The Athens Conservatoire, commonly referred to as Odeion, is part of an unrealized urban plan that won the architect Ioannis Despotopoulos first prize in a competition held for the Athens Cultural Center in 1959. The project was one of the most compelling propositions of modern Greek architecture, furthering the vision of Central European rationalism and postwar attempts at broad-minded cultural policy (see the Maison de la culture by André Malraux, in France). Despotopoulos envisioned a national theater, congress center, museum, library, and an open-air theater in close proximity to each other in the city center of Athens. Nevertheless, as the larger plan was never implemented, the architectural identity of the Athens Conservatoire building—situated amid its unrealized relations—can be difficult to comprehend. Athens Conservatoire, as a musical institution, was founded in 1871 by the Athens Music and Drama Society. Only two instruments were taught—the flute and the guitar, corresponding respectively to Apollonian and Dionysian aesthetic principles. Whether Despotopoulos sided with Dionysus’s principles by citing the guitar neck as his inspiration for the design of the Athens Conservatoire building remains an open question. Investigating the details of the full length of the open horizontal structure, one finds rhythmic incisions that turn its modern architecture into a musical score for students, faculty, and other inhabitants.
When approaching the documenta 14 exhibition at Athens Conservatoire, it is worth considering the willfully mystic and modernist Greek composer Jani Christou. Early in days of documenta 14 in Athens, Christou’s idea of the “continuum” provided the experimental framework for working sessions between artists, curators, and the documenta 14 team. “Metapraxis,” another methodology that Christou pursued, “is concerned with breaking through the meaning barrier of a single medium, whatever that medium may be. Whenever that happens, that is music.” In considering the practices of composers like Christou, Pauline Oliveros, and the Scratch Orchestra of Cornelius Cardew, as well as of a new generation of artists, documenta 14 collectively attempts to reconsider “use.” Such an approach involves the audience in changes of habit, in which one substitutes expenditure for capital, appropriation for property, utility for preservation, gratuitous acts for discipline, and enjoyment for consumption.
One such attempt has been the process of helping restore the EMS Synthi 100, a rare analog synthesizer that KSYME-CMRC, an Athens music research center, purchased in the early 1970s. Until 2017, the modular synthesizer had been out of use for more than twenty years. The reactivation of the instrument makes it one of a handful of still-functional devices of its kind around the globe and is meant to foster the forward-thinking musicality that KSYME has strived for since its founding by Iannis Xenakis and Giannis G. Papaioannou in 1979. Four commissioned compositions for the instrument are being performed at Megaron for documenta 14, forming a relationship between the now “antique” machine and a new generation of Greek and international electronic musicians.