Ahead of the Metapraxis Ensemble performance at IKLECTIK Tuesday 7th November, composer Gregory Emfietzis talks about his musical staging of the Sisyphus myth.
Q. Metapraxis Ensemble are staging your Sisyphus Distressing on the birthday anniversary of French philosopher Albert Camus, who wrote the absurdist essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe. Tell me about the essay and why you wanted to create a work based on it.
Most of us will know the myth of Sisyphus and the hideous – according to Camus – punishment of rolling a rock up to the top of a mountain, only to have the rock roll back down to the bottom every time he reaches the top. When Camus looks at the myth, cruelty (explored in the first part of this project, Sisyphus Victimised), meaningfulness and struggle (the subject of Sisyphus Distressing) and some sort of ‘fulfilment’ (for the future part of this trilogy) become the main topics of conversation. I cannot imagine a better conceptual background for a performance piece, nor one which matches so perfectly the modern reality of absurd political choices/decisions which affects people all over the world, forcing individuals and societies to turn against each other, to make decisions against their will, against their own existence. Gods punished Sisyphus to struggle in eternity. Is this our fate too?
Q. What can the audience at the 7th November performance expect to hear and see?
On 7th November (Camus’s birthday anniversary) IKLECTIK becomes our… ‘mountain’. 7 musicians of the Metapraxis Ensemble will keep trying to roll their ‘rocks’ up, while falling back to the bottom will become both more and more desirable and painfully enjoyable. 7 absurd stories of struggle, of pursuit for freedom, of attempts to revolt against oppression. An unprecedented quest for an ending – good or bad.
On a more pragmatic level, Sisyphus Distressing combines an experimental sonic environment with fragments of theatre, video, narration and an element of dance. IKLECTIK has been ideal in supporting us with bringing the audience closer to the performers, placing them in unconventional places, switching their points of interests between different parts of the venue, and generating a continuous flow of energy between the various ‘stages’ we have created.
Q. Theatrical musical performance is integral to this work and central to your practice. What attracts you to it as a medium?
Part of it may be to do with the theatrical traditions of the region I grew up in, another part with the way I was introduced to various musical/performative ideas as a student. What I know for sure is that at a certain age I could hardly imagine theatre and music existing on their own (and in certain ways I still hold on to this approach). Every musical performance contains some drama (even when not directly implied by the title or the content of the composition) and every theatre performance has a rhythm and a melodic flow. In my compositional process sound and drama are always combined. In addition I have always been fascinated with narratives and the internal hidden connections between events, sounds and gestures. The theatrical medium is usually the ‘external factor/attractor’ which carries the narrative forward. And so the scores often develop into something comprising elements of a theatrical play, a spatial or instrumental theatre composition and a strictly musical work.
Q. Given the staging aspects of your work, what advice would you give to musicians interested in performing them, but unaccustomed to such theatricality?
Instructions are in most cases an exaggeration of a gesture, movement or expression that relates to the unfolding story that each composition serves. Rather than an additional element, it works as a natural extension of mental and/or physical action that supports the musical playing/singing. I encourage musicians to approach these extra-musical indications through their own musical skills and experiences. They exist to assist them with engaging with the audience in new ways!