Were it not for the exceptionally blissed-out looking sheep beaming from the cover of Tasos Stamou’s new album “Koura”, I’d have had no idea that the music was connected to a traditional Cretan sheep shearing custom. The liner notes explain all: “Every June, local farmers invite a group of close friends and relatives to join this full-day annual festivity dedicated to the sheep. A major feast in late evening finalizes a hard day of communal work.” Rather than a more literal, perhaps field recording-based evocation of the festival, Stamou presents multilayered recordings of solo acoustic instruments, a zither and a chord organ, along with live electronic effects.
First piece ‘Zither Drone’ starts quietly with two pitches an octave apart, both of which soon start bending subtly. The chord grows more complex, with a rapid ringing complimenting the continuous tones. By the time full volume is reached the drone is writhing with great weight and energy, topped by tinny yo-yoing wobbles and metal-on-metal hammering. The drone that develops in the second piece ‘Chord Organ Drone’ is a lot steadier and more soothing, initially relying on harmonic resonances to push it along. Later, augmented pitches in the higher registers slide in and out in an intermittent, leisurely fashion, while still providing movement and colour. After a lull, a bright, powerful wave of light surges in before giving way to a solid wave of bass.
I really enjoy listening to “Koura”. Having thought about it, I can hear how the album’s two tracks evince the clamour and slog of a hard day’s work and the relaxed celebration at the day’s end, respectively; the music captures the changing moods of its namesake festival without needing to be specific about the exact details. The character of each acoustic instrument really shines through, despite the electronic processing and the rich variety of timbres and tones created; as I type I can still hear the ringing of the zither and can see, in my mind’s eye, the yellow, dusty light of some Cretan hillside busy with heat and sweat and work.