Kansas City-born and Brussels-based since 2003, Christina Vantzou is a video artist who initially collaborated with Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid) on the very successful and self-titled album The Dead Texan in 2004.

The Dead Texan (2004)
The Dead Texan (2004)

Released as a CD/DVD on the Kranky record label, The Dead Texan is a multi-media project with 11 ambient drone “mini symphonies” blending electronics, guitar, piano and strings and 7 videos by Christina Vantzou. It is while touring with the project for the following three years that the visual artist took up keyboard playing “out of necessity”. Following various collaborations with Sparklehorse or with Dustin O’Halloran and A Winged Victory for the Sullen for whom she created drawings and videos, Christina Vantzou slowly started venturing into music composition on a MIDI keyboard.

Mixing electronics with layers of strings and field recordings, N°1 is the artist’s first solo collection of slow ambient soundscapes. Composed over a period of three years, the sound samples and MIDI arrangements were entirely notated and transcribed for a 7 piece orchestra by Minna Choi of San Francisco-based Magik*Magik Orchestra and released in 2011. All tracks were subsequently remixed in 2012 by various artists (N°1 Remixes) and released with a 47mn DVD of visuals for the music.

Christina Vantzou & Quartet: Vostok (N°2 – 2014)

Released on February 24th 2014 last and still on the Kranky record label, Christina Vantzou’s second album leans even more towards modern chamber music and contemporary neo-classical composition with a larger variety of instruments. Once again, N°2 was entirely composed on her laptop and arranged by Minna Choi for a 15 piece ensemble (strings, woodwind and brass) with additional voice and electronics.

Christina Vantzou - N°2  (2014)
Christina Vantzou – N°2 (2014)

What sets Christina Vantzou apart is her unique and personal approach to composition as a self-taught musician – “The magic of the autodidact”? reads the title of her last song on N°2. As an “unconventional composer”, Christina Vantzou has come up with her own chart-based music notation system for live performances. She has also devised a visual method for conducting orchestras with coloured pictograms.

The musician recently posted a live performance (excerpt) of the unreleased Hexagon (which she describes as a “modular composition”) with the following instructions for the performers:

Each musician has a hexagon shaped score with 6 individual cell parts notated on each side of the hexagon and a fugue melody situated in the centre.

0:00-3:00ish – cell loop playing by all the players, droney, not overplaying too much. Bass, cello, and viola enter first followed by violin
3:00-7:00ish – a featured fugue section. First one player plays the melody by herself against just the drone, and after one cycle other players start to play the melody in a round, one by one.
7:00-10:00ish – after the players have determined that the fugue section has run its course, players return back to the individual cells in a staggered fashion.

song fades and ends.

Unlike conventionally notated music, Christina Vantzou’s home-made charts with ad-hoc instructions therefore turn into living and dynamic scores whose live performance might vary slightly from one concert to the next, thus enriching the music with an undeniable floating and mesmerising quality.

Christina Vantzou – Going backwards to recover that which was left behind (N°2 – 2014)