Athanasios Argianas


Athens-born, London-based artist Athanasios Argianas offers up a sonically and conceptually rich suite of compositions to accompany his recent show at Camden Arts Centre

Beneath their obvious artistic manifestations, the sonic animas of sound art objects and sculptures like Nikola Bašić’s Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia, or the Sonambient works of Harry Bertoia are fundamentally functional and explicit. While the sounds they spawn and the ways in which they shape them are marvellous, observed in isolation these generated noises feel incomplete or even mundane. Devoid of their architectural and sculptural bodies, the detached water harmonies and scraping of metal on metal float in loneliness, no longer conduits of awe that emanates from the pieces’ sheer material presence and acoustic mechanisms.

The interdisciplinary works of Athens-born, London-based artist Athanasios Argianas combine sculpture, music, and film to straddle a similar divide between sound and matter. But their true nature is, in this sense, very much not functional. Instead, Argianas’s art is poietic, acutely ambiguous, and with a keen interest in manipulating medium boundaries.

While several of the ten cuts on Purr exist in some form in the physical world – usually as parts of installations – they are self-actualised even when considered purely musical creations. Take the otherwise mysterious ‘Hollowed Water’, for example, which becomes an out on the town, joyous sort of EDM, akin to something Legowelt or Proc Fiskal might conjure up if their analogue synths were replaced with acoustic instruments. As proggy harpsichord riffs and an organic, plump beat drive the music, Jo Apps’s crisp vocals repeat the song title into a mantra. The meaning of the phrase soon breaks under semantic satiation, but in return builds a peculiarly palpable substance. Elsewhere, poignant string glissandi swivel around a sustained, synthetic central pitch and land ‘Pivoting Tone’ in territories of what could be ostensibly called contemporary classical music.

Both these genre-bridging compositions have attachments to intermedia installations. Considering music notation’s formative importance throughout the history and future of music, which comes first for Argianas? The music or its inscription in other media? This question is left without a clear answer. Or, possibly, it doesn’t have an answer at all. Composer, sound artist, sculptor, painter, and performer – Argianas is all of those things and everything in-between at the same time. And so, similar to most of his oeuvre, this album is best perceived like a continuous and congruous amalgamation of artistic disciplines. To the point where it becomes hard to distinguish which medium sprang forth from which.

“I was swept off her feet, she was swept off her feet.” On ‘Music Sideways (Canon for Three Voices)’, this simple line is repeated in gorgeous, punny polyphony until voices interfere constructively, slipping into a life and sense of materiality of their own. Here, like on the minimal ‘Pan One’ for flute, voice, and breath, Argianas appears especially interested in sculpting the tactility of voice and elasticity of sound, as he offers an alternate take of the same track performed with violin, viola, and cello – demonstrating variations of texture and emotion, rather than composition.

While fairly minimal in makeup, Purr is ultimately a conceptually rich album with a curious ability to shape shift each time it is approached. Yet, despite this elusive characteristic and its intriguing choice of influences – from baroque to minimalism and electronica – the music’s ambiguity, somewhat surprisingly, comes full circle within a layer of beautifully effortless sentimentality. From the picture of Argianas’s cat Diamantis in an oversized clam shell on the record cover to its purrs that define the closing ‘As Much as a Cat’s Treading’.

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