Angélique Ionatos has performed two compositions of Eleni K. in her new album D'UN BLEU TRES NOIR.
Eleni Karaindrou was born in the mountain village of Teichio in central Greece and grew up in Athens where she studied piano and theory at the Hellenikon Odion. From 1969-74 she studied ethnomusicology in Paris and, on returning to Greece, founded the Laboratory for Traditional Instruments at the ORA Cultural Centre. She has since been an active campaigner on behalf of Greece's musical resources. Karaindrou has a long history of writing for film and theatre; to date, some 18 feature films, 13 plays and 10 television series have featured her music. Although most of her work has been with Greek directors she has also collaborated with Chris Marker, Jules Dassin and Margarethe von Trotta. Eleni Karaindrou has been associated with Theo Angelopoulos since 1982.
Covering the waterfront
Eleni Karaindrou's music for films
Greece's film critics and music journalists have long felt that Eleni Karaindrou's compositions for cinema transcend the soundtrack's conventions. Her music does not merely accompany or prettify a film, they argue, but is an essential element of it. Writer Nikos Triantafillides, nothing that Karaindrou's music is as vast in scope as the time-transgressing sequence shots of Angelopoulos, says that "in all these hundreds os feet of film, Eleni's music represents the blood not shed on the screen. Her constant presence..reveals something deeply spiritual beneath the lyricism." George Monemvasites talks of a music made "to wound and liberate" as it creates "new visions and ideas" which counterpoint or parallel the cinematic action. Yet the music, heard independently, seems to insist upon its autonomy. The collection at hand is not "film music" in the limited sense but rather music that is inherently cinematic in its reach: It establishes an emotional climate. Hints at storylines it invites a listener/viewer to take up and develop, paints sky and seacapes in subtle, muted hues and, sometimes, simply, sings.
Eleni Karaindrou was born in Teichio, an isolated mountain village in the Roumeli region of central Greece, and still retains memories of the sound of her childhood:"the music of the wind, rain on the slate roof, running water. The nightingale's singing. And then the silence of the snow." Sometimes the mountains would echo to the sound of flutes and clarinets played at festivals in the small Village Square.
"I remember too the high pitched voices of the women singing beautiful polyphonic songs as they stripped corn all through the night while we children lay on our backs on the threshing floor, counting stars. And I still have a strong memory of the Byzantine melodies I heard in church and the continuous voices of the men accompanying the chanter." The impression left by these church experiences is evident in, for example, Happy Homecoming, Comrade where the instrumentation often shifts around a bourdon or drone bass.
Karaindrou's family moved to Athens, where she "discovered cars, electricity, radio and movies." By a fortuitous stroke of fate, her new home was next to an open cinema, and she watched its programmes from her bedroom window. Between the cinema - and significantly, a cinema under the sky-and the piano, another new discovery. Karaindrou had found the central passions of her life by the age of eight.
She improvised melodies from the time she first sat at the keyboard. And though she was to spent fourteen years (1953-1967) studying piano and theory at the Hellenikon Odion, the Greek Conservatory of Athens, she is a selftaught composer, an "instinctive composer" to use her own phrase.
In 1967, the Junta compelled her to leave Greece. Taking her young son with her, she relocated in Paris where, assisted by a grant from the French government she began study of ethnomusicology-an important point in her biography "I was slowly becoming conscious, with increased knowledge of the musical world of my childhood. "Her investigation into the roots of music proceeded concurrently with studies in orchestration and conducting.
Through her student period she wrote songs - "melody came very easily to me"- some of them meeting with a considerable commercial success which did not, remarkably, deflect her from her studies. While the songs travelled the world in numerous interpretations, she burrowed deeper into ethnomusicological research. Of her earliest albums, she is still proud of I megali agripnia (1973), her setting of poems by K.X. Miris for the voice of Maria Farantouri - a singer who inspired Karaindrou, as so many Greeks - in a time of political turmoil.
Karaindrou's Paris years (1969-1974) also coincided with that city's most vigorously creative jazz era and the composer listened appreciatively. After a long period in which classical music had been has entire focus, she was awakening to the other forms- inevitably, since her studies immersed her in the folk music of the whole world.
Back in Athens, she founded the Laboratory for Traditional Instrumentalists at the ORA Cultural Centre and shared the Third Radio Programme's Ethnomusicology Department. Then, in 1976 I discovered ECM. I recognised my world. I improvised and composed relying entirely on my feeling without any idiomatic or stylistic prejudices. "It was in this period she began to write, prolifically for film and theatre.
Karaindrou believes that her 1979 music for Christofis's Wandering marked a turning point in her writing for cinema. Allowing herself a very instinctive reaction to subject and camera movement she was at first unsure if her compositions really complemented the film. From the finished results, she understood that she had found a very personal approach to composing for the medium: "It was a new beginning for me. Wandering opened up world I've been travelling ever since. The directors I've worked with have allowed me great freedom, and their images have given me a fantastic pretext to express my deepest sentiments and feelings."
The screen needn't stop at realism. The moving picture can catch the beauty of swaying, blending lights and shadows, and by its own movement impart to it as definite a rhythm as poetry or music ever had.
James Agee, 1927
Directors Chistoforo Chiristofis and Lefteris Xanthopoulos, as it happens, were both published poets before they turned their attention towards cinema, and their use of the camera is freely "lyrical". Of Wandering, his first film, Christofis has noted that "my explorations into the workings of memory and the possibilities of film making were clearly ruled by an adagio rhythm". An easy, graceful camera motion, like the sea's slow undulation, also shapes Xanthopoulos's Happy Homecoming, Comrade and some of Angelopoulos' work. The rhythms of Rosa are generally more troubled and distracted, as befits this metaphysical thriller, though there's hushed raptness to "Rosa's Song", originally sung by Karaindrou against a closing shot of the rosecoloured still waters of Missolonghi at sunset. Chiristofis's lyrics here are exceptional, beginning My name ist Rosa / and I'M the song of the soul / over the roof-tops / beyond the wind. / I tried to change the world / and turned into a song to save the dream
Eleni Karaindrou says, "My relationship to the movement of the camera is, fundamentally, more important than my relationship to the screenplay. Of course, the music has to underline the story, but the meaning of film is not always explicit in the script. Image and music have to combine to say what cannot easily be said in words. Sometimes you look at a screenplay and it seems like nothing: As Harold Pinter says, the real meaning is behind the words. With the music I'm trying to contribute a kind of counterpoint to the story influenced by all components of the film - scenario, location, actor, montage. I'm looking for the rhythm inside: I'm sure I'm influenced - I can't say how - by the interior movement of Angelopoulos's sequence shots
.And then, at the editing stage, the grain and the luminosity of the photos confirm what I need for colour and orchestration."
Theo Angelopoulos, in this capacity as president of the jury at the 1982 Thessaloniki Film Festival, awarded Karaindrou the prize for best film score for Rosa, and asked her to work with him. Nine years later, the collaboration is still fruitful and, as of this writing, Karaindrou is at work on Angelopoulos' To meteoro vima tou pelargou. She is often the first associate abroad his film projects and the last to disembark, continually revising and modifying the music throughout the editing process.
"We begin, in most cases, before there is a screenplay, working outwards from the film's underlying concepts. Angelopoulos is a man who feels much and says little, so it's important for me to understand the ideas at the root of his work, and how I can help convey the things which will not be verbally expressed in the film. Sometimes I' ve already found the main theme by the time we have a scenario."
Sadly wail ye by the waters, and chant with melancholy notes the dolorous song. Not so much did the dolphin mourn beside the sea-banks. Nor so much, by the grey sea-waves, did ever the seabird sing.
Moschus, Greek pastoral poet,
2nd century B.C.
In this exhaustive essay on Angelopoulos, Wolfram Schütte, quoting Faukner, reminds us that the past is never dead, nor even past
to which one might add that the past frequently seems more present in Greece than elsewhere, and the sensitive Greek artist can scarcely sidestep it. As George Seferis, Eleni Karaindrou's favourite poet once said, "Greece is a continuous process".
Karaindrou's own connections to Greece's past are comprehensive. She holds master's degrees in history and archaeology. In the theatre, she has chiefly been associated with contemporary playwrights but has also written music for adaptations of, for example, Aristophanes. Her ethnomusicological background and her work with the radio have equipped her to proselytize for the preservation of the old instrumental and vocal forms, and Greek tradition seems to be confirmed in her music by the presence of the dulcimer-like santouri and the clarinet as lead voices.
In fact, Karaindrou has respect enough for Greek folk music to leave it alone. When she uses traditional instruments, she generally employs them in non-traditional ways. "Sometimes the santouri will take the role of the piano. Or vice versa. I don't mix up folk music with my own concepts. The sounds and colours of some of the instruments have a part to play - that's all - because they've been ringing in my head my whole life. I use them to paint pictures as my immigration dictates. My interest in traditional music and my work as a composer I see as two separate streams. Only once did I try to mix them. I knew a flute player, a gypsy, and a fantastic improvisor. I tried to bring him into my music. For four days and nights he knocked himself out trying to play what I'd written. It made me so sad. I felt like I had taken a beautiful bird and put him in a cage. In his own music he was so free. And I said: basta! - never again."
With Jan Garbarek it was different. Eleni Karaindrou first heard the brooding Norwegian saxophonist on the 1977 album Places and at once felt a strong sense of identification. "When I heard his piece 'Reflections' I felt I'd found something very close to my heard and to my country. There is a strong Balkan flavour there. And when I wrote the theme for the Beekeeper, I understood very quickly that only Jan could provide the necessary colours.
"He was able to approach this composition without any folkloristic rhetoric and go directly to the essentials. "There are correspondences enough to prompt reflection on Garberek's now-famous remark "You might say that I live in a spiritual neighbourhood which is scattered geographically around the world".
Apparent connections are stressed by Manfred Eicher's selections of Karaindrou's material, of course, for not all her oeuvre consists of adagios and elegies. In making one new extended work of materials written for films, the producer contrasts, combines and reprises themes from six movies to uncover a mood consistent with his own feeling for the pervasive tone - and the pervasive silences - of Angelopoulos's films.
Angelopoulos looks at things in silence. His sense of time, the long shots and the images of Giorgos Arvantitis had a profound influence on me", Eicher says. "I saw his films and wondered if it could be possible to achieve something comparably auratic in music production. And then, following his work into the 1980's, I gradually became aware of Eleni Karaindrou's music
" a cycle of influence was turning back on itself with Karaindrou, now an important presence in Angelopoulos' films, having been influenced by ECM's productions in general and by Garbarek's records in particular.
"Karaindrou gives us the change to dream", one critic wrote in the Greek newspaper Avgi, a succinct enough summary of Music For Films, as long as one holds in mind that in dreams begin responsibilities. Challenging her own imagination to anchor or spur the images of Angelopoulos, Chiristofis and Xanthopoulos, she encourages ours to awaken and probe with her "the landscape, seascape and soulscape of the modern Hellenic world." For Karaindrou there is no escaping it. "Wherever I travel", she says, quoting Seferis once more, "Greece keeps wounding me."
As you are writing
The ink grows less
The sea increases