality. And because Subvoice is very much a ‘background’ work, while it often drifts for significant stretches without really pulling particularly hard on the attention, it does mean that its immense duration is not an issue. Equally, because Subvoice is a collection rather than a work conceived as a single continuous whole, it’s possible to listen and appreciate in segments, without absolute commitment. And it is an album to listen to and appreciate: Kyriakides’ compositions are varied and textured and demonstrate an attention to form and sonic detail which extends far beyond the basic premise of ‘the voice.’

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Unsounds – 55U

Edward S. Robinson

William Burroughs may have become a figure toward whom many hip musicians gravitated towards in the seventies and eighties, but it remains a rather perverse fact that his enduring influence appears to be stronger in the world of music than in literature. It’s true that many ‘alternative’ musicians and counterculturalists latched onto his lifestyle and biographical details more than his actual output, romanticising the idea of the ‘literary outlaw’ but it would equally be a mistake to underplay the effect his innovations in audio, with his tape recorder experiments extending the concepts surrounding the cut-ups proving hugely influential acts like Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. It’s a shame, then, that so many of the albums which cite Burroughs as an influence are simply dismal. Burroughs may have referenced various ‘poplar tunes’ in his works and resided in Tangiers in the late 1950s but I haven’t yet established any textual basis to connect Burroughs with bad avant jazz or half-arsed hip-hop.

Yannis Kyriakidies and his collaborators are clearly immense fans of Burroughs, and the CD booklet records that the text for the album is not derived from Naked Lunch, but ‘a Burroughsian cut-up of sorts’. Now, this is problematic in that the cut-up technique came later: there are no cut-ups in Naked Lunch, but I would rather be charitable and embrace the spirit of the album: the words were in fact derived from ‘word frequency analyses’ of the book’s segments, and as such, it’s fair to say that the lyrical content very much captures the essence of the book. I can’t help but be impressed by their referencing of Ian MacFadyn’s essay ‘The Mouth Inside: The Voices of Naked Lunch’, and am equally intrigued by the implication that the album was set to be called simply Naked Lunch: Kyriakideas records in his notes that Robert Ashley, to whom the album is dedicated, implored him to use the title and deal with any copyright issues later, but finds the artist conclude ‘somehow I did get scared by the difficulties.’ But what about the music, and what about the delivery?

The heavy, heavy crackle of vinyl. Scratched as scratched. From the glitching fuzz or white noise croaks the voice of William Burroughs. Slowed, as if drugged. The sound warps and slows, as if the tape is stretches or the turntable drive belt is slipping. As a barbershop quartet croon Gregorian chants to provide an incongruously jaunty backing, his voice is dragged to an unintelligible drone, slower and slower. Finally, all that remains is a faint whistle, clattering and a thumping beat like a heart’s pulse, which eventually, finally slows… and silence. ‘Boy…. Boys…’ sings an operatic tenor voice against a backdrop of springy instrumentation and whistling analogue on ‘Boy’. The vocal harmonies build in layers, skyward. It might not sound like my impression of Naked Lunch, but that’s a reflection of the book’s multifaceted nature.

‘Shakin’’ takes Johnny Kid and the Pirates’ hit and jars and stutters it, one more scratched CD, bowed LP, cassette tape chewed in the machine heads. From the sonic swamp into which the song rapidly descends emerge crawing pterodactyl-like sounds. Like Burroughs’ fragmented, fevered narratives, so the pieces of music are twisted and contorted out of shape, linearity dispensed with in favour of atmosphere and heightened sensation.

Kyriakides returns to the barrelling scrape of badly worn vinyl on ‘Junk World’, while industrial scraping and a babble of voices in multiple languages combine to disorientating effect on ‘Like replicas’, before ‘Speed Days’ moves into the kind of musical territory more commonly associated with Burroughs-related recordings and tributes, with scratching and rattling industrial percussion.

In all, it’s something of a mixed bag, and while I personally don’t love all of the music, I have to admire its spirit.

 

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