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Christina Vantzou - There is always a deep feeling inside that tells me ‘this is ok, I can do this’, I always follow that feeling to start new projects Aanbevolen

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Christina Vantzou - There is always a deep feeling inside that tells me ‘this is ok, I can do this’, I always follow that feeling to start new projects

BRDCST is a music festival par excellence and BRDCST returned to the AB in April 2022 with a selection of bands of all kinds and different musical styles—a great place to encounter a variety of artists and musical approaches.  One of these encounters was the Greek-American composer and filmmaker Christina Vantzou, who lives in Brussels.  She is surrounded by multi-instrumentalists, excellent musicians, and a singer who, through her operatic voice, radiates pure emotion. The bass clarinet, bass flute and cello are combined with finely crafted, gentle electronic soundscapes.   An excerpt from a review of this performance reads: ’’Christina Vantzou and the ensemble make you dream away along an alien and beautiful road, which has a calming influence on your mood. Despite the rather intimate setting, with ambient elements, the instrumentation as well as the vocals sound powerful enough.''
The full review you can read here: https://www.musiczine.net/nl/festivals/item/85898-brdcst-2022-dag-2-de-kunst-van-het-experimenteren-uit-de-doeken-doen 

Following this performance, we had a nice conversation with Christina about past, present and future plans. We also asked her how she experienced this performance herself, and how’s she’s survived the COVID period. We asked her about working with Mark Linkous, and how it changed her.  She also tell us about her life in Brussels…

How it all started, for our readers who don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
I’m half  Greek, half American. I moved to Brussels 2003 after finishing art school in Baltimore. I entered the realm of music more as a fan; I was always a deep listener but I didn’t start working on music until later in life…

You moved from US to Brussels? A big step.. why Brussels?
My father is Greek and there was the possibility with the European Union, to move to Europe. Belgium happened by chance, almost an accident. There was a airplane needing to stop in Brussels unexpectedly on the way to Athens.  Based on that first connection in Brussels, I decided to move there;  You could say it was almost like invisible forces brought me there.

How does it feel to live in Belgium?
We have a very nice music community in Belgium, in Antwerp I have a lot friends and there are so many inspired and inspiring things going on.  I mean that sincerely.  All the arts are supported, but defiantly music has a place in Belgium.  Take Meakusma Festival for example.  

You first become known as one-half of the audio-visual duo The Dead Texan, Is this project still exist can you tell more about it? I found only one record ? Or did I miss something?
We stopped after that one record. We did some touring in Europe and wanted to give a follow up record a try, but all activities stopped 10 years ago now.  

What I like is that you have some albums out and call them number 1,2,3 and number 4 – no. 4 was released in 2018 – Is there a connection between them? Something like a through line? 
I thought in series from the outset, the idea to go from number to number until 9.  This approach involves a future timeline that I don’t know yet. A kind of deep trust is formed with oneself.  From 1 to 9  felt like an assigned mission, or something like that. You never know.  But, after 4 is out, at least I can rest assured that next is 5 (probably).. A kind of support system is built in that way if that makes sense?  

Your last album ‘Multi Natural’ is not number 5 then? 
The numbered albums are altogether available on Kranky, and ‘Multi Natural’ is something released by a very nice Antwerp label, Edições CN, A friend’s label actually (Lieven Martens). He ask me if I wanted to be a part of another kind of series. This series of  records loosely revolves around the theme of ‘the traveling artist’, and recording / documenting in some way.  We started that in 2018; I was doing a lot traveling in that period. That record became a very natural  process. I had the chance to go to a lot of amazing places in the world, often with family or my partner, John Also Bennett.  We brought a simple zoom field recorder with us.  Sometimes it was a journey through places I’d never been before to.  Multi-Natural stems from this traveling energy.  I also traveled through the archives of previous recording sessions.  Minna Choi, for example, is head on track one conducting a string quartet.  She arranged, orchestrated and conducted albums No. 1 and 2 and co-wrote a track on No. 3.

You also have a project ‘CV & JAB (Christina Vantzou And John Also Bennett)’ Can you tell more about this project?
 ‘CV & JAB’ have released two records released, and we’re working on a third.  John plays piano, flute and electronics.  I play keyboard and electronics. Our styles combine very nicely. We use a lot of field recordings from our travels in this project.  We try to make recording quick and efficient, without too much slog.   We both like improvising and are open to such things. There is a chemistry between us that is inspiring and we’ll continue. 

Many collaborations have included performing with Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) – who unfrankly passed away too early in 2010 - how was it working with Mark Linkous? 
Mark was a huge inspiration to me. I credit him for sparking, (sparkling) something inside me.  Before meeting Mark I’d been involved with music for many years, but didn’t yet feel like I could make an album.  That changed after I meet Mark. Everything about him represented an approach to music I hadn’t yet considered, but that I could easily relate too.    With Mark, some magic was always present.  Although deep in his process, he was very gentle working with me.  A super intuitive person; his world was so beautiful and inspirational.  It was paramount to have this experience with him.  After his passing away, I’ve felt he’s there.  Continuing to watch over me from somewhere. 

You are a busy artist. How do you keep up with all your projects and collaborations?
Starting on a project can be a long term commitment.  It can take a year, two years, or more to release an album. You find yourself going through a labyrinth, coordinating and making arrangements. It can be troubled and traumatic at times.  Those kinds of intense collaborations, for me, are best if they start very naturally.  I travel a lot, thanks to music and family.  I try to do my best to make time for multiple collaborations.  It’s nice to have this chemistry, to work on sound together. Sharing, or some kind of gathering and playing is essential to music.  Experiencing multiple perspectives is also key.  There is always a deep feeling inside that tells me ‘this is ok, I can do this’, I always follow that feeling inside to start new projects.   I listen to that feeling  and  if the feeling is good I’m doing it.  This might look strange from the outside.  And there’s often a change of heart while trying many many possibilities out.  In music, following the heart is the best practice.

Next to all the things you do, you are also creating surreal videos/abstract films and performing with ensembles across 4 continents. I’m very interested in the visual part, can you tell us more about that?
In my Art school days I got into video, and the making of films. The film making practice goes back to those days and holding onto a fantasy of working with film as a medium.   Music and Image are a happy couple.  There are so many parallels when I think about cutting film and cutting sound.   There’s a value system to both too, and it’s interesting to me.    I try to generate an equal equation between both.  With every album I try to keep that practice alive. 

Are there other projects you’re busy with right now?
Yes, there’s a collaboration with Félicia Atkinson.  She lived in Brussels many years ago so we’ve know each other a long time.  She is also a visual artist working with sound. Or a sound artist working between several mediums.  We’ve made some recordings and have performed twice together, once at Commend in NYC and once at the Paris Philharmonie.  We’ll continue working together, with voice, acoustic instruments and electronics—it’s a project I’m really excited about.  I also made a contribution to a Dopplereffekt single from their last full length album ‘Neurotelepathy’. And the next release that I’m a part of is with pianist Michael Harrison and John Also Bennett, coming out on September 3rd on Canadian label, Séance Centre. 

I saw you live at BRDCST in Brussels, extraordinary performance that was;  What struck me, apart from your visual performance, you are surrounded with multi-instrumentalists, top musicians and a singer who radiates pure emotion through her penetrating operatic voice. Where did you find them, how did this cooperation come about? the magic seems to work between you all so well…? 
I was very lucky to be with such a lovely group on stage.  JAB was on there - he played bass flute / juno / modular synths / piano.   Ben Bertrand was on stage, playing bass clarinet.  Ezra Fieremans playing piano is a good friend. There was also Gent-based cellist Vincent Werbrouck. Androula Kafa is the singer. Androula and I had only meet a few weeks before the concert!  It had been decided that the lineup was going to be a five-piece.  But with musicians precarious, busy schedules there’s always a question of who is available.     The concert was approaching and Androula literally popped up.  A friend helped connect us while I was in Cyprus for an extended stay after a performance.  And it click between us. I agree about her voice. It’s got something that you can’t quite describe with words.   

As the review of the performance stated: “The performance makes me dream away along an alien and beautiful road, which has a calming influence on our minds. Despite the rather intimate setting, with ambient elements, the instrumentation as well as the vocals sound powerful enough to blow us away as well.” I find that very remarkable. was that a conscious choice to work this way?
That’s really positive feedback, so glad you felt it this way.  I really believe in the suggestive power of sound and sound’s ability to work on the imagination of those who listen to it.  I truly believe in that power. Without visuals, you can dream away, the power is so strong.    It’s not a conscious choice.  It’s not like we follow a formula and then get that power. It’s more natural. Multi Natural haha.   It’s something in a performances that people have been doing for ages.  In the ancient world, all over the world, people used sound as a form of contact.  For practical purposes and mystical ones: traveling families, trade, a culture’s means of communication. It’s fascinating.  It’s something I really want in the performances.

How did you experience the concert in Brussels yourself, and how where the reactions?
It was very exciting, and also a strange and beautiful situation.  Since COVID, it was the first festival and the first ensemble performance.   There was a long period prior where we did not know when we could do this again.  It was nice that BRDCST could be the meet up.   We got some good reviews from friends and things about the performance. FUJI|||||||||||TA just before us was amazing.   

I also have some COVID questions. After that COVID time (it’s not over yet, but it  gets better) it must be a blast to be back on stage… how did it feel to go back on stage after long time?
It felt good to be with a group on stage, to work through soundcheck again, enter the venue again, to rehearse together.   The rehearsal was kind of the highlight for me - we did this at Les Ateliers Claus.

Next to all plans we talk about, you said there going to be No. 5, when?
Not sure yet, it’s still in production, but we working on it! 

You have come a very long way, and clearly left your musical and cinematic mark. After all these years, are there still ambitions or goals you want to achieve? And which ones?

Yes, I feel that with the music I’m still finding new paths, again and again. Still finding a way in the world around me, getting inspired by everything around.  My ambition is to keep doing this, renew myself time and time again.   I’m always researching new possibilities, in this lifetime, and any otherlife times. (haha)

Pics homepag @Megan Bruinen

Can you put some links to your website and projects, where people can find you? Thanks for this nice interview


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