Personal Research & Practice
Growing up on the mediterranean island of Cyprus, the Greek-Cypriot and sometimes Turkish-Cypriot traditions were creating a combination of Western and Oriental perfumes with a strong Medieval history. Sunday mornings at the Orthodox liturgies were followed by afternoon walks at the capital’s centre while Muezzin was chanting Muslim prayers in the mosques of the occupied north part of the island.
Life in the village, in a post-war society, was deeply connected with the death, loss and the hard times of the invasion. The scapes of the shepherds and animals, the innocence of the children running carefree in the fields, was combined with the melancholy in the eyes of the elderly. The younger generations could not be unaffected. Back then, religious places were the spaces where I could find - through music - the desired redemption.
During my studies, I understood that with this background, trying to sing Mozart or Donizetti would be a vain joke for the music's sake and myself.
And then, I remember the first Early Music Festival in Cyprus, when Ex Silentio (a medieval music ensemble from Greece) performed. It was my first contact with ancient European music and in those quite sounds I found the spiritual and musical world I was searching for.
Since then, my research and studies regarding Medieval music resulted in the foundation of Sibil•la Ensemble (2020), a medieval music ensemble based in The Hague, and Cantara Ensemble (2021) based in Cyprus which focuses on medieval and folk music. With these ensembles, I perform singing and playing the gothic harp. I explore troubadours' poems about distant lovers, the erotic symbols of woman in Catholicism, the deep pain and pleasure of Guillaume de Machaut's poetry and the festive spirit of medieval songs and dances. Attempting each time to give my own vocal interpretation in a collaborative spirit.
Voices of women like Montserrat Figueras and Emma Kirkby, the pureness of their sound, their easiness and natural position were a deep inspiration in the way I perform and understand the vocal sound. The connection with mediterranean traditions and the sacred mystical ritual were a medium for discovering the Siren.
Thankfully, the specialist Dr. Menelaos - Dimitris Kountouras and my beloved vocal teachers during the last years, Noa Frenkel and Theodora Baka - both experienced in Early Music -, accepted my path and nurtured it with love and kindness.
The use of the Folk Voice in contemporary music was a crossing to a world of sharing this artistic path and background with - luckily- great composers of our times.
Yannis Kyriakides Now we send you this message (2021)
I would never imagine that I would perform a work by the composer and multimedia artist Yannis Kyriakides. His piece Now we send you this message for soprano, violin, viola, cello, contrabass, bass-clarinet and soundtrack, was composed for and premiered at a concert I had with musicAeterna musicians.
Both coming from Cyprus, we share a big interest in the medieval music and history of the island, which was the inspiration for the creation of this work concerning the text, material and aesthetic.
The composer described:
"The source of this work is a letter written in 1426 by the Mamluk Sultanate Barsbay to King Janus, the Lusignan ruler of Cyprus. This letter represents the moment the Lusignan rule in Cyprus, which had produced such a treasure trove of Ars Subtilior music, documented in the Torino Codex J.II.9, had come to an end.
[...] In this work, the letter is sung by the soprano in Greek (the reason it is in Greek is that it was recorded by a historian of the time, Leontios Makhairas in his work: 'Recital concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus entitled "Chronicle"'). This is set over texts from the ballads of the Cyprus codex, that are encoded into musical fragments, played by the string quartet. They also directly quote music from one piece in particular, the ballad "L'esperer sans aucun bien faire" (folio page 132v)."1
In discussion with the composer, who knew my work and passion for medieval music, and because of the historical context and text of the piece, I decided to create a pure, sometimes airy voice that weighs more to the manner I sing medieval music repertoire. Studying the vocal lines with the medieval/folk ornamentation and the subdued polyphony between voice and ensemble, it became clear to me that this should be the aesthetic.
The intimacy of the voice was necessary through the waves of sound. My attempt was to use a clear soft timbre that according to the structure of the music develops and changes to a penetrating expression of the threat and duress of the text.
The way that early music aesthetics are combined in a work like this amazes me as a performer and listener. I remember how the vocal lines lead the sound of the ensemble and the dialogue between the strings into space. The soundtrack, that consists of noise and multiple layers of voices created a cinematic dimension.
Kristia Michael & Andreas Moustoukis Carbon Song (2021)
The album Silent Lands was co-produced with the composer Andreas Moustoukis during the last months of 2020 and was published in January 2021. He was composing the electronics in Cyprus and I was working with the voice at my studio in The Hague, sending to him recordings.
In this album, Carbon Song was influenced by the work of Holger Czukay. The electronics create a soundscape for the different layers of voices that interact independently. The first vocal pattern that appears stays as an ostinando and isocrates during the whole piece. The other two voices build an abstract duet, singing in an unknown language of an unknown culture, and conclude in symphony (02:35) until they all disappear, one by one.
In the vocal composition, I was influenced by Asian traditions, using nasal nuances, ornamentation and vocal fluctuations, giving in moments the illusion of microtonality. It was mostly an intuitive process of exploration regarding these timbres and vocal style.
The vision in this piece was not to imitate a particular tradition but - in the context of the album - to express the illusion of a silent land that healed from human cruelty and remembers the voices of a distant and forgotten place.