MARIA DO ROSÁRIO PESTANA on “PERIPLUS”
Music and Dialogue
“So Distant, so Near:
by Amélia Muge and Michales Loukovikas
Institute of Ethnomusicology – Centre of Studies on Music and Dance
● Speech at the International Colloquium “Literary Spaces and Critical Territories. Towards an Approach to Literary Space: Geopoetics and Geocriticism on Broadening the Frontiers of Knowledge”, organized by the Institute of Comparative Literature Margarida Losa (ILCML) at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Porto (June 29 to July 1, 2017).
The musical project Periplus / Luso-Hellenic Wanderings was conceived by two musicians from southern Europe: Amélia Muge, singer, composer, instrumentalist and author of countless lyrics, a reference in Portuguese music since the 1990s; and Michales Loukovikas, musician, composer, radio producer and journalist in Greece. This artistic work, materialized in a most beautiful phonogram, was presented to the Portuguese public in 2012, on the stages of Culturgest (Lisbon), Centro Cultural Vila Flor (Guimarães), or Festival Músicas do Mundo (Sines).
Periplus is an exemplary project on the role of the arts, and music in particular, in 2012 and in the 21st century: it emerged in a cultural context ruled by neoliberal “values”, values that, according to Castoriadis, orient human beings “dans un mode de socialisation où coopération et communauté ne sont considérées et n’existent que sous le point de vue instrumental et utilitaire” (“in a mode of socialization where cooperation and community are considered and exist only from an instrumental and utilitarian point of view”; Castoriadis, 1979, 36);(*) and at the peak of the economic and financial crisis that devastated and fractured Europe into North and South and relegated social life and the individuals to the periphery of public affairs.
The public’s reception of Periplus – being now a subject-matter introduced by the organizers of this congress on geopoetics and geocriticism on broadening the frontiers of knowledge – illustrates the possibility of the creative power and participation of individual musicians in the construction of Another knowledge, a sensitive knowledge open to dialogue, to sharing, based on the value of alterity, on the ethics of respect for the other.
Periplus makes us immerse in a history of circumnavigation, in a space delineated by the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, crossing territories of memories of voyages and also of domination. In the social and political context that I mentioned, this periplus introduces a new approach regarding Portugal and Greece – the ancestral sharing of music and knowledge – and proposes a new place of enunciation, giving visibility to another relational geography: the Mediterranean. In fact, the Mediterranean Coast and Sea are at the centre of music – on the ships that crossed her, departed and returned to her – a perimeter of communication and social life that breaks with the territorial and ethnic borders which define nation-states, revealing another cartography of coexistence, of connection among people, of belonging and identifying through music. Moreover, this project documents the ethnomusicologist Bruno Nettl’s argument that music expresses and interprets relationships among people, among cultures and among societies, regardless of the barriers that separate them.
The musicians Amélia Muge and Michales Loukovikas started the project on the Internet network in a process of mutual discovery, which involved the acquaintance and sharing of songs and poetry from both sides of Europe. The verification of proximity and the intersubjective commitment took place immediately in the first contacts. As Michales Loukovikas says, they started exchanging and exploring songs and poetry of the Lusitanic and Hellenic, the Portuguese and Greek traditions, past and present. In the documentary that we can watch and listen to in the web, Amélia Muge says: “what impressed me a lot was the work based on the Greek poet Ares Alexandrou’s poetry: a poetry immediately linked to space and place, done in part at the end of World War II, in [British] concentration camps in Libya, and in another part on the [Greek] islands of exile”. Space, voyage, but also time, gradually shaped the worldview that these two musicians share, culminating in Periplus.
I already mentioned that this project is exemplary. I argue that it is exemplary in that it provides an experience based on a cognitive practice of voyage, which opens up a possibility in contrast with the paradigm of the current world, critically deconstructing both the unitary views of local/ national music – a reference to the world – as well as the ‘postmodern’ relativistic views that undifferentiate musical and cultural productions.
Periplus mirrors well the dialogical, interlocutory and transformative dimension of music. For example, in “On Routes”, wandering on the pentatonic scale routes, the musicians follow trails in Africa and plan itineraries in Epirus, in a musical discourse in constant transformation. In this cartography the wayfarers’ routes are densified crossing the routes of time: the long past of conviviality among groups, of connection among people, of sharing and tension of knowledge and values.
The idea of autonomous and critical transformation appears in countless musical and visual metaphors throughout this project, deconstructing the unitary conceptions of music and culture. This idea is also represented visually on the disc, with the image of the bottom of a clay frying pan where bread was made (as a metaphor for neo-humanism?), which is part of an archaeological collection. The concentric circles, worked by the designer Cristiana Serejo, are transformed acquiring other forms, including human ones.
In “Word of Honour”, sharing the same rhythm, the musicians found a starting point and also a connection between two languages and different concepts of justice and uses of the word, to either punish or save, to grow or honour: Algarvian Anathemas, the Watering Song, the Hymn to Nemesis (the goddess who personifies destiny and also divine revenge), the Cretan dance Syrtos. The musicians intertwined these songs – so divergent in the knowledge of the world they convey – in a critical and autonomous way, enhancing the connection of a common element: the word. In this sense, we can say that the practice of these musicians – the music they made in Periplus – defined a geopoetics, in Bertrand Westphal’s meaning. I believe that this concept is central in the artistic project Periplus and that it extends to other dimensions, always critical. In his testimony, Michales Loukovikas described his surprise when he found connection points, proximities, between a Cretan song and a Portuguese song, and thenceforth he constructed a musical history of that song from the Middle Ages to our days.
The idea of bridges, of connection, extends to areas of music such as the so-called erudite music – of the first written document of music in memory, the Seikilos Epitaph – of folk music, of protest songs by Zeca Afonso, etc. This principle applies to the past/present time: the past in this musical project, as well, is not a determination that deprives these individual musicians of the freedom to construct their present and think about their future. Traditions, historical documents that testify to the voyages sung and played in this disc, are taken over in a critical and emancipated way, enunciating step by step Another past, open to sharing and intersubjective connection, breaking with both the atomization of individuals in their narcissistic egoisms, and with their reduction to masses or to stereotyped collectives. The musical project Periplus offers each one of us this critical and committed vision through an experience of cultural and musical connection, in historical relationships, in the appreciation of difference, in the horizontality of participations and open to anyone willing to listen and let oneself be mobilized.
● This text was read at the International Colloquium “Literary Spaces and Critical Territories. Towards an Approach to Literary Space: Geopoetics and Geocriticism on Broadening the Frontiers of Knowledge”, at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Porto between June 29 and July 1, 2017. I thank the Organization
of the Colloquium for the invitation to participate in the event.
(Maria do Rosário Pestana)
● See also: GIORGOS ANDREOU on “PERIPLUS”