Άνω Σύρος - Ano Syros
Work/material assembled/composed during Syros Sound Meetings' Sound / Word Residency (Ano Syros, Greece, July 2016).
What struck me immediately about Syros was how densely inhabited it was. Looking out from the monastery in every direction there is evidence of cultivation. Colorful homes packed tightly next to each other thickly cover the face of Ano Syros. There are so many so close to each other that it almost seems like one gigantic structure. Hills to the north, west, and south of Ano Syros have dramatically fewer inhabitants, but Medieval walls remain standing after hundreds of years, still demarcating the lines of their forgotten authors’ properties. These mysterious walls decorate the entirety of every hilltop, but remain almost totally ignored by the current residents. While they continue to withstand the tests and trials of time and erosion, they are of little relevance today - except maybe to the few adventurous goats who try to scale them.
I had initially planned on creating a score for performance in the same vein of my previous scores inspired by landscapes new to me, but somehow that prompt did not feel sufficient in this case. Channeling the impressions of my visual/aural observations into sketches, I reconciled some of the massiveness via sublimation and simplification of shape and form of concrete structures around me. Through these altered structures, I created a system of visual symbols to signify characteristics of focal points, the repetition of these focal points, and the diversity within iterations of recurring objects.
Houses, shelters, dwellings, bushes, horizontal lines, rolling hills, juxtaposition of the regular rectangularity of the bustling metropolis wrought into gentle curves of arid land, quiet nights punctuated by bleating goats and the bells around their necks, car horns, children playing in the piazza, foghorns in the distance, the ever-present wind...I spent a lot of time exploring Ano Syros by walking around as much as possible. From these walks, I collected field recordings of these various focal points (and more).
Layers upon layers of architectural sediment adorn the entire island. There is a certain implication of such pure, captivating richness throughout Syros. With such a wealth of information gleaned from my explorations of the island, via long, meandering (exhausting!) walks up and down massive hills, panoramic views from rooftop perches, and interactions with others sharing the same space, it was my challenge to interpret this information.
The score is built from a language of these symbols and arranged into a map of Ano Syros, drawing directly from the landscapes observable from the monastery. There is no time marking, no beginning indicated, and no specific ending. It is up to the performer to decide how they would like to explore the space before them, how they want to proceed. Most maps (besides specific trail maps) are set up the same way: the symbols contained within offer explanations for what can be found, what type of things may be found/seen/experienced, and where it can be found in relation to the other things. And, like with a more familiar type of map, mine comes with a key for understanding its symbols. Some symbols offer pitch or rhythmic content, much of it derived from field recordings (some of these from pitched sounds of Syros, including church bells and folk songs).
Other symbols augment the performance material in real time, depending on what path the interpreter wishes to follow. In the same way that a traveler learns how to find places, get around comfortably, and discover places for themselves in a place entirely new to them, an interpreter can become familiarized with the score. Even if they attempt to retrace their steps or revisit a location, they are still constantly taking in new information and adding it to their prior impressions of that place, constantly learning and seeing and hearing and feeling and smelling, compounding off of any and all influences leading up until that point. Like the layers of architectural archaeology throughout the island inform the total topography, so do the layers of stimuli translated/deciphered in real time inform an overall cognition formed of reconciliatory data strata of the past.
While the piece is made with a musical realization in mind - specifically for solo piano, written for pianist Andrea Lodge to premiere in Spring 2017 - I think there are possibilities for nonmusical realizations, silent, non-performative, or even perhaps entirely visual “realizations” of the map, since the act of visually navigating the symbols and looking at the map can be construed as a type of exploration in itself. Any extra-performative realization would be interesting to me, to see how an observer maneuvers the space communicated before them.