Name: Daphne Xanthopoulou aka Daphne X
Occupation: Composer, sound artist
Current Release: Daphne X has two new releases coming up. First, there's the quasi-concept-album The Dissolution of Eva on Exiles. There will also be a new cassette edition on Bezirk Tapes scheduled for August 2021.
Recommendations: Book: Brandon LaBelle’s "Sonic Agency: Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance". A mind blowing, profound analytical gem of poetic activism that puts theory in the service of the community.
Music: Izabela Dłużyk is an amazing Polish field recordist, who happens to also be blind. I learned about her from Blazej. Her bird recordings are a testimony of sonic sensitivity, receptivity and exploration. I especially like Echa Krainy Żubra - Odgłosy Puszczy Białowieskiej, bird recordings from the heart of Białowiesa forest, Europe’s oldest primeval forest that is constantly being threatened by the obscure exctractivistic interests of the foresting industry backed up by the state.
If you enjoyed this interview with Daphne X, visit her official website for more information. She is also on bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Instagram.
[Daphne X: The Dissolution of Eva. Artwork by Joanna Dyba / Typography by Adrienn Császár / Photo by Błażej Kotowski.]
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My first awareness of sonic imagery goes back to when I was tiny. I think maybe I was 3 years old, because I recall myself with very short hair. Around this time our sense of self emerges and I remember distinguishing for the first time the inner from the outer world when I noticed a humming melody in my mind and my power to manipulate it as I wished. I remember sitting at the piano and pulling this melody out of my body and into the room, and later onto tapes guided by my father. It was a game and a solitary pass-time, because I was quite lonely as a kid.
I lost this thread in my teenage years and I came back to it right after finishing high school, when I broke free from home. During my Bachelor’s I joined a band and discovered part of the Athenian underground scene, but I was neither comfortable with performing other people’s music nor confident enough to take the lead, so I took distance from that and started producing on my own. Soon after I fled away from the crisis-stricken Greek depression and landed in Berlin.
For a long time I was petrified by the idea of performing in front of an audience and music making was an intimate playground for me, a secret that I would only share with very few dear creatures.
It took me a long way until I felt like my music is a bridge with the world, that helps me be a reference and connect with others, that sharing one’s music can be the equivalent of a gift, that sound does not belong to me and should not be accumulated, and until I figured that artistic practice does not have to be solitary, but part of a collective process that helps us access, make sense of and create common worlds ...
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Regarding the process, music making is like storytelling for me. I feel like I’m mostly just reporting what’s happening, like a flute that plays when the wind blows. My work is a by-product of experience, a way of making sense of things, and a natural impulse to push back out what came in. It’s a way of listening, of receiving as well as a proof of presence, a watermark of subjectivity. If you open yourself up, then things, sounds, sensations, they go right through you. If this comes out as a particular voice then it is a happy coincidence. It also means someone is listening. But I’m still a little node in the constant flow of things. And this, so far, is my function.
To speak of the influences that shape the form of these “reports” would take more than a lifetime.
In my daily life, I’m first and foremost constantly and profoundly influenced by my friends, to name a few of them that have been important in my process in different moments: Ginebra Raventós, Lorena Izquierdo Aparicio, Rebecka Englund, Johanna Ribbe, Alejandra López Gabrielidis, Beatriz Regueira Pons and of course Błażej Kotowski.
In retrospect, I didn’t have access to the internet as a kid, so I was raised with the music that was around me. My dad was a self-taught musician, and because he was working for EMI for some time, we had an eclectic collection of vinyls, of which my favorite one was Hounds Of Love, by Kate Bush. But mainly the music I was exposed to while growing up was Ottoman Greek music from Minor Asia and Pontos, where my family’s origins lie, and a lot of classical music because I was learning it in the conservatory.
Once I was 18 I got my first computer as a present with access to the url, I eagerly opted out of the music harmony that had been imposed on me in my music lessons and towards a dissonance that felt more harmonious to me. I listened to a lot of avant-garde, especially Lydia Lunch and Iannis Xenakis. Later I spent a semester in Valencia, Spain where I went by chance to a workshop held by Llorenç Barber and Montserrat Palacios Prado which revealed to me the universe of contemporary improvisation and was my first contact with deep listening. Then my passage from Berlin opened up my eyes and ears and hands and mouths irl to contemporary electronic music and club culture and more free improvisation.
But what has shaped me more than anything as a musician is what has shaped me the most as a person. The fact that somehow, when I’d made myself most vulnerable and the closest to my bare instincts, I was drawn to certain people in a way that felt vehement. We found each other when each one of us was in a tabula rasa. This is where the most creative period of my life started, because my creative force was not any more constrained to my inner limits, but it flooded out and entangled with that of others and the world around us started to mutate ... In a good way! So, that’s when I was really born as an artist. That's when I found my voice, because that’s when I was heard.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I feel very close to the vitalist materialist, feminist, ecological discourse and I consider this the framework for everything I do.
Also, being born in a family of refugees from Asia Minor ~ this being something I come to terms with as I grow older because for long I was unwilling to identify with my ethinc/racial roots, having being made ashamed about them in various occasions, as a child growing up in a different country and as an adult immigrant coming from a crisis struck badland ~ it’s obvious to me that the way my voice chooses to break is microtonal, following the fashions and intertwinings of Greek ~ Armenian ~ Othoman music tradition and I find western harmony deeply unsatisfying, which also explains my love for noise and so-called “dissonance”.
And maybe the fact that I was born on a full moon can legitimately account for my fluid sense of identity, a simultaneous coexistence of contradictory forces and impulses in my life that I find present in my music too, hence it changes over time and can’t be easily defined.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I feel like I’m still at the beginning, so I will tell you how I feel right now about it. I don’t know how to survive financially and I think this is a big problem for a lot of young artists out there that feel lost and devalued because it feels like you are destroying your life by doing what you love … A problem I still haven’t really dealt with, but I resolve, by taking the gifts that are given to me by dear people I have close and support me in immaterial and material ways and by limiting my material needs as far as I can.
Another thing is that I want to use my creative force for a bigger purpose, not just as a means of personal expression but as a tool to transform my environment. How our imagination can change the world is a big deal for me right now. We need to create a place where we can breathe.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
I started with piano and voice as Western music training requires. I went to an experimental music school where I was trained in traditional Greek and European music and I learned to play tambouras, and cello. When I started producing music I had a midi keyboard and a microphone and ableton live. Later a field recorder was added to the set-up and recently a kaoss pad. I regularly tweek Błażej’s production and recording equipment, and learn a lot from his precision and curiosity in this terrain, and I’m learning interface design now so hopefully I can create my own instruments, but still the basic set-up I mentioned before is how most of the music I’ve done has been recorded.
So, right now I am studying at Interface Cultures Master in Linz, a new media curriculum with a focus on interaction design, which is very empowering and very confusing. I am still unsure about how it is affecting my practice, but I can say I’m very curious, excited and careful, clumsily paddling in deep waters. Technologies are corrupted, they come with a lot of things, they are the tip of the iceberg, the last row in a huge chain of production, based on centuries of human and environmental exploitation and excess of capital and power. But you cannot blame the messenger.
And also, this shouldn’t make us stay away from new technologies, but to the contrary, they (machines, deterministic systems of algorithmic bias) offer a way to understand the world as it is. And the possibility to participate in it in a more active way. I’m learning their language now and I’m teaching myself to speak it with my own voice and I will hopefully be able to shape it to accommodate my expressive needs, my favorite voices and visions of the world, because technology is plastic, like everything else and it’s not a poison nor a remedy, but both.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
It’s easy to feel outdated in these times. Technology moves faster than our nervous system can process. It’s a frantic acceleration and it’s growing exponentially. It’s hard to follow. It’s hard to remember you don’t have to follow. But it will stop soon. Because we are running out of resources. and this soothes me down a bit, because this aggressive growth-oriented massive monster has to come to a halt, but also, not at all, because if this happens by force, it means we have gone too far, if it doesn’t happen alongside a fundamental transformation, it will come alongside terrible things, that are already happening in underprivileged places of our planet.
So I think that we will soon shift globally towards strategies of degrowth, wealth redistribution and a decentralised economic system based on non-accumulation. This is the only way I see to proceed.