Last Thursday, TU’s School of Music presented a concert of original electroacoustic music by Dr. Konstantinos Karathanasis. For those unfamiliar with electroacoustic music, Karathanasis described the genre as “finding the music in everyday life” by sampling sounds found in daily life and digitally manipulating them. This was easy to grasp when listening to the tracks, as they sampled everything from water being poured to children playing to the chirping of crickets.
The tracks were all played on four loudspeakers positioned around the audience, making the music feel immersive and dynamic as the sound shifted around the crowd. Every track but one was completely pre-recorded, so there was nothing on-stage to distract from the music. Karathanasis himself sat in the middle of the crowd with the sound equipment, though I couldn’t tell from my seat if he was manipulating anything or just making sure nothing went wrong. Often I would close my eyes and try to imagine what the music made me think of, which worked about half the time.
The last track featured percussionist Ricardo Coelho de Souza, who performed on a bendir drum while Karathanasis manipulated the sounds in real-time. This was a welcomed change of pace, but also felt a bit unnecessary, as the distorted sounds from the drum and some accessories sounded pretty much the same as sounds from the other songs.
As a technical feat, the tracks were very impressive. Each song was immersive and layered, and it was obvious that Karathanasis put a lot of effort into these pieces. However, I had felt like I’d seen his full bag of tricks about halfway through the show. The 80 minute concert had seven tracks performed in it, and I was ready to leave sometime during the fourth.
Though the tracks were mixed and layered very intricately, they all started to blend together. They seemed to use a similar structure, as well. They would all start off with some soft ambient sounds, usually from nature. Eventually, there would be this really loud rumbling or distorted violin for a while, often manipulated to give the track a dream-like quality. Then, the miscellaneous loud thing would go away and we’d be back to the soft sounds again. Despite never having heard of electroacoustic music before, I was tired of it by the fifth track. I often felt like I was listening to some random part of a horror movie soundtrack, one of the uneventful pieces that would be intended for characters to talk over while still trying to maintain a slight creepiness.
Perhaps part of the problem was that there was nothing to latch onto. There was no beat or consistent instrumental parts to focus on, which Karathanasis says is standard of the genre, so I felt no investment in these seemingly random samples coming from every direction. It didn’t help that I also couldn’t decipher what Karathanasis was trying to convey when he talked about the songs, either. In the program handout, he describes one track as having “something allegoric about it, something beyond its sonic nature” and puts together an ingredients list for another track that includes such items as “Dionysus Mars Sisyphus” and “Initiation Sacred Dance Sparks.”
I wasn’t really able to see the connections between what Karathanasis said and what I heard in most of the tracks. Some, like “On a cup of tea” and “Ode to Kitchen,” sample exactly what you would expect from the title, but songs like “De Lingo Chalybeque” left me completely lost on what Karathanasis was trying to accomplish.
I’m not trying to say that what I heard wasn’t music, but that I just didn’t get it. It was certainly a unique experience, and I was very impressed with how the samples interwove and shifted around the audience. Apart from that though, I found little enticing about electroacoustic music. If you think you would enjoy something experimental and artistic, give the genre a try. For me, though, this felt more like something I should be experiencing in 5-minute segments at a museum exhibit instead of something I should go to an 80-minute concert for.