MANOLIS EKMEKTSOGLOU - 09.06.2018
(SD) Hi Manolis - thanks for taking the time out to speak with us - we’re so pleased to have you with us for
Kinetic #3 @ LEAF MCR, and we hope to grow a very fruitful relationship with you in the coming years. Let’s begin
by discussing your musical work and career so far. You were born in Greece, and studied at the Aristotle University
Of Thessaloniki before taking up a PhD at the University of York here in the UK. You’ve been performed by various
musicians and ensembles across the world, perhaps most significantly by Dov Goldberg of Psappha on their
‘Composing for Clarinet’ scheme in 2015/16. What can you tell us about your influences, compositional processes /
primary areas of interest, and what drives you to write music?
(ME) Hello Shaun and thanks for having me here. My compositional process is based on the technique I have
invented called Selective Subtraction of Tone and Rhythmic material composition method and this is actually the
title of my PhD. It is a composition method based on subtraction of smaller entities from bigger ones (primary
material). What stays back is the resulted material and this is what I use in the piece. We almost never hear the
primary material. I have also started applying this method in acousmatic music. I am also interested in stage music
and music for dance. For me, what’s most important in the composition process is inspiration, as it shows me what
to do with my material; and secondly, the passion to create something.
But let me say something regarding influences. Have you ever heard of Karl Lagerfeld? He is a fashion designer. He was asked once about his influences and he answered that he has a lot, but he let them touch him and then let them go. He said (and here’s the most interesting part) that he never analyses. Analysing is a disaster! I think here Karl has a point because nowadays composers tend to over-analyse everything they do. Maybe we should sometimes just let our subconscious lead the way.
(SD) I haven’t heard of Karl Lagerfeld, but thanks for the introduction, and that is a point definitely worth considering I feel. It is difficult at times to allow our inhibitions to be let loose when in an academic environment, but sometimes the best stuff does come out intuitively, though I myself find that I end up repeating myself if I let that be the case for a period of time.
It’s very interesting to hear about your compositional process - for how many years / how many pieces have you applied this process, and how did you develop it?
(ME) Regarding the previous question, I believe that a creation should be a product of original thought-original to ourselves firstly. If in the piece we include what we really want to hear and the way music goes on in time resembles our thought and feelings, then that’s original.
Regarding my method, the first piece I composed using it was back in 2013.-so it's since then. But, the implementation takes different forms from time to time. I developed it mostly during my years I spent in York pursuing my PhD.
(SD) What can you tell us about the variables when implementing this method? What results have you discovered, and from those what have you considered most effective / not so effective?
(ME) The moment leads me, really! The first time back in 2013 (it was April) I had had a scale in front of me and suddenly, I simply started subtracting things from it. What affects you in doing it, could be your mood that very moment, your educational background etc.
Many results - if only I could quote them all here. But the most important is that ultimately, this method allows the composer to have a control over the form of the piece regarding the tone material mostly.
(SD) Cool - I ought to try it myself!
We’ve programmed your ‘String Quartet no. 2’ (2016) for Kinetic #3, which
will be its second UK performance. It’s such an epic piece, and definitely a
challenge for the quartet! What should we expect, and what can you tell us
about the piece in terms of processes, influences, your relationship with it
etc.? What effect do you want it to have on our audience?
(ME) Something that I should be aware of, is that during the composition
process the individual units that form the resulting material could
sometimes be a bit long-winded. But I have figured out ways of fixing these
It was firstly performed in York in an informal concert after the workshop we had with Diotima string quartet, but yes, it will have its second performance during Kinetic nights and here I would like to thank the whole Kinetic team for the effort and their insistence on it. Thank you so much guys!
I really like how you characterised it Shaun - thanks for this! Indeed, it is a challenge for the musicians. I never do that in purpose, though; but for some reason, sometimes the development of the form and the material leads us to technically demanding scores. The specific is a five-movement piece. Each movement reflects implementation of my Selective Subtraction process in different primary material(s). It also reflects psychological variations and this is what I would like to convey with the audience. So, be prepared for changes and contrasts!
(SD) Well luckily for you, the Faros Quartet are really up for a challenge - I recently saw them perform Maxwell-Davies’s 5th Naxos Quartet, and just knew straight away that they were a perfect match for your piece. So glad to have them on board. There is wonderful contrast from one movement to the next, making use of a wide variety of techniques also. It really is a journey of a piece and I’m sure our audience will be gladly taken on that journey!
(ME) I am glad to have them on board as well! I am sure it will be an amazing experience with these guys. I hope the audience will applause!
(SD) I’m wondering about your experiences of working as a composer in different countries - are there notable differences, for instance, in the contemporary music scenes of the UK and Greece, and other European cities that you’ve worked in? And also, how does the approach to the study of composition differ?
(ME) There are great differences! Some scenes are more conservative, some not. For instance, the scene in Greece varies, in the UK there is great focus in electronic music with great results. In Germany, they try to be super experimental-something that comes as an influence from the School of Darmstadt. In Salzburg, the audience was a bit tired, like "we have seen everything, let us hear what you have done and then go home". In Barcelona, the musical climate was great. But generally, we all share the same passion for creation.
(SD) Very interesting to hear how things differ from one place and culture to the next. I’ve heard about Darmstadt, and would actually love to do that course one summer. Salzburg sounds hilarious! I’m finding the UK scene to be quiet behind some of its European counterparts in terms of originality / experimentation - we certainly have one the more conservative attitudes towards classical music, which can be difficult to negotiate at times, but there is enough of a new music scene to get excited about, especially in London.
(ME) Yes, but I find London to be a bit isolated and allow me to say that they themselves want it to be, like a school or so. I have many times dealt with conservative attitudes, not only in the UK, but in many parts. However, in Manchester things are better, aren't they? Take the Distractfold ensemble for instance!
(SD) Manchester has a great underground scene for sure, and we do have more established organisations such as the RNCM, Psappha and Manchester Camerata often championing innovation in our art form. I feel that whoever is involved on the teaching staff at different institutions has a big impact - for example we have Larry Goves in Composition, and Mauricio Pauly, Artistic Director of Distractfold Ensemble. It seems to have a strong impact. Those guys in particular are really at the forefront of pushing new contemporary music in Manchester.
Slightly off topic, but did you have access to a Gamelan set whilst at York?
(ME) Yes, there was a PhD candidate when I was in York who was teaching Asian instruments. I joined the class a couple of times. But, as far as I remember, it was Thai music, not Gamelan. The Gamelan instruments though were in the same room and I remember myself trying to scratch out a tune.
(SD) Sounds fascinating - I was at a Collective meeting at the Southbank Centre recently and we had a panel discussion with some Gamelan experts from University of York… it seems to have a bit of a reputation for producing Gamelan experts over the years!
(ME) The Ethnomusicology department is awesome in general. And they produce great results there. I remember myself trying to explain the western tonal harmony practice to students from this department who had nothing to do with western musical thinking. And though a challenge, it was fascinating.
(SD) Fascinating indeed!
Getting back to you and your music, do you play an instrument, or multiple instruments, at all? I find it interesting how people from different instrumental disciplines approach composition, and what they find more / less “natural” to write for.
(ME) Well, I play the piano and I was trained as a classical pianist, but now I just play Greek music (songs mostly) and some arrangements of Blues songs made by Dr. John from New Orleans.
I find myself struggling whenever I use chords on the strings. I should always be extremely careful regarding the notes of these chords, because there are many limitations. But something interesting is that, my piano pieces are always super difficult, exactly because I know what a pianist can do and I set myself free. That's a bad habit!
(SD) That definitely seems to be a common theme - composers writing very challenging music for their own instruments. Just goes to show how much of an influence one’s instrument is - I am (was more like!) a guitarist, so I’m far more comfortable wiring for strings than others. You’ll have Greek company at Kinetic - another of our composers is Greek, and we’re featuring a set of songs by her sung in her native language. A couple of Greek players involved in that ensemble too!
(ME) I didn't know that! That's fascinating, I am looking forward to hearing Greek language in contemporary music! That's so brave of the composer!
(SD) Yes, we’re looking forward to it also. I’ll be sure to let her know your thoughts!
Moving on... The music industry, and the nature of the music we create, is moving so
quickly with developments in technology and the growing power of social media.
What are your thoughts on how recent developments in Western society have
effected the creation of new contemporary music, and do you think certain aspects of
our discipline have become more or less important / engaging to a modern audience?
And does this subject have an effect on how you approach composition?
(ME) I wouldn’t say that something has become less important. I don’t know, some
people tend to say that acoustic music is about to….die. But I don’t believe that really.
As long as people want to express their feelings they will keep playing musical
instruments. However, technology has a great impact on our approach to the
procedures. I should admit that algorithmic way of thinking exists in my String Quartet
No.2 and it has affected its aesthetics-many people who hear the piece tell me so.
The relation between audience and contemporary music is a huge conversation. There are so many aspects to examine on this direction: the repertoire, the form of the concerts, the way we introduce contemporary music to people and goes long. For instance, I really believe that these efforts should start from a very early age, and this is something that is happening now in the UK.
Electronic music is one of the highest contributions of technology. What’s best with it is its endless possibilities. And that’s the duty of my generation: to start examining those. The time is perfect because now technology and the access to music production is more available than ever used to be. We should definitely take advantage of what electronic music offers us (and it’s a lot) and create nice and interesting music. Something else that gives electronic music a privilege is that the factor of tradition doesn’t exist at the point it does in acoustical music. And this gives us an advantage in the effort of forming new worlds.
(SD) I’d never actually considered that final point that you make - very true! Is it definitely a very exciting time to be a music creator - as you say, the possibilities seem endless, and far more-so in today’s technological climate. What are your experiences with electronics and other media?
(ME) I have done some things, but not as much I would like to. Two of the acousmatic pieces I have developed are for contemporary dance, which is an extremely interesting kind of composition. Also, back in 2013 I composed the music for a short film (about an hour) made by a student director. Now, I am focusing on computational methods, but I always try to find ways how to use technology in order to serve my taste and create the music that I want. For example, I disagree with the use of only one idea/sound in electronic and mostly computational music.
It is what I said before, electronic and computational music offers so many possibilities...it's such a pity not to investigate and manipulate more sounds within the frame of a single composition. It will help create our own musical world.
(SD) Yes, the possibilities are vast, and I do agree to some extent… I am an absolute newbie when it comes to use of electronics, but it does seem a missed opportunity to work with only one sound, though it could prove to be a very fruitful exercise.
Do you know of the composer Hannah Hartman? I recently discovered that she actually hardly ever electronically manipulates anything, and goes to great lengths to discover a source which provides her with the absolute sound she desires, with various microphone techniques and what not. To the extent of climbing up Mount Vesuvius to record volcanic eruption sounds!
(ME) Sounds amazing and really inspirational! But still, she records sounds and this is a practice introduced by Musique Concrete in Paris. I don't say that there aren't any other ways. I think we should focus on what somebody does with their material and not so much what is the material per se.
(SD) Absolutely - that’s most paramount of course. From a process angle it is nice to know what the material is however.
Do you have any recent / upcoming activity you’d like to advertise?
(ME) Of course, and what Hannah Hartman seems to do sounds really great.
I should definitely refer to "Labor Beethoven 2020" long-term project in collaboration with the Academy of Arts in Berlin in which people from Israel, Greece and Switzerland participate. As a part of this project I am currently composing a piece for ensemble that will be performed in Hitzacker Musiktage music festival in Germany. Also, my upcoming concerts in 24th of June in Hannover with Neues Vocalsolisten who will perform "Spit and Rinse", a piece based on a poem by the British poet Bernadette O Horo. I also have another piece for SSAA single voices in the same festival (22nd of June).
(SD) That all sounds very exciting - good luck with it all!
I know you are yet to really experience in person how we operate at Kinetic and realise our ambitions, but do you have any initial thoughts on our operation and what do you hope to achieve from working with us?
(ME) It is a great initiative and I really admire very much the way you create and promote the events. As far as I understand you went through a lot. From my side, I will do the most of it by reposting the posts of the group as much I can, giving publicity, talking to other musicians about it. I hope in the future to be able to contribute even more in some way. If only governments were more positive in supporting artistic things. I am really looking forward to grow the very fruitful relationship you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation!
(SD) Ahhh so kind! Yes, I’m absolutely confident we’ll work together for years to come.
I’d like to finish up just by saying thanks for taking the time out for this discussion, and that we are very excited to meet and have you with us in Manchester for Kinetic #3 @ LEAF MCR on June 13th, and to see / hear the Faros Quartet’s interpretation of your wonderful piece!
(ME) Thanks a lot Shaun. Looking forward to meeting you in Manchester. It will be a great occasion. Thanks for the conversation!
To find out more about Manolis's work, please see his website, and also his SoundCloud page.
Be there for Kinetic #3 @ LEAF MCR for 'String Quartet no.2' and much, much more. Tickets now available at: http://ticketsource.co.uk/kinetic-manchester, and please see our social channels (top right!) for updates.