Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Basil Athanasiadis - Stray Cat’s Dream

Basil Athanasiadis - Stray Cat’s Dream [Intimate post-Fukushima Meditations].
Sargasso. SCD28077. CD + Booklet.

Wabi-Sabi is a complex and hard to define Japanese principle that roughly translates as the finding of beauty, simplicity, emptiness, economy and humility in natural objects and processes. There’s a lot more to it than that but spending half this review explaining it would test both your patience and mine. Better perhaps that you go to Japan and find a small tea bowl that makes you go ‘ahh’. That’s wabi-sabi. Mrs Fisher’s a big fan. Or you could read Mr Athanasiadis’ more eloquently detailed explanation in the accompanying booklet.

Basil Athanasiadis gives himself the task of trying to capture the essence of wabi-sabi in a series of compositions that range from Cage like prepared piano works to the inclusion of traditional Japanese instruments and the voice of his Japanese wife. I’d say he’s done it such is the lightness of his touch on pieces like ‘Youki’ an eight minute composition for piano that contains clusters of delicately struck high notes and the equally light Utakata in which the 20 stringed Koto plays foil to a more traditional violin.

The first nine tracks are a series of compositions called the Book of Dreams where prepared piano and flute create atonal atmospheres of the kind heard only on late night Radio 3 programmes. This is Webern played as if Webern had lost his sturm and drang and instead found his arigato goziamsu. The edges have been softened and even me, someone with a virtually pathological hatred of the flute [Ralph Hutter in early Kraftwerk days aside] can find the stark beauty in such work.

‘Little Songs of the Geisha II’ finds Athanasiadis’s wife Shie Shoji adding her delicate voice to the sho and the violin and as you’d expect the results are an austere collection of four song/poems that lie halfway between a geisha house and one of John Tavener’s more minimalist works.

Although not mentioned by name in the press release or the lengthy booklet, John Cage looms large here as evinced on the ten minute plus title track ‘Stray Cat’s Dream’ where a slightly more lively version of Cage’s ‘In a Landscape’ stands there for all to see. Its one of my favourite pieces of Cage’s and the one you go to when you get into arguments about how Cage couldn’t play or compose. Its beauty lies in its simplicity which is of course one of the concepts of wabi-sabi.



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