Ingvar Loco Nordin
The Buffer Zone
Yannis Kyriakides – The Buffer Zone
Yannis Kyriakides [composition, electronics] – Tido Visser [voice] – Marc Reichow [piano] - Nikos Veliotis [cello] – Seamus Cater, Mara Tomanek, Mark Morse, Ayelet Harpaz [additional voices]
Unsounds 11U. Duration: 60:00
I am almost a little apprehensive to once again conceive a text about a work by Yannis Kyriakides, because his compositions are so delicate, so permeated with dangerous beauty, so precise in an auditory, as well as a spiritual, way, that my writings can never be on that same level, and yet, that is what I usually try, i.e. climbing the alphabet to a level where I can talk about the music within earshot of the music, in the same chamber, like sharing voices with a distinguished and dear friend. In Kyriakides’ case, this is not possible. It is as impossible as it is to write about Swedish poet, essayist and aphorist Vilhelm Ekelund, and hope to do him justice.
Anyway, today is New Year’s Eve. I’ve been out in the forest a few hours, photographing. The snow is fresh and deep; a real winter. I began the day with Hans Hotter and Gerald Moore performing Schubert’s Winterreise, and now I’m playing Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Suites on a loud volume in an adjacent room, because to me, his music is wintry like this New Year’s Eve, and he brings me back my youth, somehow, in a strong, almost palpable, way.
It is in this wintry, white freshness I enter the realm of Yannis Kyriakides’ music today, early afternoon on New Year’s Eve 2005, turning Tchaikovsky down for the benefit of Kyriakides, who now fathom’s my soundspace with his new work the buffer zone.
In this work Kyriakides returns to his native Cyprus, where he utilizes the prerogatives of this old conflict, which escalated dramatically when Turkish forces invaded Cyprus in 1974, in effect causing the division of the island into a Turkish northern part and a southern Greek one, with a United Nations buffer zone running through it. Kyriakides uses this iron bar conflict of separation and division to explore the inner workings of and boundaries of separation. He starts with the easily perceived situation in the outer world of geographic circumstances and family members who can’t visit reach other, and moves into the inner working of the spirit that make these material manifestations of sorrow and grief possible.
I come to think of another contemporary composer who often takes events of politics and contemporary history as a basis for his artistic work: John Adams. He has worked with Richard Nixon’s revolutionary visit to China (Nixon in China), the Mid-East conflict (The Death of Klingshoffer) and the vengeance on cruel US world policing (On the Transmigration of Souls) – but in most cases, with, maybe, an exception for On the Transmigration of Souls, Adams tells a story, in a narrative way, crudely picking his material from the outer world in a matter-of-factly way, whereas Yannis Kyriakides is 100 miles more refined, elevating outer circumstances to principles of the mind and the spirit, casting his light from a Bardo journey standpoint, thereby making his artistic aspect of the dealings of humans much more lasting, and much more revealing, touching us on a whole different level, where we are naked, vulnerable and, for sure, impressionable.
I can carry the sense of clear-cut difference between the methods and insights of Adams and Kyriakides into another kind of contemporary music, pointing to the same clarity of difference that exists between Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, where Ochs used to take his material straight out of the newspapers and tell a story, plain as it was, while Dylan - who may have also seen the story in the paper – took it and lifted it to a much higher, more universal level, where he scrutinized it and turned it around in a surprising way, which immediately showed the timeless aspects of the story and also revealed Dylan’s sparkling genius; revealed that he was one of the few artists of the day who was in direct contact with the higher common consciousness that we all belong to, which we, in essence, all make up, and from which Dylan downloads his brilliant imagery. In the Dylan-Ochs example we can, for example, think of how different they told the story about the demise of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Ochs’ song is called Too Many Martyrs (from an album called, even, All the News That’s Fit to Sing), simply telling the narrative of how the killing went down.
A quote from Ochs’ version:
The killer waited by his home, hidden by the night,
As Evers stepped out from his car into the rifle sight.
He slowly squeezed the trigger, the bullet left his side;
It struck the heart of every man when Evers fell and died.
They laid him in his grave while the bugle sounded clear,
They laid him in his grave while the victory was near.
While we waited for the future for freedom through the land,
The country gained a killer, and the country lost a man,
Notice the difference in Dylan’s version, and how he lifts and shifts the significance of what happened:
A bullet from the back of a bush took Medgar Evers' blood.
A finger fired the trigger to his name.
A handle hid out in the dark
A hand set the spark
Two eyes took the aim
Behind a man's brain
But he can't be blamed
He's only a pawn in their game.
Today Medgar Evers was buried from the bullet he caught.
They lowered him down as a king.
But when the shadowy sun sets on the one
That fired the gun
You’ll see by his grave
On the stone that remains
Carved next to his name
His epitaph plain:
Only a pawn in their game.
You can see from this that Phil Ochs was a mere craftsman, albeit a good one, whereas Dylan is a poet and a genius, who has unrestrained, effortless access to several levels of consciousness. There is an interesting section in the Dylan dvd No Direction Home, where poet Allen Ginsberg speaks of this, about Dylan as a column of air, at one with his song; his breathing in complete time with the beat and the lyrics, with the Buddha column. My point is that Kyriakides in this analogy is the equivalent of Dylan, while Adams is the art music correspondence with the folk singer Phil Ochs. They appear to be doing the same thing – but they’re doing very different things!
In the booklet Kyriakides talks about the work in great detail. One excerpt:
“The central figure […] is a UN soldier who guards the buffer zone and has to deal with his own dislocation and relocation in a desolate no man’s land where his main duty consists of reporting and turning away trespassers. Based on interviews and recordings from UN soldiers in Cyprus, the piece explores both the undercurrents of tension and inner and outer landscapes of the peculiar state of being in limbo, between two physical and mental states.
The sound world of the Buffer Zone consists of nature field recordings in the buffer zone, electronic sounds of military technology, piano, cello and voices. The cellist Nikos Veliotis who uses his special curved bow technique, creates a rich sound world of drones that heighten the feeling of suspended time, as does the pianist Marc Reichow playing with a refined inside-the-piano technique that utilizes precise string harmonics. Tido Visser – from the Kassiopea Quintet – portrays the UN soldier whose inner world unravels under the alienating effect of the bizarre landscape that he is watching over.
[…] The texts used in the piece range from interviews with UN soldiers, re-read by various voices and digitally manipulated, to refrains of the opening words of UN resolutions on Cyprus, of which there have been over one hundred:
noting – considering – having in mind – calls upon – asks – calls upon – recommends – recommends – recommends – recommends further – requests – having heard – reaffirming – being deeply concerned – noting – noting – reaffirms – requests – noting – expressing – expressing its deep appreciation – reaffirms – calls upon – takes note – extends – concerned – reaffirming – anticipating – reaffirms – calls for – calls upon – calls upon – taking note – noting – renewing – renewing – paying tribute – expressing satisfaction – reaffirms – calls upon – extends – requests noting – noting – noting with satisfaction – renewing – renewing – having considered – having heard – having considered – deeply deploring – gravely concerned – equally concerned – recalling – conscious – calls upon – calls upon – demands – requests – calls upon – calls upon – decides – reaffirming – demands – deeply deplores – demands – urges – demands further – emphasizes – recalling – noting – gravely concerned – records its formal disappointment – urges – urges – requests – decides – conscious – recalling – noting – mindful – noting also – having considered – expresses its appreciation – warmly welcomes – calls upon – expresses its grave concern – requests – further requests – calls upon – reiterates – expresses the conviction – noting – noting – noting - noting also – noting further – reaffirms – reaffirms also – urges – extends – appeals again – reaffirming – reiterating – welcoming – commends – further commends – regrets – give sits full support – stresses – decides to remain actively seized of the matter – welcoming – noting – welcoming – encouraging – reaffirms – decides – urges – expresses – requests – decides to remain actively seized of the matter”
Yes, it’s scary, isn’t it? Nobody cares. Nobody cares. The politicians dance their ballet, happy with their wages and their positions. Nobody cares. Having just watched Andreij Tarkovskij’s movie Stalker on dvd, and also listened to Edward Artemiev’s CD of his film music for Stalker, Solaris and The Mirror (Electroshock ELCD 012), I’m left with this eerie feeling, this cold insight, that in the end, nobody cares. It’s up to me to care, fiercely, relentlessly.
A historian’s short introduction to the Cyprus dilemma may be fitting. On the web I found a site with many texts about the conflict and its history at http://www.cyprus-conflict.net/. I have not had time to study the many texts on this site thoroughly, to see if they take sides with the Turk Cypriots or the Greek Cypriots or try to stay balanced, but I don’t think that matters in the context of Kyriakides’ work, since he takes the vulnerability and the confusion of separation to a higher, universal level. Part of the introduction to this web site none the less states:
“The Mediterranean island of Cyprus has suffered a long history of foreign domination, violence, and civil strife. Since the 1950s, when still a colony of Britain, Cyprus has been a battleground between its two main ethnic/religious populations---Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The history of the conflict includes a militant confrontation with British imperialism, a set of treaties giving a limited form of independence, the breakdown of that constitutional structure, ruthless meddling by the Greek and Turkish "motherlands" and the major powers, a Greek coup d'etat and the Turkish invasion that divided the island as it is today, and fitful attempts to negotiate a just settlement---all set against a background of communal violence, terrorism, and intimidation.
Equally true, however, is a record of cooperation and peace between most Cypriots, and, since 1974, the growth of indigenous efforts across the lines of hostility to reconcile.”
The CD has 66 index points, each named with a certain time of day. Track 1 is called 3:43 pm. Track 26 is 2:56 am. Track 43 is 8:16 am – and so forth.
It noteworthy for the listener that this work originally was staged as an electronic opera, wherein the audience is split into two halves by hanging video screens. On one side there is a pianist; on the other a cellist. They involve themselves in imaginary duets with a virtual instrument on the other side. The central figure – the UN soldier; the singer/actor – is a kind of catalyst; the one and only who can pass freely across the buffer zone, into either side of the conflict. The audience can only observe one or the other half of the performance, depending on how they’ve placed themselves.
Kyriakides writes that the first impression of the buffer zone is one of tranquility and wilderness. He says that it’s like a deserted cemetery, and that wild flowers, birds and insects thrive. Kyriakides explains that the electronic part of the piece makes use of bird and insect sounds. He says that he’s done this not only for the obvious, i.e. that there are many insects and birds in this deserted stretch of land, but also because these winged creatures – like radio waves - emphasize space above ground where political divisions have no dominion.
The singer/actor – UN soldier – subtly commences to adopt animal, bird and insect mannerisms as he passes time and connects with his environment. As the piece progresses, reality as we know it loosens up, slowly dissolving into the inner world of the UN soldier, which becomes the landscape, which the audience/listeners are confronted with.
As usual in a large Kyriakides work, the thought behind the art is important and though-out in minute detail, and the work always functions on several simultaneous levels, with one guise of reality having a more profound temporary presence, until it imperceptibly recedes, while the present gradually becomes dominated by another aspect, another layer or dimension.
Track 1 only very gradually fills up my listening with sounds; insect pitches so high I hardly hear them – but an ambience manifests itself, and more audible insects appear like dots in space which structure the world around you.
The narrator/singer/actor begins his story, and his British pronunciation as well as the general atmosphere of speech and aural ambience remind me – with no other analogies in place – of Derek Jarman’s CD Blue on CDSTUMM 49 (1993), dealing with his gradual loss of vision to his AIDS illness. Later in the piece, would you believe it, I find analogies to Jean Schwarz’s brilliant work Quatre Saisons on INA C 1004, based on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s text, recited by the baritone Jorge Chaminé; a spellbinding recording.
I scan Aris Kyriakides photographs from the booklet for this review as I continue listening. These photographs plainly tell it up front: the atmosphere of a forbidden zone – again like Tarkovskij’s movie. Constructions in decay, nature’s revenge – and this sick feeling of non-spirituality, of minds coming to a halt: this overarching stupidity, so well known also from Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland and so forth, and of course, from here, from Cyprus.
Looking at these pictures from another view-point, they’re excellent art, the way the light seeps in to dark, hidden realms; spider-leg scouts of the mind moving through the cracks of time, retrieving fragmented recollections of bygones, 50 years ago and 2000 years ago. Once voices echoed here, in these zero places which Aris Kyriakides’ camera has seen and remembered.
The soldier’s narration progresses like a monologue, describing his circumstances as a UN soldier at a UN observation post, from which he has a perfect view of his dominions of responsibility.
Deep, distantly – in the depth of perception – a pounding, ambient darkness bulges like shocks of infrasound, as if from the situation as such in this zone of prohibition; the essence of stubborn stupidity and that color of evil that permeates the nights and the days of human existence. The infrasound turns into a more constant ambience, while all the entomological buzzing, wheezing and cracking keeps up, embellished by a passing bird.
Track 3 adds a musical layer to this, through a piano that enters in a lonely chord. Drones apply thick layers of thoughts and dreams, and the singer uses his voice like a drone too, dark, Indian or Tibetan or Mongolian, in an atmosphere of insects, olden human ambiences and a soaring, hovering, suspended breathlessness: that particular, turned-away loneliness without end of a buffer zone, a no man’s land; a place where light moves slowly and carefully across the outlines of decay.
In track 4, female and male voices begin to utter those words from all those useless resolutions that are printed above. They’re heard in a thick, tight echo, and the piano joins this recounting of empty words of uselessness and carelessness. The sounds – the music – become denser, impenetrable, as the people grow silent. There is pounding and crackling and droning, and the piano beats a slow beat. This is mesmerizing sound art. I recognize one special treat of Kyriakides’ sound world right here: that crackling, dotted, gray sound – like isolated sparks of fire – that travels, panned across the space.
A little later, the music turns Feldmanesque in the piano; one tone after another, but without any real musical connection, except the one you make in your perception, yourself unawares…
The humming of the soldier; deep, deep… opens an inner secrecy, transports the listener deeper into the music, deeper into the consequences of a prohibited area in the heart land. The bumpy, pounding sounds get shorter. More poignant, invasive, reflecting some kind of dangers – and there are many dangers in the Zone, but a few of which are known to man!
As the soldier hums his drones, a stylized radio communication is spelled out like an absurd installation of over-sized, tall words, constructed in sentences miles wide inside the Zone, made up of rusty iron and rotting poles of wood. It’s like Petr Kotik’s Many Many Women in a secret, inward rebellion in this island in the Mediterranean currents.
There is a serene beauty in Kyriakides’ music: a serene and bitterly lustful beauty, like love-making on a refuse disposal plant, where mutated plants grow and over-sized, cancerous rats nibble around the erotic act.
The hopelessness that this melancholy but absent-minded music conveys is of universal proportions, like the destitution those people must experience every day who honestly believe that there is only one – this! – life. Kyriakides is a Stalker through these notions. The music is soft, poisonous and scarring. Blood and tears run down rusty iron ledges when no one sees. It is the situation itself that bleeds, that cries – but in an area of Time characteristic only of the buffer zone, of the crystallized 90-degree angle from everything else of this solitude of abandonment.
The words from the UN resolutions walk like ghosts in these ruins, in a bleak, violet light, again and again uttering what was once spoken in great halls, vast congregations of the well-to-do, for the sake of the ceremonies, but not for the sake of truth or sincere will. The words were forlorn as they were spoken, left unto the hell of meaninglessness; morphemes without the significance of meaning; an ugly and unnatural predicament; the letters of the words rustling in the shadows, stillborn.
There are sections in this arresting, spellbinding music that soar in impatient silence, like a moment waiting for it’s time in eternity, like some silent seconds anticipating their turn to form duration, like a ski jumper waiting on top of the jump, for his speedy descent and his consequent flight through weightlessness. This is where the sordid magic of venomous lust and beauty gathers inertia and power, released in stunning timbres and pitches, and in the silent play of shadows and light in Aris Kyriakides’ photographs, etched on Time itself.
The combinations and mixes of electronics, acoustic instruments, human voices and the voices of insects and birds and the ambience of desolation come across in a sheer immediacy and beauty that I’ve found nowhere else than in Yannis Kyriakides’ music. It is a wonder to me to experience Kyriakides’ sound world. It is complex and simple in one and the same breath; it is weightless like a feather on the breath of God and hard and heavy like old concrete and rusty iron. This music exists in a wondrous mystery, where half of the force is your perception and half Kyriakides’ sounds. Kyriakides forces you to be a co-creator while listening, shadows and light passing through your mind in brainwavy patterns, the inside of your skull a lofty dome, light falling down diagonally from your eyes; the letters of empty words straying in the consciousness, hungry for meaning and significance, for one word of truth in a world of lies.
Buffer Zone Sonorities.