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Tania Giannouli: 'We need beauty, today, more than ever'

Following her participation in a 10-hour long concert of collective improvisation by 15 musicians at the Nisyros Volcano, Nikos Fotakis speaks to musician Tania Giannouli

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Tania Giannouli

23 August 2016

She may live and work in Greece, but it's thanks to a record company in New Zealand that Tania Giannouli managed to get her music to travel around the world, gaining international acclaim. Which gives her a unique perspective on the notion of a national identity in a global context.

Tania Giannouli has never set foot in New Zealand. Which would not be noteworthy, unless one considers that this is the country that her music calls 'home'. Her music is a seamless blend of various elements, from classical to modern composition to jazz, creating captivating cinematic soundscapes. A couple of days ago, she participated in a very ambitious project - a 10-hour long concert of collective improvisation by 15 musicians, taking place under the August full moon, from dusk till dawn, on the most cinematic of places: the Nisyros Volcano. "I couldn't resist the offer; this is as rare an opportunity as it can get".

What comes to mind, when you think of a volcano?
Energy, from the depths of the Earth; our origins; something primal, very powerful and out of control.

Does nature play an important part in your music?
I write a couple of things about this in the booklet of 'Forest Stories', the first album I did with (New Zealand label) Rattle records. Most of us live enclosed in our micro-universe, alienated from nature, thinking there's nothing beyond our own concerns and troubles. And yet, we can find courage and comfort and wisdom by observing a tree, for instance; how it endures weather conditions, how it adapts to change brought by time, how it stands and lives without trying to prove that it is something different… These musings on life, time, the importance of finding and becoming yourself, are all part of my preoccupations as an artist.

How did you find your 'voice' as an artist?
I compose music since childhood. The form, or the language - not the core, at least, not in my case - is what evolves and transforms, as natural, as time goes bye, depending the artist's experience and life. As a musician, I like to delve into many different things. I would never want to settle in a certain style, repeating the same things over and over. So, I cannot point to a certain moment where I found my 'voice', but I hope this voice is not monotonous.

How has the journey of your album, 'Transcendence', been?
It's been over a year since 'Transcendence' was released and the whole journey, from rehearsals to recording to playing in live and the reviews that keep coming, is very exciting. I'm looking forward to our future concerts; we've already booked a few dates abroad.

How did you get to record for a label in New Zealand?
I became part of the Rattle records roster in 2012, when I submitted, 'Forest Stories' the album I did with the Portuguese horn player, Paulo Chagas. I liked the sound and aesthetics of this label and I felt that my music fits in well within its other releases. Fortunately, they thought the same.

How 'Greek' is your music?
My background is in classical music and my influences are diverse, but for the most part come from what we refer to as 'Western' music. I know very little about traditional Greek music. Despite this, the fact that I am Greek, that I live and write music in Greece, means that I carry many elements that find their way to my music and surface, unwillingly.

It is really hard for me to label my music. I believe that we need beauty, today, more than ever and that is what I try to do with my music.

What is it like, living and making art in Crisis-stricken Greece?
I don't think I'm being original, saying that things have always been difficult for artists and continue being so, even in countries that do not go through a crisis like the one that is going on in Greece. The struggle for livelihood leaves little room for art and creativity. But the worst thing in Greece today is the general sense of disappointment, verging to depression, the sense of hopelessness and that things are getting worse. Personally, I try not to succumb to these feelings and do my job as best as I can.

Who are your heroes?
The world seems to be getting more and more complex and irrational, inhuman even. My heroes are all those who still keep an open heart, who don't lose hope, who continue to see beauty and and give back beauty, who keep fighting despite adversity and disappointment, who cater to those most in need.

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