One-on-one

Kinisi Festival of Sound and Music: Encouraging new ways of listening

By - 14.10.2016

Festival directors talk underwater concerts, priest bell-ringing solos and Bulgarian bagpipes.

From October 21-23 the island of Santorini in Greece will host the second edition of Kinisi Festival of Sound and Music. Bringing together artists and musicians of different genres from around Greece and the Balkans for a series of workshops, concerts and jam sessions incorporating the ambient sounds and natural acoustics of the island itself. The events are designed to encourage new discussions and new music. The festival is also a response to the island’s changing cultural life due to migration and tourism, and hopes to reflect the island as it exists today.

This year’s theme is ‘porous,’ referring to both the volcanic rock of the island and the passage of song and memory across physical borders. The festival marks the first time that some of the traditional acts will have played outside specific settings within their own communities.

Behind Kinisi are U.S.-born ethnomusicologists and sound artists Alyssa Moxley and Ramona Stout, who took a research trip in the region this spring to find participants and acts for the festival while also documenting and recording music, environments and interviews.

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K2.0 spoke with them about underwater concerts, priest bell-ringing solos, and Greek and Bulgarian bagpipes.

K2.0: How did you choose Santorini as the location for Kinisi?

Alyssa Moxley: Ramona has family living on the island, and she decided to move there from Chicago. I came to visit just after she moved. We had worked together a lot in the past doing ethnomusicology fieldwork in Central Asia and Ramona had been talking about making a folk festival on Santorini for some time. When I was visiting we walked all over the island and made field recordings, which became our first collaborative installation, “Still Here.” We then came up with the idea of combining these different ways of listening through sound, contemporary composition, and folk music bringing together people who make sound to create a deeper connection to the environment.

Ramona Stout: Alyssa has summed it up well, although I would also add that, as someone who has watched Santorini change over the past three decades – I first visited the island when I was less than a year old in the early 1980s – I was also motivated to create something here that worked within the unique and spectacular environment, without taking anything away from it. It may sound trite, but I wanted to give something back to the place and to the people who live and work here.

"I held the speaker in the sea with the help of a friend until the waves finally snapped the cable."

Alyssa Moxley

Tourism is very much a double-edged sword. It has helped to repopulate an island that was near deserted after an earthquake in 1956, and made it economically viable to live here again. On the other hand, it has hampered the development of alternative cultural institutions. I like to think that Kinisi is part of a groundswell to change that here, along with a couple of other organizations, and to enrich the cultural life of the island for locals and visitors. The local population is also very diverse, with many permanent residents coming from around the Balkans, and the globe. In the future we would like to enact Kinisi in other locations too – curating the festival to reflect the particular social and topographical qualities of each place.

What’s your favorite story from Kinisi 2015?

AM: Kinisi Festival 2015 was very interesting. We had a concert on the cliffside on Katharos Beach with an underwater speaker, speakers on the rocks, and speakers in the venue. Everything was going smoothly during soundcheck and then during the performance the waves went wild. Nature cannot be tamed. Still a few brave swimmers made the plunge to listen and I held the speaker in the sea with the help of a friend until the waves finally snapped the cable; luckily the amp was battery powered in case of such an eventuality.

Another exciting challenge from last year’s festival was a collaborative composition [titled “Bellow”] with improvising musicians (Laura Gini with Lindsey Housden, Andi Otto with Leo Hoffman, Ramona Stout with Alyssa Moxley) on three sets of church bells dispersed throughout the village of Pyrgos there are 54 churches in total in that village alone. The village priest even had a solo, and there was a call and response section with Chaonia polyphonic choir.

RS: The slow but sure acquisition of the keys for the three churches we used in “Bellow,” which Alyssa talked about, was quite a beautiful experience. We had the priest’s permission to use the bells, but had to work to get the keys from each church’s individual caretaker. We wandered the village trying to find the right old ladies – there are no street names or numbers in Santorinian villages.

We were always treated with a huge amount of suspicion at first, we’d have to call the priest again, to confirm that we were indeed allowed access to a particular church to record the tones so that we could create our composition. And yet they did escort us up to the belfry in the end, and clearly got a real kick out of ringing the bells. I was moved by the priest’s openness to our ideas – and his participation – and by the trust locals placed in us to be respectful of their sacred spaces.

Some of the concepts and techniques used during the festival seem quite abstract — acoustic ecology, sound mapping and audio walks, for example; can you briefly explain the techniques involved for the layperson? What could someone expect from a Kinisi workshop?

AM: Acoustic ecology is about understanding what the sounds of your environment are doing how they are working together. You understand this by listening to your environment deeply. Like looking at greenery and seeing that land is lush; or a desert, and understanding it’s dry.

The workshops are all quite different. The sound-mapping workshop involves walking around and listening to the environment. Getting pointers on how to record the sounds of the environment and interviews, and designing an online platform to place these sounds on a meaningful geographic map. This is about learning how to listen to a place and then learning how to share this understanding of a place through sound in a way that’s meaningful to people from afar.

We also have a workshop on Bulgarian and Greek bagpipe playing learning melodies, rhythms, songs, history and making new cross genre jams with this knowledge.

The sound walk is a deep, led, compositional experience by the artist Katerina Tzedaki from Crete. She will be giving meditative instructions on listening, asking people to lead each other blindfolded through the town, and bringing people into a state of deep acoustical awareness.

"We tried to create a space where people could experience the deep sorrow and fleeting joy that the music speaks to, no matter where you're from."

Ramona Stout

Kinisi’s website talks about “music of the folk, rather than folk music.” Can you explain what this means?

RS: For me this about differentiating canonised folk music, which has undergone museumification and is therefore static, from folk music that is still changing and evolving and responding to the lived experiences of its audience.

You’ve also said on the website that some of the more traditional music acts may not have played outside of their particular, tightly-knit communities, with shared culture and collective experience. How does this translate in a performance linked to the landscape, and in a different place — does it produce very different music?

AM: We try to be respectful of the context of playing. We bring the musicians and the audiences closer together, avoiding stage/audience separation. Some of the acts are totally unamplified, using the natural acoustics of Venetsanos Winery, this year’s venue, which has deep resonant caves carved out of the cliffside.

RS: It can change the musicians’ perception of their own music. Last year, when Vasilis Triantis and Kostas Karapanos played Epirotika [traditional music from the historic Epirus region] in an acoustic set in Pyrgos, they both remarked on how different it was to experience the music that way – without amplification and for an audience that wasn’t dancing, but instead sitting and listening. They were used to playing for audiences of many hundreds, dancing and eating, at maximum volume. They said they were reminded of the deep emotional resonance of the music, even in the absence of ritual motions, and appreciated its universal appeal anew.

As Alyssa has said, we don’t want to divorce the music from its context to too great an extent – the Epirotika we hosted is indeed for church festivals and dancing, but it is also music for collective catharsis and mourning and has been for many centuries. We tried to create a space where people could experience the deep sorrow and fleeting joy that the music speaks to, no matter where you’re from.

Making a connection between sound and physical location seems to be growing in popularity in music and art. Can you say anything about this?

AM: Sound and physical location has been tied together since people started making music. Neolithic caves that had resonant spots are decorated with psychedelic paintings. Churches create huge resonating blurs to suggest other-worldly voices. Shepherds have piped and yodellers have yelped from the hillsides. Athanius Kircher, the 15th century physicist, was making sound installations to send sounds through tunnels into different parts of his patron’s castle.

I think that sound is more prominent in what is considered contemporary art practice in the West since site specific works started becoming more popular in the ’60s because sound and space are really the same thing. In Greece the landscape is vibrant with diverse energies. Working in the landscape here like the recent 24-hour Nisyros volcano composition is dynamic, engaging and magical.

What do you want visitors and performers to take away from the festival?

AM: I hope that different kinds of people come together and learn something new from each other and discover a new way of listening through a connection to the land that transcends any kind of experience that can be shown, by delving into the sound. Also that people have fun listening to good music!

Finally, what do you hope to take away from the festival?

AM: I hope that new impactful compositions are created and new ideas are sparked.

RS: I hope to learn a great deal – as I did last year – about the process of bringing people together in this way and about the place I inhabit. I also hope to come away with renewed energy to continue this project, with new angles for future research and curation illuminated.K

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