- A Life Is a Billion Heartbeats by Yannis Kyriakides, Andy Moor
Compact disc, 2015, Unsounds 47u; Unsounds, Windtunnelkade 10 1059 BZ, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; http://unsounds.com.
A Life Is A Billion Heartbeats is a montage of prerecorded Greek rebetika vocals and musical fragments, complemented and enhanced with a dense layering of electronic processing techniques. Yannis Kyriakides and Andy Moor have created twelve effective tracks based on the underground Greek rebetika tradition of the 1920s and 1930s.
Early on, a dialogue is formed between Moor’s guitar playing and Kyriakides’ management of electronic sequences generated on a laptop. The strategy here is built upon selected [End Page 87] rebetika tunes, upon which the duo improvises. The sound complex develops from Moor’s idiosyncratic manner of playing that reflects the rebetika, and in a way that works with the real-time decisions Kyriakides makes on his laptop. The resulting texture is symphonic in complexity, as an augmentation or reworking of the ‘instrumental’ contribution. This release contains a combination of composed and improvised ingredients, demonstrating Kyriakides’ versatility as an electronic musician.
In the first track, Today is the Same as Yesterday, the electronic sounds complement and add to the various guitar layers. Repeated melodic fragments maintain an expressive continuity. For track 2, Wasting Away, the laptop-generated sequences act as an accompaniment for Moor’s playing, whereas in the third track, Underground Migration, we hear a dialogue between Moor and Kyriakides, via an interlocking rhythmic counterpoint. Moor’s guitar-playing mimics the noisier, more aggressive punctuations of sound in the electronics. Here the processing is quite robust, but the core of the track is its rhythmic pulse.
Everyone Should Think of Their Final Breath is structured in a traditional manner, wherein the electronics and guitar dramatically support a vocal line. But the vocal line is performed by the laptop. This track is best described as electric rebetika, where the countermelodies are electronic sound events. This track showcases the versatility of the duo, with a full musical range found in the layering of vocals, rhythmic pulse patterns, electric guitar, and bold processing throughout. It is quite a dense track, and musically very rich.
The track Day Two contains noise-infused sequences in the electronics, wherein the guitar periodically enters and exits this texture, and Kyriakides interjects fragments of soloistic bouzouki lines. Another interesting feature is the variable-speed playback of a cassette tape player containing these lines. The bouzouki is a long-necked mandolin, commonly found in traditional Greek folk music.
Doorways Make You Forget has a very solid rock feel. This composition is scored in song form, where an instrumental section directly answers the vocal sections. We hear an A–B form throughout this track.
Track 7, Slanging Match, has a similar pattern to that found in track 3, where a rhythmic pulse functions as a kick drum underneath Moor’s harsh, distorted guitar riffs. Modern electric guitar idioms have been uncompromisingly integrated in this track. Kyriakides counteracts the guitar part with granulation and noise bursts.
The track Billion Heartbeats very much lives up to the title of this disc. Kyriakides uses an approach in which he layers small micro-figures in both the electronics and guitar parts. These micro-figures gradually transform over time via some basic studio techniques including filtering, reverb, and noise.
In tracks 7 and 8, the duo seems to break free from the restrictions of the Rebetika form through improvising and creating their materials from a collaborative dialogue. This Summer, track 9, contains minimalist, pulsed music in the electronics, supporting Moor’s tuneful guitar playing. Vocals are briefly interjected, signaling a counter-melody from Moor. The duo improvises the second half of the track, layering noisy sounds in rhythmic counterpoint. The layers seem to degrade as the track ends, leaving the minimal pulse that was heard at the beginning.
Track 10, Psyche, utilizes delicate and refined processing techniques. There are extreme contrasts of blurred noise in addition to the delicate sounds. These sounds increase in density, coupled with heavier gestures introduced by the guitar. This track is a type of musical...