Kristia Michael: “I am fascinated by the ritualistic aspect of art and music”

Cypriot-Dutch singer Kristia Michael will perform various pieces during Festival Dag in de Branding on June 17. During this recital, she sings not only music by the medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen but also pieces written especially for her, including by Yannis Kyriakides, who also has his roots in Cyprus. Kristia: “I am fascinated by the ritualistic aspect of art and music, a connection which spans all ages of human history.

With Beat Furrer is in love with Hildegard you present a diverse programme with old and new works. What fascinates you about this combination?
Beat Furrer is in love with Hildegard aims to reinterpret 21st-century music by drawing inspiration from ancient ritual aesthetics. The voices of my work ÆR and the Gregorian chant O rubor sanguinis (“O red of blood”) composed by the mystic abbess Hildegard von Bingen, introduce us to a ceremony where sounds and voice function as the main transcendental elements. Unknown by Samir TimajChi, in which piece I sing through a gas mask, symbolises the contemporary effort to sacrifice human vulnerability. Yannis Kyriakides’ Now we send you this message is inspired by medieval music and the history of Cyprus. Andys Skordis’ SHE…NEN is a ritual which explores rites of passage and states of trance by employing vocal techniques influenced by Byzantine hymns, Gregorian chants, and Mongolian singing and ceremonies. Beat Furrer’s Lotòfagos concludes the search for transcendence and catharsis by alluding to the companions of Odysseus who ate lotus in order to lose their memories.

I am fascinated by the ritualistic aspect of art and music, a connection which spans all ages of human history. By combining elements and experiences of early music, folk traditions and contemporary practices — my voice being the main conduit for all these — I feel like I am on a path of liberation of human egocentrism, leading me to light and spiritual ecstasy.

This program was first performed two years ago in the historical building of Dom Radio in St. Petersburg, last year in the bicycle cellar of Amare and now in the basement of the Nieuwe Kerk. Why do you choose these types of locations?
I am always searching for spaces in which we, both the audience and myself, can have an immersive experience of sound and space-time. I believe that the combination of acoustic and aesthetic elements of a location contributes to attaining specific states of mind and consciousness. Ancient ceremonies are linked to temples, medieval music to Gothic cathedrals. What are the contemporary places of worship? Abandoned buildings, factories, parking lots, basements?

Composer Yannis Kyriakides wrote the piece Now we send you this message especially for you. What is it about and how did this collaboration come about?
Two years ago, while doing my “New Audiences and Innovative Practice” Master’s study, I was invited to perform with soloists from MusicAeterna orchestra. I asked Yannis Kyriakides, with whom I studied, if I could perform one of his works. After some discussion, he kindly decided to compose a new piece for me. We have been collaborating ever since. Now we send you this message reflects the island’s painful history, always vulnerable to wars, occupation and corruption, mostly due to its strategic location in the Mediterranean Sea. 

You wear a gas mask during Samir Timaj Chi’s piece. What is that like for you and how does it affect your singing technique?
The voice expresses sensations of drowning and anguish by heavy breathing, screams and wailings. My breath and vision become distorted and uncomfortable through the small holes of the mask and I feel the plastic tightly surrounding my face while performing. It becomes difficult to properly project vocal sounds and keep control of my body and breath. At the same time, this piece demands a kind of physical transcendence, which I find really interesting as part of a performer’s path and evolution.

On the programme, there is also a piece you wrote yourself. Can you tell us something about that and your own works?
Composition came into my life due to a curiosity and need to explore my perception of sound in time and space. My compositional work mainly includes vocal music, multimedia art and multichannel sound installations. ÆR comes from the ancient Greek ᾱ̓ήρ meaning air, space or wind, and is an installation for five speakers. This work consists of a structured spectrum of pitches sung by my voice which are spread in order to be diluted or concentrated in space. I am interested in creating a setting where layers of the same voice create a homogenous sound environment that resonates with the listeners from different points in space.

Want to see this concert? Come to Beat Furrer is in love with Hildegard at de Nieuwe Kerk on June 17 at 3:30 PM. Buy tickets here.

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