BOYATZIS SINGER AND NUCLEUS OF SIGMATROPIC TALKS TO US ABOUT HIS
INTERNATIONAL PROJECT "16 HAIKU AND OTHER STORIES"
The international version of " 16 Haiku And Other Stories
" is a sweet release since it has been a long odyssey for
it to reach the record stores. After this album was released in
its original format in Greek, early 2002 on Athens label Hitch-
Hyke records, all of us involved stuck our neck out enough to
boldly extend an invitation to overseas friends: to recreate the
spirit of this album, retaining the same music with the same poetry
translated into English. Carla Torgerson from THE WALKABOUTS when
visiting Greece provided the initial support and inspiration and
spent a considerable time helping out. When the first concrete
ideas of this international version became a reality, a wider
net was cast to musicians that would grace this project. Part
of the project spiel that was sent to the invited guests, were
the highlighted requirements that they should love Greece, love
books and poetry, and love nature and its glorious splendour.
And thus, many months later, here is the English version of the
original dream. Eighteen vocalists from diverse musical backgrounds
and from far flung cities, each choosing and singing their favourite
Haiku. Each individual vocal is a sparkling testament that has
enriched this humble little project. And the poetry of the great
Nobel laureate GEORGE SEFERIS is perfectly complimented by the
English translation and the vocal interpretations, thus retaining
the spirit of his work that made him a renowned literary figure.
AKIS BOYATZIS is the main nucleus behind the outfit called SIGMATROPIC.
A resident of the bustling megalopolis called Athens, AKIS BOYATZIS
has always kept a low profile. Holed up in his studio apartment
he appears to be an elusive and quiet musician. Not always comfortable
in the art of self-promotion, he will soon have to adapt to the
new demands that the spotlight of " 16 Haiku And Other Stories
" will thrust upon him. We caught up with AKIS BOYATZIS and
tried to penetrate his world with some questions that could help
us to understand more about the complexities of this remarkable
- YOU HAVE HAD THE LUXURY OF HAVING RECEIVED OVER 60 VOCAL TAKES
AND DIFFERENT VERSIONS TO SHIFT THROUGH, FROM THE 18 GUEST VOCALISTS.
WAS IT A LOGISTICAL NIGHTMARE TO REACH THE FINAL TRACK LISTING
OF YOUR CHOICE?
AKIS BOYATZIS - I was honored to have an enormous number of first
class vocal takes for each song, by the invited guest artists
for the Sigmatropic album. Note that, in some cases the project
received contributions for up to eleven tracks by an individual
artist, and some of these were among my all-time heroes. So, the
response was tremendous, even beyond our best expectations. The
real difficulty was to choose an outstanding performance among
other great ones by different artists. It proved sometimes hard
to decide between one vocal and another. Miraculously, the logistics
worked out pretty well, so that we are happy with the line-up
that finally appears on the cd. Nevertheless, great vocal takes
were left out, possibly for follow-up releases.
TM- IN HINDSIGHT DO YOU FEEL IT WAS AN INSPIRED DECISION TO RE-CREATE
THIS ALBUM IN ENGLISH? HOW DO YOU FEEL HAVING ALL THESE GUEST
VOCALISTS ON YOUR ALBUM?
AB- The poetry of George Seferis has been widely recognized as
being one of universal significance. More than this, Seferis admired
British poets like T. S. Eliot and Yeats. On the other hand, the
music that appeared on the original 'Sixteen Haiku And Other Stories'
release had an international character, based on quite simple
musical ideas inspired by genres dominating the international
scene for the last fifteen years. Therefore, the re-release of
the same musical material in English was a justified next step.
There was a delicate point though, that the music should always
be in accordance to the language element. So, the mixes that appear
on this CD are respectful of the language and of course, the English
vocal renditions of all the tracks.
TM -THE ORIGINAL GREEK ALBUM VERSION HAS SOME OUTSTANDING FEMALE
VOCAL CONTRIBUTIONS. THIS NEW ENGLISH VERSION IS MORE DOMINATED
BY MALE VOICES. HAS THIS RE-ADDRESSED THE BALANCE OF THE ALBUM?
AB- I am happy to hear your comment about the Greek vocals. Actually,
an 'unusual' Greek vocal approach appeared in the original edition
of this project, as a lot of attention was put on the balance
between poetry and music form. Regarding the English version,
I am happy to have excellent vocal contributions, by both male
and female vocalists, that finely obey this balance. It is true
that male voices have taken a larger slice here. For this reason,
a number of musical elements were given extra consideration, actually
taking the male/female factor into account.
MANY PEOPLE WOULD LABEL YOUR MUSIC, AS "ELECTRONICA",
BUT YOU TEND TO DISAGREE WITH THIS. HOW WOULD YOU CATEGORISE YOUR
AB- In general, I am reluctant to categorise genres in popular
music, as things tend to be quite unclear (and confusing). The
sure thing is that throughout this cd, electronic sounds, arpeggios,
digital samples and atmospheres are key elements. A small number
of tracks (like 'intro', or 'haiku four') were even based entirely
on electronics. But there is a whole spectrum covered in the majority
of the tracks. In most cases, where the structure is still quite
simple, the heartbeat of this music actually rocks and twists
and revs itself up. Elsewhere, things mellow down, or gently swim
in the water. For practical reasons only, I would not disagree
with any combination of the terms 'alternative' and/or 'electronic'.
THERE IS AN UNDERSTANDING THAT MANY CONTEMPORARY MUSICIANS IN
GREECE HAVE BEEN INFLUENCED BY THE GREAT LITERARY FIGURES OF ELYTIS,
SEFERIS & CAVAFY. MANY MUSICIANS HAVE BORROWED THEIR WORDS
AS A LYRICAL TEMPLATE TO A CONCEPTUAL PROJECT. IS THIS COMMONPLACE
THAT SUCH WORKS NOW PASS UNNOTICED? ARE YOU CONCERNED THAT SEFERIS'S
SHADOW LOOMS LARGE OVER YOU?
AB- Add Karyotakis to those you mentioned, possibly the one that
most occasionally and secretly haunts the efforts of songwriters
in this country. I am not sure if these cases are actually many.
There have been notable songwriters and composers during the sixties
and thereafter, that have based a large part of their oeuvre on
the great poets of Greece. Their approach was inspired by local
/ popular culture of their time (the fifties, the sixties or the
seventies) mixed with formal (mostly classical) elements, finally
forming a genre of their own. This approach had originally been
considered by scholars and critics to be radical and 'unconventional'.
To all this, add an intense colouring from the political situation
in Greece and the world in general, and you get the picture. These
works, one way or another are now the landmarks of contemporary
Greek music. For all these reasons, plus the great poetry issue
of course, the sixteen haiku undertake was a 'crazy' and 'dangerous'
task. So, after having this idea about adding musical texture
to the whole body of the Sixteen Haiku, and considering a few
more poems (these are the 'other stories' that contribute to the
balance of the project), I sat down and tried to delete out of
memory everything previously done. I believe this work is by both
traditional and contemporary (meaning radical).
HOW DO YOU FEEL PEOPLE WILL REACT TO THE INTERNATIONAL VERSION
OF THE ALBUM? WILL YOU BE ACCEPTED AND MORE ACKNOWLEDGED IN YOUR
COUNTRY IF YOU ARE SEEN & REVIEWED IN OVERSEAS MAGAZINES?
AB- I have no real feeling about this, for the time being. The
Greek audience may either respond positively, or can on the contrary
be indifferent. It depends on the dynamics of the market (which,
regarding this type of music, is not exactly massive), what's
playing currently on air, the TV, even the political scene of
the moment, etc.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE MUSIC SCENE TODAY IN GREECE? IS IT
A FRUSTRATING OR LIBERATING EXPERIENCE? DO YOU BELIEVE THERE IS
AN APATHETIC STANCE IN TODAY'S GREEK MUSIC INDUSTRY TOWARDS NEW
AB- I refuse to admit the existence of a scene in the field of
popular music in Greece. Instead, isolated efforts by few have
provided one or two basic guidelines on which the mainstream moves
and has continuously been profiting from. Another important thing
is that this mainstream is basically lyric-driven, which means
that all music and sounds have been utilized to merely provide
a background to what the songwriter has to say. This is the case
for the last thirty years. So, to my opinion, a modern musical
language unique for the contemporary culture of this land that
speaks with its own voice, atmosphere and sounds, is yet to be
defined. From my point of view, making music under these conditions
is artistically liberating, yet from many other aspects (like
attention from the industry) frustrating.
I hate being critical in this manner, however, experimental is
currently a confusing term in this country, which, in the eyes
of the conservative majority, is perceived as a 'novel' combination
of already inhabited and internationally tried, fully working
musical forms, which have simply never been applied on anything
Greek by Greek musicians aiming at a Greek audience. Yes, the
music industry is apathetic, if not completely deaf, to new really
experimental voices. Of course, there are a few exceptions to
YOU HAVE SUNG AS AN ARTIST IN BOTH ENGLISH & GREEK. DO YOU
PREFER TO SING IN ENGLISH OR GREEK? DO YOU BELIEVE THAT A BAND
SINGING IN ENGLISH WOULD HAVE A BETTER CHANCE TO SUCCEED ABROAD
AND IN GREECE? WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THIS DEBATE?
AB- I find it easier to sing in English. This might sound strange,
but note that since I was a kid I was listening to rock, the blues
and some classical music. Selected Greek examples also drew my
attention to the Greek way of singing, which I find fascinating,
although difficult to follow. The vast majority of my efforts
since when I was first involved with playing music and singing
were in English. I tried to sing in Greek for the first time in
the original release of the "Sixteen Haiku". Singing
in English, is not the key to success in this country. You are
taken more seriously when you sing in your native language (I
have no objection to this, however, language and musical texture
must always talk to each other). The same time, I do not believe
that singing in English is just the key to succeed internationally.
Singing in Greek or in English to me is only driven by the music
itself. You need to listen carefully to where the music takes
you, and then you are in! If this is true, then you sound true.
YOU HAVE ALSO LIVED IN THE UNITED STATES AND ALSO HAD A BAND THERE.
HOW IS IT BEING A MUSICIAN IN GREECE IN COMPARISON TO THE UNITED
AB- I was really happy to collaborate with a few American musicians
in a Midwestern campus town in late eighties. It was a liberating
experience as I really felt as a part of the whole thing, the
guitar-driven sound, the booming bass that I was playing and the
bluesy feeling. I was happy to realize that in the States I did
not have to prove anything. My musical language was already there,
kicking and alive. This means that I felt great when I played
music in front of an American audience, as I felt great playing
in front of a Greek audience. Unfortunately, I did not have the
opportunity to live all the aspects of this, like touring, recording
and everything, because I had to return to my country. Those times
were different, though, and the musical forms I am playing now
have only few similarities with what I was playing back in those
WHAT ARE YOUR MAJOR MUSIC INFLUENCES?
AB- Syd Barrett and The Velvet Underground changed the way I was
thinking about music. Their simple song forms with a really intuitive
use of electricity hailed a storm in my ears. This was later 'justified'
in a way, with the punk/post punk movement. The absence of long
guitar solos in favour of density in expression with aggressive
lyrics/song lines fascinated the world (and me). In 1979, I happened
to watch a punk/new wave concert at the Marquee in London, and
this was almost a mystical experience. A few days later, I also
listened to the first two Pere Ubu albums, which had something
that put them straight into the musical context I was experiencing
that time (they actually had a lot, lot, more of course, which
I was discovering every time I was listening to the records).
That was it! Then came the Residents, whose first three albums
I borrowed from a friend of mine. I was becoming part of a musical
situation that was forming in Athens among a fistful of people,
far from the world's Metropolis of music. I was making my own
thoughts and deeply believed that music like this was really worth
playing. Later on, guitar-centred riffs like the one Sonic Youth
did, was once again inspiring. Finally, sequenced music, ambient,
and trance appeared to change it all once again, although this
was not really different. Actually, my attention to electronically
driven music was not sudden, as Brian Eno, Kraftwerk, The Soft
Machine and a lot more, were among my heroes. However, I find
that all these various musical influences have a strong drive
and strange simplicity in common, and this is what fascinates
WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP FOR YOU & SIGMATROPIC?
AB- Plans for the future are many. The next work with Sigmatropic
is already in the making, a number of songs are already there,
waiting to be recorded, and in some cases to be edited. There
is also some instrumental music I am working on lately, but the
plans for it are not quite clear at this point. Finally, a cd
with covers is among my next priorities.