Sunday, July 21, 2013

Νot always about gardening. A discussion with composer Dionysis Boukouvalas.

                                                                                   artwork: Thalia Xenaki          

We spent the day together. As we were living on different countries last year, the opportunities for reunion were rare. We were university colleagues, him already a conscious composer. This time, he was holding his first personal CD, English Gardens. I had already explored his website and had been present at one of his concerts. We even wrote a first step music collaboration together. This time I had to ask in the form of an interview, hoping for "descriptions of thick and thin", as memories from the performance of his CD were fading away.

MF. I see that you present your CD as " improvisations for piano solo". In which ways this open  type of musical process becomes stabilized and is being documented? Is there any intermediate cerebral processing or do you record many playing hours and then choose material?

DB. These are live recordings, so stabilization comes as a consequence of the recording process. In the case of this CD, "Secret Place" is the only piece in which I applied editing to remove material, while only two pieces begin with a pre-composed theme - "Voyage to Innocence", and "Rustle of Light". But even then the development is unpredictable.

MF. Do you have in mind a specific artistic trend as a part of your personal culture, in which perhaps your improvisational results belong?

DB. There are musicians that have influenced me for sure, but I could not speak of conscious influence. If I should mention some names those would be Keith Jarrett and Wim Mertens.

MF. How much did you surprise yourself playing for the disc?

DB. No surprise. Only good moments and bad moments, just as in life. Now, both can surprise you or not, according to your psychology. We see everything within a filter. It’s not a rare occasion when we don’t like a piece at first but we change our mind while listening to it after a time.

MF. In the case of English Gardens, did you have similar moments?

DB. This particular CD was recorded in a period of five years, in different times and places, which makes it difficult to recall. Presently I am looking at the subject of surprises in a sense that if one believes in one’s self they just go on functioning, without being surprised by good results because they know they can achieve them, or feeling bad for a miss.

MF. In your concerts after the CD came out, did it happen to have new musical moments, in the context of re-interpretation and presentation of the basic themes?

DB. In order to reproduce faithfully enough an improvisation I have to transcribe it in advance, in order to follow a similar harmonic, melodic etc path. Otherwise, I move in totally different directions and do not succeed in reproducing the magic of the original moment. Because a free improvisation is exactly this: a moment. Let me make a comparison: It is as if you have lived a beautiful experience in a journey, and next year you try to repeat it, by going at the same place. It is more likely that you would have a greater time by going elsewhere. And, of course, you couldn’t control the result by scheduling. In other words, free improvisation is not free anymore if you try to control it. Only thing
Ι can do is present a “photograph” of it, thus the transcription. That way i can approach the original mood. And of course you can make new ones!

MF. Since when have you been practicing improvisation?

DB. Since I was a child. I was sitting at the piano, playing songs by ear. Doing that, I was experimenting with different things, and this leads to improvisation. Even earlier, I started composing, a process interwoven with improvisation.

MF. In what way?

DB. For me improvisation is like a real-time composition, and composition like a “frozen” improvisation.  In fact they both have to do with personal decisions. The basic difference is the dimension of ritual, that an improvisation always has, while composition usually lacks it (with the exception of composers like Jani Christou). Ritual is inherent to improvisation because the listener witnesses the birth of music itself, and not just its reproduction.

MF. Are you planning any new project?

DB. I am working on a second CD, quite diverged from the first: More "dark" in its quality and with the participation of other musicians (I decided to limit myself to various string players). Aside from that, most of the pieces will still be free improvisations (an even more risky endeavor, since this is not solo anymore).

MF. Can you mention one or two important moments so far?

DB. The release of my first CD was a watershed, reflecting the completion of a first cycle: a musical adolescence, represented in a favorite mood of mine, that of “sweet melancholy”. Apart from that, it was rewarding receiving positive comments from important musicians like Ketil Bjørnstad.

MF. So, what English Gardens means to you?

DB. I got inspired from the english type of garden which, in contrast to the french one, is free and adventurous (for me, magical). At the same time, the title functions as a symbol of free improvisation, one that comes into being from the mood of the moment, without being based on specific themes. A musical psychography, and a bet from the musician’s part.


 artwork: Thalia Xenaki  

Dionysis Boukouvalas is a composer from Zakynthos, Greece. His first personal CD, English Gardens, was released on 2011. It consists of live recordings of piano solo improvisations. One can listen to it or buy it (physical or digital copy) here:


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