The debut album Hades (Bedouin Records) by Constantine is a masterpiece opening a new chapter in a rather sterile dark ambient genre. The multi-instrumentalist Constantine Skourlis is a visionary, whose name, I predict, will soon become a living legacy for those not afraid of stepping into experimental abyss. I caught up with Constantine via electronic means to interrogate him about the production and vision of Hades.
In Hades classical and contemporary, live and digital commingle. The recording of the album involved multiple instruments and techniques - grand piano, strings, tube radios, drums, orchestral percussion... Could you tell us more about the role each instrument had in Hades?
During my recording and production process I place equal value and importance in each individual sound and instrument, from the meagre nuances to the most invasive distorted sound design, everything has an equal role to play. Emotion that derives from dynamic contrast is a result of the said line of thought.
I know you are a multi-instrumentalist, but have you played all the instruments yourself when recording Hades or have you collaborated with other musicians?
It is really important for me to commingle and coexist with other musicians inside a musical - aesthetical world that derives from the project. Some of the instruments are played by musicians - collaborators of mine while others by me.
Can you introduce us to musicians who collaborated on Hades and/or are performing with you live?
This is an ever-evolving project and in that regard the live performance of HADES always depends on the context in which it is about to be presented. As for the musicians that contributed on the record, most I knew beforehand, some I met along the way. SPR which is the project of Hamburg based producer Stephan Richter, who also happens to be a good friend, lent his skills and mastery of modular synthesis and applied them though out the album. I've also tested the stamina limits of renowned pianist and friend Christos Sakellaridis, with whom I also collaborate on another project called 'Ekkert'. Erebus includes two drummers Florian Schmuck & João Azevedo that somehow managed to work with me from a distance. Other musicians include cellist Stefanos Giannopoulos & Athanassia Teliou, violinist Maria Zabeli and orchestral percussionist Thodoris Vazakas.
I know you used field recordings on Hades and recorded the sound of storm! Where exactly can we hear it? It is in Cosmos, perhaps?
The notion that we inherit part of our memories through biological evolution, inspired me to subliminally apply field recordings of natural phenomena in order to manipulate certain emotions and create subconscious images through sound. Indeed recordings of storms that I captured in Lesbos are present in 'Cosmos' and are manipulated in such a way that the said perception of inherent memories merges into the production process.
The record revolves around two themes – Greek mythology and the Syrian refugee crisis. How those two relate?
The Greek islands could be conceptually presented as a space in between - or an intermediate space - between hope and despair, life and death, between life in western societies and the real land of the dead that war torn countries are being transformed into. Hades the Greek God of the dead and also the name of the ancient Greek underworld theoretically reflects on or transports the atmosphere of this intermediate space, of the harsh reality in which humanity is involved as a whole while all possibilities remain open. Subsequently the historically recurrent population displacement from ancient times to the present is another level of connection between the now and then.
'Divide' reminds me of Traha Sektori (Dehn Sora), who is also a great visual artist. Where do you musical influences come from? Dance music? Classical? Experimental?
I was fortunate enough that my parents were as much into classical music and jazz as psychedelic rock and early electronics. These diverse early musical influences somehow - curiously - morphed me into a metal fan into my teens. Nowadays I try to consume music as carefully as possible. Although I find many artists working in the contemporary electronic & modern classical - call it what you will - field really exciting, I find myself mostly listening to baroque music, ambient and noise, the combination of which has naturally being embedded into Hades.
photo by Georgia Arvaniti
To me, I love when artists dive deeper and are not afraid to tackle social issues through their art. This is exactly what you did with Hades... Could I ask you a) how did the Syrian crisis touch you personally? b) do you think that music is a powerful medium that can help us to evolve as individuals and society?
It is obvious that direct political stance through art has rendered itself meaningless. In a vast sea of information that humanity appears to have lost itself into, art has become itself just another source of information or documentation. It is troubling that 'artists' themselves become mere vessels of information, which quite swiftly dissolves into that multichanneled informational noise. The fact is that art could be one of the very few or maybe our only tool to make sense of our apparent chaotic environment. For me Hades is neither meant to be a political statement nor it is meant to be political, it is rather a way to make sense through that chaos. Quite profoundly, beauty mixed with suffering appears to have a true impact on the individual. It manages to create a contradiction inside oneself. That realization-concept is applied on the album. Frankly I don't know how the current events actually affect me. It would be utterly hypocritical of me to even try to relate with the horror that is unleashed day by day. The fact that I'm typing this interview on an iPhone, news of war in nearby countries keep spreading and quantum fluctuation seems to be a real possibility make this a really complex and unprecedented era.
What are the main differences and challenges to you when performing Hades with fellow musicians and solo?
The differences and technical requirements vary depending on the context of the live. Performing Hades live solo, collaborating with EFTD for an AV show and working on an iteration of the live alongside an ensemble, while realizing that Hades is a deeply personal project that I don't feel will end anytime soon, is indeed a challenge but it is also a welcome one.
'Hades' came out on Bedouin Records, which is a huge accomplishment already. What's next for you as a person and an artist?
I have been working extensively on my first solo A/V installation called 'Eternal Recurrence', which is in a way a continuation of Hades and will take premiere at Beton7 Gallery in Athens. Also some upcoming live performances include a solo live performance alongside Mohammad, at what I feel will be one of the most interesting and important music venues in Athens, the newly founded 'Temple'. As a person... strive for humbleness through extreme action.