Finally seeing the light of day this summer is a recording over two thousand years in the making. Recorded over the course of three days as part of the 2018 Tuned City festival in Μεσσήνη, Greece, BMB con.’s Μεσσήνη (Μαυρομμάτι) is a documentation of a series of performances, a record of the duo’s engagement with a specific place: the ancient city of Μεσσήνη (Messene). The city’s ruined amphitheater, crumbling walls, and surrounding mountains are the backdrop for an exploration of sound and space in which ancient architects become active and contemporary participants.
Although the track list consists of only two equal sides, the recording itself plays out through a series of “movements”, longer or shorter segments that cut or trail off into something distinctly new. Droning insects, crackling static and an echoing chant give way to the claustrophobic crunches of footsteps on gravel. Erratic, metallic pops and clangs fade abruptly into droning, sin-wave-esque interference and contact-mic’d rustlings. Although there are definitely small arcs, builds, and transitions, the overarching narrative here seems to revolve around a series of related but distinct performances separated by time and space. It’s tempting to assume that these movements present events in their proper chronological (and in this case, geographical) order, following the movement of the performers from the outlying hills to the city center. As the recording progresses, human actions and electronic sounds seem to take up more and more of the musical landscape, though hocket-ing birds and howling wolves are never too far from the surface.
Also included in BMB con.’s performance were “visual signals such as smoke and flags”, and although some of these can be seen in BMB con.’s video documentation, this aspect of their performance is almost entirely lost on the post-event listener. Also lost, of course, are the circumstances of the work’s creation, the atmosphere among the pillars of this ancient city where for three days, sound artists, musicians, researchers, and listeners came together to engage with contributions from an international cohort and to focus on the same questions: what is this city to us, today? What is this space and its sound? Although Μεσσήνη (Μαυρομμάτι) more than stands alone as sound, it is, like all good art, a resonant part of a broader conversation, one that goes beyond medium to engage with a changing world. (Peter Tracy)