Junto Project 0289: Ancient Artifacts [repost]

Someone suggested that Suss Müsik repost our contributions to the weekly Disquiet Junto projects, because they enjoy reading the explanations of the tracks. While you’re reading the original post, make sure you check out the other contributors’ works as well.

The metanoiaphone is a reed instrument constructed out of leather, wood, and sometimes bone. It resembles the tusk of a rhinoceros with two horizontal pull levers jutting out each side. Its name comes from the root word μετάνοια, which means “to have a shift in one’s mind.”

The metano (as it’s commonly called) originated in the mountainous Prespa Lakes region of West Macedonia, one of the most remote parts of Greece. A single road takes visitors over the Haliacmon River just south of Polyfytos, the hilltop village where the first metano is believed to have been made.

To play a metano, one blows into the mouthpiece while grasping a lever on each hand, slowly alternating push-pull motions on either side — something like pedaling a bicycle, only using arms instead of legs. Different notes are the result of shifts in lever position, hence the name.

The sound of a metano is rich and throaty, often mistaken for a ram’s bleat when heard from a distance. With proper breath control, it’s possible to extend a note indefinitely by slowly rotating the arms to draw out a smooth, even tone.

By the 1950’s, owning a metano had become a symbol of status among the musical elite in Germany and Great Britain. Legend has it that any instruments that made their way north were likely stolen from villages during the Balkan Campaign of World War II.

Very few recordings of the metano exist today, and Suss Müsik owns one of them. It was purchased by chance in 1988 from a tiny Thessaloniki record shop that smelled of mothballs and grilled meat. Just below a Tuxedomoon poster was this filthy cardboard box full of cassette tapes. We bought the entire box for 500 drachmas, the equivalent of about three US dollars.

The except you hear is from a piece written by the obscure Greek composer Den Katalaveno. It’s titled Κομμάτι για μετάνοιαφωνο και την ορχήστρα του δωματίου (Piece for Metanoiaphone and Chamber Orchestra). The rest of the tape has unfortunately deteriorated with age and is unplayable.

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