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Fat Possum
16 Haiku and Other Stories
Thirsty Ear Records

Rating: 8/10 ?

October 1, 2004
I've never heard of haiku being put to music. Based on a singular moment, rather than carefully worked meter or pent-up reprises, it's probably the least rhythmical type of writing. I was skeptical to see how well it would work, this putting of haiku to music.

As daunting a task as it sounds, Sigmatropic rises to the challenge.

Working under the above moniker, Greek artist Akis Boyatzis has compiled a notable cast of musicians to contribute to his project, including Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power), Robert Wyatt, Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab and Lee Ranaldo of Sonic Youth. Each haiku is sung by a different person, yet Boyatzis keeps the music unified; this doesn't feel like a compilation. He backs the singers with sparse, metallic beats, fading and grungy guitar work, and a number of ambient beeps and blips.

Boyatzis' largest challenge seems to have been in molding each song around its haiku moment. I enjoyed reading each poem before listening to the song in order to see how well the music matched it. Some work better than others: Most tracks try to flesh out their moment with lyrical repetition, or a slight key-change. The worst moments feel overly artsy and artificial, as when the vocals of "Haiku Five" and "Haiku Thirteen" obtrusively break their ambient backgrounds. I enjoyed "Haiku Three ('In the Museum Garden')" and "Haiku Ten" the most. The evanescent guitars of the former pace through a uniquely textured background; following the vocals, the song picks up a stronger beat and becomes immediately catchy. The trancy melody of "Haiku Ten" contrasts with Cat Power's tone of voice, as she starkly punctuates the haiku's last line.

16 Haiku and Other Stories is an hour long and has 22 tracks. If you close your eyes and listen with undivided attention, you'll probably lose track of time somewhere between the third or fourth cut, not glancing at the clock again until around the eighteenth. Each song is two to three minutes long; like a haiku, once it registers, and you've wrapped your mind around it, it's over. There's a unique world of sound built into each song, which disappears as abruptly, or as subtly, as it appeared.

One song skillfully follows another, keeping the listener intrigued. "Haiku Fourteen (Sung in Greek)" has a folksy acoustic guitar that naturally leads into the next song's mid-tempo, bubblegum electronic backdrop. The switch between "Haiku Seven" and "Haiku Eight" is absolutely entrancing: both employ rhythmic, Asian-tinged guitars; the end of one is so similar to the beginning of the next, that it caught me off-guard - I initially thought the former was repeating itself.

These haiku were originally written in Greek by Nobel Laureate George Seferis. Boyatzis first adapted them to music using the original Greek; translating the poems to English was simply another obstacle to overcome. And, even in English, Boyatzis is able to adapt them to the music of Sigmatropic with grace and beauty.

Reviewed by Josh Kazman
No infro.

See other reviews by Josh Kazman



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