Varosha (Disco Debris)
Varosha is the name of the abandoned tourist suburb of Famagusta in Northern Cyprus. It was abandoned and left uninhabited since the summer of 1974, when it was evacuated at the time of the Turkish military invasion; a ghost town inaccessible to anybody except military personnel since then. In its heyday Varosha used to be one of the most popular holiday destination in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean. It underwent an extensive hotel development to cater for the expanding tourist industry. which abruptly came to a halt due to the invasion of 1974. The area was fenced off by the Turkish Cypriot authorities as a possible bargaining-chip in ensuing political negotiations but nothing came of it; in fact nothing came out of any peace talks on the island since the that time. Now the buildings are beyond preservation as they have been uninhabited for nearly 40 years, and no repairs have been made. Buildings are falling apart - nature is reclaiming the landscape.
I have a particular personal connection with Varosha, as it is the location of my earliest memory. My family were on holiday there at the time of the invasion in July 1974. I was almost 5 years old. I remember hearing sirens and running into the basement of a hotel, where we spent the day drawing pictures there with the chalk that was being dislocated form the limestone walls by the bombing going on outside. Returning there again in 2008 and seeing from the outside the shells of these hotels, was a surreal experience. Knowing that one’s earliest memory was formed on the very day that time stood still there, and seeing the hotel facades from a short distance was like encountering the empty chambers of memory itself.
The installation, Varosha (Disco Debris) arouse out of the participations with a group of artists, under the name of Suspended Spaces, that took Famagusta as subject of an enquiry as to what happens to spaces whose development is obstructed by political or economic conflicts. The initial form of the installation was created for the group exhibition that took place at Maison de La Culture in Amiens, France in early 2010.
For this the public would enter one person at a time into a dark neutral space in which they experience the sensation of literally walking through debris of frozen sound. One would stumble on a landscape of frozen voices, barely recognizable shards of 1970s pop music, static bird song, broken pulses of disco music reduced to an almost Geiger like clicking, resonances of invisible spaces. These imaginary spaces were mapped onto a topography of intersecting voices and sounds, which slowly transform over time. Technically this was achieved by using a video camera which tracks the movements of the audience and is subsequently mapped onto the frozen moment of the sound heard back in the space. The sound is granulated and the position of the person in the space determines which moment of time is heard. Each person becomes a play-head of a tape machine, or a stylus of a record player, exploring the sonic tracks of an invisible architecture.
The One Hundred Words
The inspiration for this piece comes from a Cypriot folk idiom called the ‘Ekatologia’, (The One Hundred Words). This is a rare and vanishing form of song that is made up of two line couplets chanted over a simple phrase or ‘a cappella’. The particular song sampled in the piece is one that is sung at weddings; its narrative is that of the love which is meant to be, a boy and a girl, growing up together, who are fated to be married.
There is a quasi-religious subtext here which sets it apart from other speech-songs like the ‘tsatismata’, which are more boisterous, and akin to a freestyle rap battle. Here there is a sense of destiny in how the chronology of the text unfolds, going from birth to marriage, marking every year with an anecdote telling us why the groom and his bride are meant to be together.
All the material in the piece is derived either from the song or from my own vocalization of some of the key words, in such a way that meaning never clearly materializes, but remains under the surface. The speech act is given a corporeal quality, as if the whole body is involved in articulating the words.
‘The One Hundred Words’ was commissioned by GRM for the Presences Electronique Festival and first performed in CENTQUATRE 104, Paris in 2012. It was initially developed at the GRM studios for an 8 channel system and then performed on the 24 speaker acousmonium.
Covertures developed out of a sound installation that was made for the collective exhibition: ‘Opera Aperta’ at the Dutch Pavilion of the Venice Biennale, 2011. It is a collection of 48 one minute sound walls that were heard throughout the day in regular intervals of about 10 minutes. The material of these ‘covertures’ are based on frozen instants from Claudio Monteverdi's opera: ‘L'incoronazione di Poppea’, morphed with the sound of crowds; as if one were hearing the frayed opening and endings of an imaginary opera, coalescing with the sound of an audience, at times euphoric, at times unruly. The fixed media on the CD, presents these covertures in a maze like structure, where overlappings and superimpositions lead to a more puzzling construction, as if these instances are spaces that are revealing and concealing themselves at the command of an unseen voice.