A futuristic journey with Yannis Markopoulos

A futuristic journey with Yannis Markopoulos

Childhood drawings done by his son, a manga-style video by French multidisciplinary creative collective Sagans, a collage of global protests and movements inside the head of Yannis Markopoulos, five women from Africa dancing in slow motion: These are the images the celebrated Greek composer’s songs evoked for photographer Christos Sarris, head of the creative department at the Onassis Cultural Center and director of “Beyond the Sea.” The musical, running at the cultural center from February 1 to 5, is a tale about a journey through space and time, from West to East, and from the beginning of the world to the future – a future he hopes will not be dystopian.

“I would like an optimistic close to the show,” says Sarris as we talk about the work he is doing on the project. An experienced hand at directing after working on a series of short and medium-length films on music, as well as on the Onassis’ Stages A/Live music video series, Sarris demonstrates the intrinsic link between sound and image in his work. “I can’t edit a film if there’s no music,” he says.

A science-fiction buff and fan of Jack Kerouac and Cormac McCarthy, he is inspired here by the deceptively childlike paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, ceremonial African dances and the issues plaguing the modern world in order to endow a composer who is widely associated with 1960s Greece and the Metapolitefsi (the period which followed the fall of the junta in 1974) with a futuristic quality.

‘I heard trip-hop, gospel and traditional Epirote music emerging from this new audial landscape’

How can Markopoulos’ songs resonate with younger and, even more so, with future generations?

“First of all, I believe that Markopoulos’ music was already far ahead of its time back when it was written,” Sarris says of the octogenarian composer, pointing to the remarkable theme tune he wrote in 1976 for the BBC series “Who Pays the Ferryman?” which drew from the sounds of traditional Greek music.

“The lyrics of many of his songs are heart-wrenching and, unfortunately, still very contemporary. Take ‘Talking About My Children Makes Me Sweat,’ for example, which is about migration. The language he uses in his songs is also precious,” adds Sarris.

The show is centered around 12 of the composer’s most popular songs, selected by songwriter Pavlos Pavlidis, who also enhanced them with electronic and synth sounds, loops and polyphonic singing, without, however, masking their essential identity.

“I heard these particular pieces for the first time one night at Pavlidis’ studio in Kypseli before the final version. I immediately told him that they simply ‘screamed’ of imagery. I heard trip-hop, gospel and traditional Epirote music emerging from this new audial landscape. In the live performances on stage, these genres rub shoulders with psychedelia and there’s constant improvisation. Pavlos and I agreed that we would not be making a soundtrack for ‘Beyond the Sea,’ nor would we visualize the lyrics, but we would create a story that unfolds in parallel to the music. The staging and the lighting are part of that same narrative,” explains Sarris.

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