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Swedish Outsiders – How do you listen to music?

Last weekend, the ICA had a very narrow Swedish music festival featuring some unknown music to me, but the fans were present, and the event called Swedish Outsiders was sold out. I’d personally call it art rather than music, which in my definition has to provide me with some rhythm or melody, something I can hang on to for a little while, memorize and sing or hum back to myself. Swedish Outsiders made me think a lot about how we listen to music, and since I have had a love for radio and sound since a kid, it reminded me of the pleasure you can get by listening to sounds, especially the ones that you don’t notice and yet they contribute to that wholeness of the piece of melody you end up liking.

At the same time I started thinking of what people put themselves through in the name of art, both creators and the listeners or viewers. This was a very experimental festival where you got to experience sounds and films during the course of two days. I was amazed to see there is an audience which craves these uninhibited noise compositions, which could have been made by just anyone. Obviously, you need to be very talented to play the drums like Roger Turner and the saxophone like Mats Gustafsson. It looks as if sounds just happen, but without talent and knowledge you can’t make the saxophone moan and sound like anything but the saxophone. Was it an elephant, honking horns, traffic, screams, stress, pain and all other abstract things you can possibly think of. 

Even though a few people did walk out half way through some of the sound displays, it was not as bad as that time I saw Greek clarinet player Vassilis Saleas at the Barbican when most of the people walked out, as they had expected traditional clarinet music from Greece and not a keyboard loaded set creating space noises behind the clarinet.

The Swedish Outsiders was different, this is why I call it art and not so much music, even though there was one band which performed the more conventional type of music, the trio Tape. The people next to me referred to them as boring, but I found their music quite soothing and relaxing and I could just hear how the people surrounding me where exhaling as if they were in a yoga or pilates class. Tape made us exhale, breathe and rest our minds with their subtle careful compositions. Maybe this is boring, as we expect action and happenings all the time.

A few of the other musical and sound creators were Folke Rabe. His three pieces were different, one he called a remix where he mixed sounds from a commercial radio show in New York from the 60s, where you can hear the presenter’s voice, news and weather forecasts, snippets of the song Ferry Cross the Mercy and Petula Clark’s Down Town! To hear this in darkness and stillness, is like listening to the radio in the dark, on your own, when no one else is around and all you do is close your eyes and listen. Have you ever done that?

Listen and what do you hear? Everything, how the dial moves between the channels and how it surfs through the radiowaves. Rabe’s second piece was more disturbing, as it depicted how disasters creep up on us. Sometimes we don’t see them coming and this he illustrated by letting the audience sit in darkness and listen to sounds that sometimes were resembling those of a war plane from WW2, or a sinking boat, a rainstorm, a truck driving past or the crackling sound of wood making you think that the buidling you’re in will fall upon you and bury you underneath.

So far all good, the disasters were creations of our imaginations, but the most painful bit was to listen to 25 minutes of 6 notes only being played in such a manner that you didn’t notice they were changing. To me that was hard, 25 minutes was way too long. I think people applauded themselves for having survived the ordeal, or just applauding because it was finally over, and finally over because to listen to this monotonous sound is not something we are used to, it makes us feel discomfort, especially when the sound is there to make you worried or scared like a Hitchcock movie.

Ok I am exaggerating a little bit. Trying to distinguish sounds from one another is like trying to distinguish which organs are being used for a song we like to listen to. In the end it is sounds, and when focussed and listened to in darkness, your imagination gets very creative. Especially so if there are to abstract sounds and you cannot associate them with natural rhythms that you’re already used to.

Thank you Swedish Embassy in London and no.signal for organising this sound and cultural experience.

© Copyright Elisavet Sotiriadou, May 2008

Efficent at work or not..

Sokratis Malamas, photo Giorgos Vitsaropoulos
It took me a whole day to find a CD. I looked all over and could not find it. Found all the other things I wasn’t looking for but the one CD I needed for my radio feature was nowhere. I knew it was in here somewhere, so I wasted a whole day searching until i found it under a cardigan. I think it took something like 20 hours… with breaks of course.

In the meantime I was stressing like crazy thinking that I should be editing and editing and writing my script instead, but oh no, I had to look for the CD and during all this stress I came up with ten ideas for writing blogs and another ten for poems. So I gave in in the end and sat down and scribbled down some poems, they are also somewhere around here now, on pieces of paper, behind receipts, on napkins all being used as book marks. I bet when the time has come to look for these poems, I won’t be able to find them either unless I listen to that CD and write a few more poems…

In the end the album Dromoi, by Sokratis Malamas was in my hands. I have listened to it before, but now I needed to focus on the listening and figure out which songs I should use to illustrate the feature with and this music feature I was working on about him. Sometimes you have this favourite song, but for some reason it won’t fit in with the purpose of the show, or with the feature or there is some other production/editing reason that makes you leave out a song in favour of another.

This time I think I just decided that as it is a Greek singer to be featured on a radio station in a non-Greek speaking country, the most important thing is the melody and harmonies not the lyrics, as so few people will understand the lyrics. I also got help in getting a selection of his older songs from one of his record label representatives. 

I remember one of the first things Sokratis Malamas asked me was who was going to listen to this interview I was about to do? Was it going to be for Greeks in Sweden, or not? I said the show is not a language programme for minorities or immigrants, it is purely a music programme featuring music from all kinds of places in the world, so it is not exclusively a Greek audience, but a Swedish one. 

And then he asked me, but how will my music and my lyrics reach these people, if they don’t understand the language I’m singing in and I don’t understand theirs?

Well, he might have a point. If you do get to listen, you’ll find out if his music will reach you. I believe that music is universal and of course you get a better experience when understanding the language a song is sung in, but I have personally listened to many songs in foreign languages and love them, not because I understand the meaning of any of the words, but because I like the sound and the feeling a song sends out. If you would like to listen to the feature it runs on Swedish Radio and here is the link:

It’s available for up to a month after the show airs tomorrow Sunday 18th May 2008. You can access it via the link above. I hope you will enjoy listening to it and that it will introduce you to some new music.

Sokratis Malamas, photo Giorgos Vitsaropoulos