I get an invitation to create a musical work for an exhibition. With limited time, I revisit an old unfinished project to salvage whatever I can.
In 2019, I was invited to participate in an exhibition based on the works of the late Cypriot artist Ayhan Menteş. This kind of commission always intrigues me as there usually is room for creative freedom – which is always welcome. I was not informed of Menteş’ works before this invitation, and discovering a treasure trove of seemingly little-known works by a local artist was intriguing. Before I knew it, I was deeply absorbed by his choice of colours, recurring figures and the general look of simplicity of the works.
Taking inspiration from a painting is hardly a thing of the 21st century. It is well-documented how the great French composer of the late 19th century, Claude Debussy, was inspired by the impressionistic paintings of his time. Conversely, the painters and poets of the time were inspired by the music of Debussy, too. So, after all, I was not breaking new ground here.
This was not my first attempt to present musical material at an exhibition, and they all had one particular challenge. I wanted to make music that seamlessly went along with the paintings but never drew attention to itself, which is risky as the audience can perceive it as background music. What about the acoustics of the hall? Also, while trying to be subtle, the sound can be easily drowned by the crowds. While contemplating all these technicalities, I realized that there was not enough time for me to complete the music for the opening. It was a time when I was fully occupied with preparing for my doctoral viva. Anyone with a PhD could relate to the agony of the final months of writing up and preparing for its ultimate test.
March 2020, on a sunny day in London, my viva finally happened, and I was walking down the beautiful streets of Bloomsbury with mixed feelings. I always get mixed feelings in London, but this time it was different. March 2020! By a trick of fate, my plane was the last to land in Cyprus before the official announcement of the island-wide lockdown. Long story short, the exhibition in question was cancelled, and now it was not me who could not meet the deadline!
The exhibition finally happened when the lockdown eased. However, I was too removed from the project then, so I thought it would be best to let this one go. Fast-forward to 2023, the same exhibition was scheduled at a different venue. This time, at the European Mediterranean Art Association (EMAA) in Nicosia, Cyprus. Again, I was asked whether I would like to participate, and I accepted. With only a week left, I quickly signed up for a leave of absence from work and opened up project files from three years ago to salvage whatever I could. It is amazing how the absence of time counterintuitively be an asset. There was simply no time for drowning in choice. Paralysis of choice is a real threat for creatives, but not when there is a deadline. I have tried it before; arbitrary deadlines do not work as effectively as the real ones.
You can listen to the music with this link, and finally, here is the text I prepared for the label at the exhibition:
Taking its inspiration from the works of Ayhan Menteş, Three Sketches in Aquamarine is an ambient soundscape with broad sound brushes and washed-out tone colours. While the slow-moving music may depict the pace of an islander, the overarching sense one is never too far away from the seaside can be felt with the manipulated recordings of waves – recorded from actual locations throughout Cyprus. Small cells of interconnected melodic ideas are scattered throughout the work, creating a sense of unity amidst the fragmented nature of the whole. This is the essence of Menteş’s work as understood by this artist, and it is this aspect the music attempts to capture.