Filippos Raskovic & the Krama Festival

Interviews 03.11.2021

On the occasion of the dossier dedicated to the contemporary music scene in Athens, the composer Filippos Raskovic talks about his career and his international piano practice, as well as his collaboration with the sculptor Dimitris Tampakis. And above all, he discusses the collegiate creation of the Krama festival: a transversal festival, which links free improvisation, contemporary classical and experimental electro, and whose second edition was held at the KEIV space in September 2021. 

Tristan Bera : How did you become a composer?
Filippos Raskovic: I don't remember why I became a composer. I started with the piano and I really liked to make my own music, it just started. I played in post-metal, hardcore punk, post-rock and free improvisation bands before I discovered my passion for composition. Being in bands has greatly influenced the way I make music. 

How would you compare teaching in Athens and at the Royal Academy in London? What were you looking for in London?
I don't think it is fair or logical to compare education by geographical location, city or country. I moved to London to live in a megacity that has access to art, music and cultures from all over the world, to be able to attend cultural events that I would never have been able to attend elsewhere, but also to make friendships, meet people from different countries and rub shoulders with the very intense pace of the city. Of course, at the Royal Academy I was lucky enough to meet some incredible fellow musicians to write for or play with, I was able to attend masterclasses and seminars by great composers and I had access to all the resources of the Academy. It was especially my meeting with Professor Rubens Askenar, who became a friend, that completely changed my approach to music in general. However, in Athens I met and played with some great musicians and also had some amazing teachers, such as Fergus Currie and Christine Tokatlian. I had the opportunity to play in many bands and venues, and this contact I had with the scene in Athens is something unique. Here you decide to play on Monday and you are on stage on Saturday.

What are your major influences in terms of genres, composers or types of performance?
I find this question difficult to answer because I find that my influences are constantly changing. I remember being deeply moved the first time I heard the music of Gérard Grisey. Likewise with Salvatore Sciarrino and Carola Bauckholt. I admire Tim Hecker, and at the moment I am listening a lot to the music of Christian Wallumrød and Yiannis Kyriakides. Finally, I love Craig Tabborn's piano improvisations. 

How would you describe the situation of the Athenian scene in both contemporary classical music and experimental music? Do you have any memories of memorable concerts, for example, that have left an impression on you? How has this scene evolved since you became interested in these musics, in terms of venues, concerts or audiences?
The music scene in Athens, and Greece as a whole, is unique and very powerful. It ranges from punk and metal to electronic and contemporary music and, of course, the wide variety of traditional Greek music. All of these genres are available on many platforms and in a multitude of venues and spaces. As far as experimental music is concerned, what is incredible is that in one night in Athens you can attend three or four different types of concerts in places like Chimeras, Underflow (venue and label) or the Embros Theatre.
The contemporary classical music scene is growing, as most classical musicians (at least of my generation) have studied abroad and are now coming back and creating ensembles. However, in my experience, the contemporary classical scene is still small and funded only by institutions. It does not have the same scale as in other European cities, because it has not yet found its place in more independent and accessible spaces. I have the impression, however, that it is getting better and better every year.

What differences do you make between contemporary classical music and experimental music? Are these categories still valid? Do they matter to you or do they merge into your general practice?
Hmm, I'm not a musicologist but I'll do my best to differentiate between them. Contemporary classical music is an umbrella term that refers to music that has been written since the early 20th century and refers to music that perpetuates the classical canon. Experimental music is, in this sense, similar, but it is more generalist and does not refer only to classical music or to a specific period. Contemporary music and experimental music share grey areas, and often something can be part of both. Both terms are still valid and retain their importance. They are useful and used by academics, musicologists, curators and festival organisers. But I do not intentionally identify with this distinction and these terms do not affect my creative process.

Can you tell me about the way you compose? Does the practice of improvisation influence your composition? Do you usually work according to specific themes?
My way of working changes from one piece to the next and has also been modified, project after project, by contact with artists from the applied arts. Improvisation is a very important and powerful tool for me, as is meeting musicians in workshops, where I will record our improvisations. I also use electroacoustic processes in my music, and I also compose acousmatic pieces. The computer is an indispensable ally in my compositional process. In my compositions, I rarely work on a specific theme. However, during my close collaboration with the sculptor Dimitris TampakisHowever, in my close collaboration with the sculptor, I have explored the interaction of sound with the resonant body of the sculptures.
The practice of composition and improvisation are, for me, linked and I fluctuate between the two. When I improvise, I concentrate mainly on my instrument, the piano. But the skills required to improvise help and influence my compositions. Conversely, compositional thinking is always present in my improvisations, or so I feel.

Could you explain how your collaboration with Dimitris Tampakis started and on what basis it crystallized? How do you operate your dialogue between visual arts and music? Does this dialogue refer to certain historical collaborations between composers and visual artists? Is transversality necessary for contemporary classical music to be understood more widely?
We met for a drink and he showed me the prototypes of some of the sculptures he was making. He explained to me that he intended them to be loudspeakers, resonant bodies. He envisaged that they could be used instead of a normal loudspeaker. I fell in love with both his work and this idea and we talked about the possibilities all night. The piece is called Echo Chambers and was developed during our residency at Fuga in Spain. The work with Dimitris is very natural and organic. Echo Chambers is the first of many pieces. We are looking to create a dialogue through the interaction of sound, its distortion and amplification, through sculptures in different places and contexts. We are looking forward to developing our next ideas. Although we have historical references, particularly with other sound sculptures (for example, we have been fascinated by acoustic mirrors, a passive device used to reflect and focus sound waves), we do not make direct references to any historical collaboration or piece.
Cross-cutting can both help and hinder the communication of music. [It's a question of balance.] 


Can you tell me more about your residence in Fuga, Spain? What did you find there?
Working in Fuga, at the Etopia Centre for Art and Technology, was an incredible experience. It's magical to be in a working space to focus on one work and nothing else. We also had access to all the tools and resources that Fuga had to offer and all the support from the team there. We met some exceptional people and artists. It was a chance for Dimitris and I to create our first work in these conditions. 

Did the different confinements have an impact on your work? How did you experience the absence of a stage during the pandemic?
During the first lockdown, I was submitting my Master's degree so I didn't feel the void in terms of work (laughs). During the second lockdown, I felt I had a lot of time to develop some technical skills that I was missing. I was affected by the lack of gigs and by the end of the period I was getting more and more hungry to play live or attend performances again.
The real blow was having to cancel the 2020 edition of the Krama festival which would have been held in Communitism. However, we managed to adapt it into a sound installation within a three-day exhibition in collaboration with UN P R 18T (Un.Processed Realities)

The Krama Festival

In the Krama festival you manage to bridge the gap between contemporary classical music and experimental music. Can you explain how the idea for the festival came about and how it was implemented? What was your project? Was it difficult to implement it financially or in accordance with the health measures due to covid19?
Krama is a music festival that aims to present a new vision of the Athenian independent music scene, bringing together improvised music with experimental electronics and contemporary classical. To this end, Krama invites musical groups from different backgrounds to perform and explore their commonalities through an alternative aesthetic discourse. Krama activates new resonances between independent artists and bands from Greece and Europe. The team is formed by Agelos Pascalidis / Agatha, Niki-Danai Chania, Thodoris Triantafillou and myself.
For a long time I have been following the flourishing music scene in Athens, which includes a wide variety of artists. I have, however, noticed that most of these music scenes do not merge or connect, including through social networks. In addition, contemporary classical music was really missing from the independent music scene and venues. For a long time, the idea of Krama - to bring together electronic, free improvisation and especially contemporary classical music in one festival - has been floating around in my mind and has gradually become a reality. The ambition of the festival is to invite artists, speakers, ensembles and musicians from Europe to join the Greek scene and to commission them. So in 2019 I contacted Agelos Pascalidis and together we approached Don Stavrinos (the founder of Studio Ennia) to organise the first edition of the festival at the Embros Theatre and bring Echéa Quartet from London. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 edition has been adjusted. Nevertheless, as part of the sound installation in collaboration with UN P R 18T (Un.Processed Realities), Krama was able to invite composers, music producers, instrumentalists and bands to contribute and produce pieces, many of which were created specifically for the occasion.

How did you collectively select the line-up? Could you mention two participants, for example? I personally attended NatCase's performance of books on nihilism at KEIV. Maybe you can give some details.
The selection and programming is done by the whole team and, in the spirit of the festival, the process is democratic. We decide on the number of artists per genre and find the artists and bands that complete the set. I can mention two participants from the last edition, one from the electro scene and the other from free improvisation. 

NatCase (born in Athens) is an electronic music producer and DJ. She creates underground club music hybridized with lo-fi aesthetics, dynamic drums, synthesized neo-tribal and chord-based sound components. Her personality developed slowly and gradually: after studying piano, keyboards and drums, she became obsessed with listening to punk rock and related genres, then psycho-acoustically plugged into electronic music and became fascinated with dance culture. Her artistic expression resonates with the plight of the oppressed, the difficulties of achieving equality and the agony of social balance. After her participation in the opening act of the famous Greek punk band Γενιά του Χάους (Chaos Generation) in April 2009, she started to focus on DJing. Currently, she produces and presents a series of radio shows: NatCase Ritual . In 2016, she started producing her own music and self-released three EPs: '9-5', 'Fe', followed by 'Se|foo|', a series completed after a training in electronic composition at CMRC (KSYME) followed in 2017-2018. Since then, she regularly presents her music live and has been featured in the compilations of Greek labels Nutty Wombat and Trial &Error.

Ramdat is a trio of guitar, saxophone and drums, influenced by a wide variety of genres, including noise rock and free jazz, which formed in the spring of 2016. A year later they began performing as a quartet with the addition of keyboards, which has broadened their sound, and now play either as a trio or a quartet. Ramdat has released four records, the latest of which was FrimFall in January 2021 and is currently working on a forthcoming release. The ensemble's aim is to create a stimulating musical experience in each of their performances, through a focused, in-the-moment improvisational process, without genre barriers and with a non-conformist attitude. 

I would also like to add the names of Panos Alexiadis and Veronica Moser

What are you working on at the moment? Do you have a desire for another collaborative experience, with a medium other than sculpture for example? What is your ideal project or festival?
I have recently completed a collaboration with UN P R 18T (Un.Processed Realities) for an exhibition at the Centrum in Berlin, entitled "Post European Rage Room" and I have just played piano improvisation sets at the Monopiano festival in Flynkigen in October. I am also writing a piece for double bass and large recorder for Giorgos Kokkinaris and Sylvia Hinz which will be performed at the Music Bridge festival organised by Stegi Onassis. Finally, I hope to release some previously recorded pieces and improvisations soon. I don't have an ideal project or festival in mind... There are so many ideas I would like to explore! New ideas and exciting dreams always happen eventually!

How do you see the present and future of the music scene in Athens? Are there any Athens-based contemporary music sensations or initiatives that you would like to share? What would the scene need to develop?
There are more and more ensembles appearing in Greece and doing a fantastic job of organising wonderful concerts, seminars and master classes. The interest of the younger generation in the study of contemporary music is growing, but I think there is clearly a lack of platforms and programmes to satisfy this curiosity and new interest. And what I think is needed in Athens is, in a way, for this new passion for music making and performance to find a home, so that young musicians can be nurtured and this community can grow. I don't know if this is the best way and I certainly don't have the answer!

Tristan Bera in Athens.

Photo © Ilme Vysniauskaite