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Syndromes: Temporary Perspectives

img  Tobias Fischer

It is admirable to always try to see both sides of the story. But as an artist, you need to make choices. In fact, as German composer Jörg Widmann (he probably wasn't the first) has wisely pointed out, the very act of writing a piece of music is all about faithfully following a single idea without giving in to the temptation of fanning out into the multitudes of alluring alternatives. At first, the approach taken by Greek Sound Artist Kostis Kilymis on Temporary Perspectives seems to be somewhat at odds with this proven philosophy. From the title's conceptual touch to the practical realisation of the pieces, the album is all about the relative and multifaceted nature of worldly phenomena, about how the human mind's inherent desire for recognisable patterns, organisation and structure will limit its capacity of taking in different states of the same musical object – not unfittingly, his second full-length under the syndromes-moniker carries the somewhat scientific subtitle of „4 Studies on Human Perception“. But already the artwork suggests there's at least a whiff of double entendre at play here: What, on the front cover, has all the appearance of a cool and elegant tropical garden, is revealed to be no more than an old and slightly dilapidated table standing in what is probably the artist's modest own backyard.

It is not so much grand ideological statements which are on display here, therefore, but rather the idea of rewarding a more personal and engaged way of listening to music. Or to put it differently: Kilymis may be encouraging his audience to question what they are presented with, but he is also offering them the carrot of a richer experience should they decide to follow up on his invitation. By minutely blending field recordings, prominently employed in all of the four tracks, with both delicate and drastic computer operations, manipulated electric guitar and effect processings, it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. The resulting soundscapes may seem straight-forward, rarely comprising of more than a handful of simultaneous layers. But this outside simplicity is deceptive. Every new measure of music adds or confounds what came before, every new sound offers an equal chance for clarification or confusion.

Opener „Less Surface Noise“, announced by a piercing high-pitch tone gradually fading away, exemplifies the idea by playing with the theme of repetition versus constant development: Slices of (possibly) distant traffic, factory noises, water, wind and bird song (taped while sitting at the aforementioned garden table?) are passing by the listener's ears, spiced up by microphone plops, crackle and hiss  and occasionally separated by short stretches of silence. The exact nature of the field recordings, however, remains uncertain. Parts of it could be identical repetitions merely pitched up and down a few semitones. Others could be different extracts from the same source recording. Or they could merely be tromps d'oreille caused by one's incapacity to distinguish between subtly differentiated sonic events. A clear-cut answer may well be impossible here, but the process of trying to find out takes one deep into the heart of the composition, to a place one might not have arrived at on the basis of a more passive consumption.

Clearly, for Kilymis, who, until 2006 still felt unsure about what kind of music could quench his thirst for expression, Temporary Perspectives's focus on biorhythms and cognition presents an important step forward towards a new direction in his oeuvre. Its meticulous production, which spanned a full three years and culminated in an intense several-months-long period of arranging and mixing last Summer and Autumn, contrasts with the „joyous noise“ of its fully improvised predecessor. It has certainly paid off: The music here is of great refinement, with even sequences of ultrasonic dog-whistle-frequencies coming across as delicate and pieces invariably marked by an astute compositional logic. All the while, it hasn't lost its rawness, spontaneity and grittiness, with a lot of the manipulations still sounding as though they were captured in the heat of the moment only to be digitally detailed and sculpted at a later stage. At times, the result is of an almost touching immediacy and naivete, such as on closer „Improvised After the Fact“, a tender five-minute collage of delicate feedback against a backdrop of wind – an unlikely, yet deeply moving lullaby.

While the concept as such may not be entirely new, the enthusiasm and freshness that Kilymis is bringing to the table makes the endeavour more than worthwhile. Even more so, as the impact of his proceedings isn't merely in the compositional aspect of his work, but in the physical sound itself. On the opening section of the album's 18-minute-centerpiece „Much Remains to be Broken“, he creates an eerie sonorous drone composed of nothing but two deep bass pulses and a high-pitched tone. Even though Kilymis subjects this sparse material to various changes - adjusting relative volumes, morphing timbres from pure sinewaves into shimmering bell-colours and, around the five-minute-mark, adding a short extract of a street scene with chatter and traffic noises – the overall impression is one of stasis. And yet, there's a hidden secret to the piece: Thanks to ingenious mixing, even the slightest movement of the head transforms the pitch and sound of the music, with more pronounced gestures creating tiny ghost melodies. As one moves around the room, entire sections of the music can either come to the fore or disappear all but completely – the idea of „temporary perspectives“ influencing one's perception of music is taken to its most striking extreme here, the assignment of duties between the composer and his audience blurring.

There is, of course, a nice bonus to the effectiveness of the procedure: With the music relying entirely on the dispersion of sound in a room and the use of the stereo image, you won't notice any of this if enjoying it on headphones. In a sense, there is an infinite number of different versions of this album, each originating from the interaction between the work and its recipient. This, however, is not down to Kilymis not taking important decisions. It is not only the artist that needs to make choices, after all, but the listener as well.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Kostis Kilymis / Syndromes
Homepage: Organized Music from Thessaloniki

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