Review: Yiorgis Sakellariou – Silentium

SilentiunSurely, the request for “silence” – as displayed on the doors of many religious buildings – is not intended to be heeded too literally. There are certain sounds that can’t easily be switched off: footsteps on the stone floor, the breeze skimming over the walls, the sigh a dozen nasal breaths. These sounds, coupled with the thuds of moved objects and the disobedient whisper of conversation, gently illuminate acoustics of the building: sibilance ripples into the rafters, while winds gather into omnipresent rumbles of low frequency pressure. Rather, the request for “silence” (or Silentium in Latin) is more a request to switch the brain into a state of attentive, devotional receipt. By disengaging the desire to outwardly communicate, the audience redirects their resource into the act of listening. The urge to verbally respond becomes the urge to actively listen and to scrutinise, and the soundscape becomes instantly richer and more vivid as one relinquishes the inclination to impress upon it.

I adore the sense of periphery in Sakellariou’s piece. For great swathes of its 50-minute duration, the centre of the frame is largely empty, save for the echoes of gigantic spaces swirling like liquid in an unplugged sink, or the rustle of activity somewhere in the distance. The centre becomes a place of vapours and opportunity; a hallucinogenic void in which sounds are misheard or missed outright, where tiny noises mate and merge with the interpretative powers of listener thought, where the hiss of breath becomes a light rain or a choral shiver of forest leaves. It’s the space in which the listener, in their dedication to the experience, can generate their own images and means of understanding. At certain points the soundscapes transits to an outdoor location, where the centre becomes a melting pot for the overtones of numerous church bells, smearing into eachother and swirling into the light of summer, thickening into a wail of unravelled clang. The more jagged, restless sounds – crunched leaves, creaking floorboards – are invariably ushered to the edges, tiptoeing along the perimeter of the frame as though skulking around the church grounds.

Yet Sakellariou isn’t dogmatically beholden to the rules of his own soundscape. Too often, I associate the process of intense listening (and intense composition for that matter) with a gradual refinement, nurturing a solitary atmosphere until it sharpens into focus. During a sudden burst of visceral clatter – a lurch of looped mechanism, punctuated with the tap and clink of metal and wood and ceramic – Sakellariou shakes me awake, rendering my surroundings urgent and vivid through the power of contrast, using the soft ambiguity of the music prior to bring sudden clarity to this outburst of activity. Was it the spiritual sceptic in me that was taken by surprise here? Should I perhaps have entertained the possibility that something loud and magnificent might emerge from the album’s reverent emptiness?