How did your interest for music start? What were and are your main musical influences?
As a child I had an acoustical attraction on everyday sounds and noises. I still remember the time I have visited a shipyard/shipbuilding in Piraeus and felt like being inside the happenings of an overdimensional opera stage. During my youth, the interest for a broader music education, knowledge of music theory and history, from folk to classical and even popular music, as well as playing various instruments, such as the mandolin, guitar, clarinet or saxophone, was more important to me than, for example, to perfectionise an instrument and thus concentrate on a sole path. At the same time and until my twentieth year, since I was mainly living in Cyprus, a ‘desert’ in classical music, I felt being ‘free’ because I had neither specific influences nor a tradition to follow.
You have studied with a lot of teachers, what impressions did they leave in your music?
Among others, I have studied the guitar with Alvaro Pierri, Marco Tamayo and Leo Brouwer, and composition with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Adriana Hölszky and Michael Finnissy. Another fruitful experience was my studies with Carl Orff’s student and Mozarteum’s Dean, Wolfgang Roscher, in music philosophy and education. During my studies, it was my goal to gain a deep holistic knowledge and understanding of technical craft and aesthetics of various musical styles. I realised at an early stage what was supposed to be an ‘academic thinking’, especially of contemporary music, and how it looked like to reproduce someone else’s ideas and characteristics. Once, my first composition teacher, Bogusław Schaeffer, asked me to write a piece in a style and approach I wouldn’t usually like to do and would not represent me. This was an epiphany for my own creativity because it came out something indeed pure.
You wrote a lot of interesting music for guitars, why did you choose this instrument?
On the one hand, as mentioned above, it was an instrument that I have extensively studied and performed in concerts. As a result, I was quite aware of its repertoire, techniques and performance aesthetics. On the other hand, I had a number of excellent guitar players surrounding me, who all supported the music’s development and execution. It is not common to perform contemporary music by heart, and this is what happens with some of my guitar pieces. In addition, beginning in 2007 at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich, analysis and research is carried out on my music by a number of musicologists and performers, who are or used to be guitar players, this giving me an additional, in-depth insight of my work.
How did start the idea for your latest CD “Staubzucker”? Why did you choose that title?
It was the intention to publish an album with selected works dedicated to guitar, in various instrumental formations, which have been composed between the decade 1999 and 2008. At the same time, we were offered to record a new CD at the ORF RadioKulturhaus in Vienna. The title of the CD is homonymous with a guitar quartet piece – my most performed and characteristic work of the album; it counts over 100 performances in four continents.
Listening to your last CD “Staubzucker”, it seems to me that you don’t compose using a technical ideomatic language for guitar but that you prefer to explore the possibilities hidden inside this instrument.. is it just my impression… or?
The methodology varies. I seek to stay committed to a decision, but stay flexible in my approach. Here are two examples: I try to focus on a musical idea, which often has subdivisions. Then I examine which possibilities on the given instrument could offer me its implementation. For example in “Staubzucker” the idea was to transform the guitar quartet into a percussion quartet. And the opposite, that is, I have in mind some technical or harmonic aspects and from this starting point I aim to extract the idea or the theme of the piece. For example in “Cursed” for classical and electric guitar, the work is entirely composed on a single note, E, using its ten different positions on the fingerboard, hence, in total we have twenty Es. Currently, the guitarist and Mozarteum lecturer Kostas Tosidis, who has performed all my guitar pieces so far, commissioned me to compose a new piece for his doctoral studies at the Brussels Arts Platform within the University Association Brussels. This piece will entirely make use of techniques of bowed string instruments.
What does improvisation mean in your music research? Can we go back to talking about improvisation in a repertoire so encoded as the classic or you’re forced to leave and turn to other repertoires, jazz, contemporary, etc.?
Regardless of genre, improvisation is, for example, part of the implementation of the composition’s idea by the musicians in interaction with the composer. It is an important step before a work is completed, in such a way, that it offers others the possibility to reproduce it as closer as possible to the original idea in tandem with its performance conception. This is commonly delivered with the score, nevertheless of its form, on paper or via digital and electronic means.
I saw you have a group of affectionate musicians that play your works, how is your music methodology influenced by the community of people (musicians or not) you work with? Do you change your approach in relation to what you directly or indirectly receive from them?
It is a reciprocal interaction and profit. It has thus been important to work with musicians and non-musicians, like the guitar virtuoso Kostas Tosidis and the Salzburg based Miscelanea Guitar Quartet. A member of Miscelanea, Yiorgos Pervolarakis, has also written his master thesis on my guitar music, thus providing me with interesting observations for future consideration. This is in particular helpful when I follow a more visionary approach, at times an extra-musical one, that is, to work at the limits of what is or has been to-date possible – at least from what we are aware of. Think of the example mentioned before, when transforming a guitar to a percussion quartet using 23 different percussion elements, notated with an unconventional way for a guitarist. Each new piece requires a contextualisation on its representative foundations. The latter encloses the score and performance practice; in other words, the composer and the performers.
I sometimes feel that in our time the history of the music flow with no particular interest in its chronological course, in our disco-music library before and after, the past and the future become interchangeable elements, could this be a risk for an interpreter and a composer of a uniform vision?
Essential is that someone develops his notion of authenticity, built on the knowledge of the past and present, and delivers qualitative work that represents him or her. Time is the best judge.
What are your essential five discs, always have with you … the classic five discs for the desert island …?
In this case, I would prefer to listen to the soundtrack of nature.
What music do you usually listen to?
Everything that sounds alluring, classical and non-classical. I always seek for new experiences and challenges. Currently, lots of Baroque and Early Music.
What are your next projects? What are you working on this moment?
Schott Music is going to publish two books of mine until the end of the year; one that concerns “The Concept of Polymediality”, which I have been developing since 2003, and how it finds application in contemporary music in relation to literature; the second one is a research on György Ligeti’s “Aventures”. This moment, another article is ready for publication by Schott entitled “Contemporary Music in the Context of Polymediality and Polyästhetics”. At the same time, and since the beginning of the year, I have been working on a new album, together with my brother Nick Elia, who is a specialist in electronic music. The project is focussed on analogue synths and organised noise. Amongst the rare synths used are Jupiter-8, ARP2600, Odyssey, OB-Xa, SH-7, EMS Synthi AKS, Prophet 6, Prophet T8, Memorymoog Plus, Voyager, Source, Korg MS-20, OSCar and TB303. The first production phase has been completed – at the Angelic Studios in the UK, in collaboration with the ex Jamiroquai keyboard player, Toby Smith, who provided us with his unique synth collection.