Name: Monsieur Doumani
Members: Antonis Antoniou, Demetris Yiasemides, Andys Skordis
Interviewee: Antonis Antoniou
Occupation: Tzouras player (Antonis Antoniou), guitarist (Andys Skordis), wind instrument player (Demetris Yiasemides)
Nationality: Cypriot
Current release: Monsieur Doumani's Pissourin is out September 10 via Glitterbeat.
Recommendations: Francis Bebey – Psychedelic Sanza (Album); Dziga Vertov - Man with a movie camera (Film)

If you enjoyed this interview with Monsieur Doumani, their official homepage is a great point of departure if you want to find out more. For recent updates and much more music, head over to their channels on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and bandcamp.

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?

I started writing music during my studies in Athens. That is when I bought my first PC and was exposed to the infinite world of music technology and production. Ideas and inspirations suddenly had a way of materialising and becoming my own. I started searching for a language, my own language. An exciting journey unfolded.

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?

I believe that this is a standard procedure. In order to be able to find your own voice you need to explore, listen, practice/learn, imitate and experiment. And this procedure is on-going and limitless.

I am always exploring, learning and experimenting. Ideas change; styles and aesthetics change and every time there are new fields to investigate. This is the fun part of creating. There is always a development and always a transition in discovering your new exciting voice.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

It does so to a great extent. My music orbits around my home and neighbourhood with everything this brings with it.

I tried to express myself through various musical styles. It all ended up being fake, primarily to me. I was so relieved the moment I realised that I don’t need to force things; that I don’t need to pretend; to just be myself. The moment I grasped this, a big river of creativity started flowing.

What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

My main challenges in the beginning were more technical I guess. It felt challenging to compose a piece with a beautiful or an interesting melody, with a complex rhythm and a fascinating harmonic progression. I was trying to reach a level (concerning the above) that would be close to that of the musicians I admired.

Then this obsession left me – although these are always very decisive matters to consider when composing -  and I am trying to use my knowledge and experience in creating works that are more solid as a whole. Songs where lyrics, melody and rhythm work as a whole in order to form one comprehensive impression.

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?

My first instrument was the classical guitar. I studied it for a long time but at some time I realised that I was enslaved in a world that was quite strict and limited in terms of freedom of expression. I realised that I needed to free myself from the scores. So, jazz music offered me this escape. Then as mentioned before, acquiring a PC unfolded a whole new world; that of creation.

Critical in my course was also the (re)discovery of Rebetiko music, the so-called Greek blues. This led me to the immediate purchase of a tzouras (small-scale bouzouki) and to learning to play and sing the classic rebetiko songs. I suddenly felt that the sound coming from that instrument expressed my feelings and reached into my soul, as if it was connected directly to my psych world.

Tzouras is still my main instrument and I use it today, sometimes distorting its sound by using all sorts of effect pedals. This technology has also expanded the palette of my sound and at the same time, of my creative quest as the combinations that can be made are endless.

Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?

Collaborations are definitely a very significant element in the formation of a work or a project. And this may sound cliché but if there is no chemistry between the collaborators, the project can be a failure or at least it will probably not be enjoyable. It’s important that collaborators share similar ideas, most importantly on an aesthetic level.

I have worked in several groups such as Monsieur Doumani and Trio Tekke, and I have also worked solo. They are both interesting procedures. When solo you have full control of the creative process and you can decide what to include or what to leave out. But you are missing the interplay, the sharing of ideas and the critical input of other musical minds. This is the input that will eventually form the work and it’s a beautiful journey since it essentially binds together several minds and souls.

My preferred ways of engaging with other musicians is on the arrangement level, where we need to jam for a long time in order to come out with the style and the role that each instrument will have in this marriage.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?

It feels strange to be saying this but my life orbits around music. Listening to it, composing it, or promoting it. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a way to separate music from other aspects of my life yet; I don’t have a fixed schedule, I just follow events as they arise, so probably this is why the only time I am not actively involved in music is when I sleep.

Every day I listen to several albums, new and old. I am very curious to know what is happening out there and I like to listen to a work many times and when I find something interesting I focus on it even more.. Before I fall asleep I always listen to 1 or 2 albums on headphones as well as when I go walking early in the morning.

Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

It would be my participation in the realisation of David Tudor’s piece/installation Rainforest IV, in London back in 2009. (see on youtube, 3:10- 3:42).

I was a PhD student at that time studying sound art and electroacoustic composition. So, the opportunity to be participating in this along with many acclaimed artists from Europe was an exceptional experience. I support the notion that a creation is not all about the outcome; that more important is actually the process and the prospect of learning new things. This is, I believe, the main power of creation. It helps you to evolve and take a step forward, learning from all the stages, not only technicalities but more importantly learning yourself.

Rainforest IV was critical for me as I received valuable experiences that helped me move on. So when I came back to Cyprus after finishing my studies I established an on-going project called ‘Rainzonances’ which is of course inspired by that involvement in London.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

For me the ideal state of mind for composing is when I find myself alone without any distractions and without any other priorities. If I have other work to do, I cannot focus. I need to stay alone for some time and even get bored.

When I know that I have plenty of time to just play around and try things out, things magically develop without any special effort. It just comes and I am drawn into the process, enjoying every moment of it.

Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?

Music gives hope and can bring you down to earth or can elevate you to the universe. It carries a philosophical and existential authority. Sound has certainly a connection with the universe and this is a topic that has been abundantly explored.

Many people, including myself find refuge in music in difficult times, when they need a psychological support. For me it also acts in a physical way, helping me to sleep, as I have an insomnia problem. So yes, it definitively has a healing power

There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?

Unquestionably inspiration comes from everywhere. Even when we are not actively listening to a piece of music we do so subconsciously and this can be woken at some point in the creative process. It might remind you of something you heard before but actually it has already become yours, since it entered your body and soul.

Of course in the cases of direct appropriation or inspiration the source needs to be somehow credited.

Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?

For me, the sense of hearing is probably the best way of experiencing the present. Not the past and neither the future. When you focus on the everyday soundscape you realise that you are connected with the Now and the Here. It’s magical and I believe that it is something that we should have been taught from childhood.

When watching a beautiful sunset and listening to the sound environment at the same time or to a piece of music, this experience is enhanced. And of course when achieving a balance in the use of our senses that’s when we feel more completed and connected to our nature. Unfortunately 21st century culture is too focused on the visual sensation.

Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?

I totally agree that art can take a socio-political role, I actually support that this is a pre-requisite for an effective communication of your work. If you fail to take into account the place, the time and the environment of your surrounding your work will just be an empty skeleton with no essence or purpose.

My musical quest has led me to realise that this is a very important factor and thus it is essential for me to spend time sensing the field. This can happen at any given time, not necessarily before or during the creative process.

What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?

As mentioned before, music has more than any other form of art – probably because of its intangible nature – the power to carry philosophical and existential meanings. It can trigger universal and primeval vibrations and give us an escape from our everyday worries and fears. It can connect us to the big picture of life – we are all the same, drawing circles, living and dying, resonating with the cosmos.