How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Zither player Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga's Stroke by Stroke is initially intriguing for the circumstances of its recording. As Lazaridou-Chatzigoga writes in her sleeve notes, "All the recordings were made at home in Athens between June 2010 and April 2011... Ambient noise from several parallel events taking place in Greece at the time of the recording has deliberately not been removed." As the period during which the recordings were made coincided with considerable unrest and disturbances on the streets of Athens, those sleeve notes raised expectations of substantial levels of external noise, which are largely unrealized. Instead, rather than the album's drama coming from external noises, it mainly comes from music itself, music which captures the zeitgeist of the time.
The album's 12-second opening track does feature the sound of traffic noise coming in from outside, immediately obliterated by plucked notes on the zither before a jump cut to the next track, which consists of sounds that might sound electronically generated, but for the sleeve note saying "no electronic effects, overdubbing or processing were used."
Those first two tracks set the pattern for an album of 21 tracks which vary in length from 12 seconds to nearly six minutes, the majority between one and two minutes long; there are no gaps between tracks and the jumps have no obvious rhyme or reason. The soundscape of each track remains constant for its entire duration, with change only arriving with the next track.
Taken together, the tracks form a constantly-shifting sound collage, with some of the transitions presenting surprising contrasts, as when the calm wooden rustlings of "Each and Every" give way to the insistent alarm-bell clamor of "Any and All," which in turn leads onto the plucked melodious passages of "Woody Woodpecker," the track that sounds most recognizably like a zither. By comparison, the majority of tracks feature harsher, more metallic tones that are not as easy on the ear and over time can make for wearying listening. Some albums contain music so concentrated that they are best taken in small doses rather than all at one sitting; despite its considerable merits, this is one such recording.
Tellingly, the most appealing tracks here are the two longest, and also the only two where Lazaridou-Chatzigoga is joined by a second player, Michalis Kyratsous. The introduction of a second voice allows for a sense of interplay and dialogue, while the longer duration gives the sounds long enough to become soothing and mesmeric.
Track Listing: Gorgoretta; Qualla; Wolf; Clinkers; Atonement; Intermittent; To Detach Oneself; Unicorn; Emergency; Each and Every; Any and All; Woody Woodpecker; Parasite; Insect; Operators; Torrent; Dorodango; Reattach Oneself; The Instance; Common Ground; Sleep Talk.
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