Sculpting air is a choice of words I used whilst discussing the project with Guillermo Anzorena in a mediaeval castle in Cyprus. Whilst trying out new sounds for the piece using flexible tubes, I remember telling him that the action and sound feels like “sculpting air”. This phrase became a metaphor for the sound world of my piece. As part of the Mediterranean Voices Project, several of my original creative ideas gained another perspective through my contact with the group but also through the visits I made with the crew to sites around Cyprus. From a medieval castle, to an ancient theatre, from the buffer zone to the abandoned, UN-controlled Nicosia airport; this journey reintroduced me to ghost places where time stands still and allowed me to rethink several aspects of my own creative discourse. For example, during my visit with Guillermo to the place where, according to myth, Aphrodite was born, I recalled our attempts to map the direction of the waves. This moment is evoked at the beginning of the piece, where sound moves across the singers in space. This notion of spatialisation is kept throughout the entire composition. The notion of stillness, of wind, sea and the world of ancient Greece are all evident in my creative oeuvre, but here, within a vocal work, they become particularly concrete.
Other important influences in the work are the themes of love and death and the notion of metamorphosis, and in the context of this piece, the transition or transformation between a world of abstraction to one of realism, between employing text and meaning and indulging in the beauty of certain abstract sounds, often reminiscent of electronic or instrumental music. These two worlds are sometimes contrasted, whilst at other times, they transition more organically. The idea of metamorphosis is clearly illustrated in two almost reverse stories used in this composition: the first is the story of Pygmalion and Galatea (which takes place in Cyprus) where a statue comes to life and matter turns to flesh, and the second deals with an opposite metamorphosis as described in the story of Medusa, the mythological creature that would turn anyone to stone if they gazed upon her. Two parallel imageries are also used: one is the famous Othello story (which also takes place in Cyprus) and the other is Odysseus’ encounter with the Sirens. All stories deal with (re)birth, love, beauty and death in one way or another: Pygmalion gives life to Galatea and makes her his wife, Othello takes his wife’s life. In both stories, I focus on the men’s strong emotions. The two other stories feature female characters that are, in contrast, more empowering: Medusa and the Sirens are creatures of similar scope, luring their victims to death. In choosing these subjects, it was important for me to choose stories that relate to Ancient Greece and/or take place directly in Cyprus but also stories from different time periods to show the universality and timeless quality of the characters’ representations.
The three short texts used derive from sentences from the Odyssey, (Book 12, 173-184) and more specifically, the Sirens’ call, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book X Lines 243 – 297) in Latin and also in two translations by Brooks More (1922) and Arthur Golding (1567) and Shakespeare’s Othello (Act 5, Scene 2). For Medusa’s theme, I am not using any text as I echo the image of Medusa’s head (who had snakes for hair), through a web of flexible tubes, as the ethereal overtones of some of the tubes can also turn into screeches or high pitched cries reminiscent perhaps of her own fall.
All three texts are transitioned in such a way as to relate one to another and thus create a new collective metaphor. For example, Golding’s translation of Ovid’s masterpiece transitions to Shakespeare’s style and idiom very well (in fact, Shakespeare was generally influenced by Golding’s translations). Latin is the language of the very first concrete text used in the piece, and Ancient Greek is used at the very end. The texts also complete each other in many ways; the description of Galatea’s incarnation and first contact with Pygmalion immediately shifts to Othello’s struggle and murder contemplation, and Shakespeare’s expression of “balmy breath” relates to Ovid’s “He felt her pulses beating” and the “It must be flesh” exclamation to “I'll not shed her blood”. Similarly, “So sweet was ne'er so fatal” transitions to the Sirens’ call “Sweet coupled airs we sing”. These are just a few examples of connections in text, style and meaning. The work finishes with the imagery of Sirens, a metaphor for all the stories, where beauty and yearning can immediately turn into darkness and death.
As one can see, I am employing special objects in this work: one is a harmonica, which, in my thinking, is an extension of the human voice and an object that I also used in one of my string quartets. The others, as explained before, are the flexible tubes tuned in various pitches, which are used as an extension of the performer’s arms (bodies) but also their voices and as a dramaturgical and visual reference tool. These two devices create a particular sound world that the singers are asked to bridge with the sounds they sing. Because of the use of text, these two objects not only serve as ways through which the sound portrait of the work is developed but also, over time, they attain structural and formal functions as interludes in the periodic absence of text.