2023; dur: 60'30; Audio file and quartet: Fl/Bsn, BCl, Vln, Vc or Hn, BTbn, Vln, Vc; Video by Hypercomf; Score at Score at nb.no
Four musicians, a video with landscapes of Greece and Norway, a party on board, and AI developers meeting in the belly of a whale. A surrealistic cruise from the Mediterranean to the northern countries, with the journey of Pytheas the Greek — the unassailable explorer of antiquity — in its very center.
Do you find it hard to float through life? Do you feel tangled in the nets of your daily routine and seek escape? Embark on one of the state-of-the-art vessels of Pytheas Travels cruise fleet and become part of the most oceanic experience of your life. A musical cruise with four musicians of the Ergon Ensemble and Tøyen Fil og Klafferi as passengers and a video screening as a backdrop: a compilation of animation, live shootings on board and in various locations in Tinos and Northern Norway, as well as green screen footage, all inspired by the sea element. The immersive experience of “Pytheas Travels” includes furthermore many surrealistic touches that involve opulent parties, a great wildfire, as well as AI developers that meet in the belly of the whale. Shall we hop on board?
The title of the performance refers to the historical journey of Pytheas the Greek—the Columbus of antiquity—where in 325 BC sailed north from Marseilles to a place he called Ultima Thule, the mythical island, to reach the “frozen seas.” Unable to extend the exploration of the mythical lands of Northern Europe, Pytheas returned to the Mediterranean to document his legendary journey in a manuscript titled “On the Ocean” which vanished forever in the great fire of the Library of Alexandria.
Pytheas Travels is a staged audiovisual simulation of the experience of being on board a passenger vessel, traveling from the Mediterranean to the Northern Seas. It is a maritime story, an imaginary journey, and a critical insight into the mass tourism industry and its consequences on environmental, cultural, and societal structures.
Written for a quartet of live musicians in synchronisation with film, light cues and a recorded soundtrack. A click track is provided for the live performing quartet. There are two options in choice of instruments for a live performance of Pytheas Travels:
1. A live quartet of Bass Clarinet, Flute/Bassoon, Violin and Violoncello, and 2. A live quartet of French Horn, Bass Trombone, Violin and Violoncello. The two quartets both appear in the recorded soundtrack, a recording made with musicians from Tøyen Fil og Kafferi and Ergon Ensemble.
Depending on the choice of live quartet in the performance, the soundtrack also exists in two versions. The narrator voice of Pytheas exists also in two versions, in Norwegian or Greek. There is also a version with the Speakerphone narration voice and the AI voices in Norwegian (made for a performance for children at Ultima, Sept. 2023).
The scene is set aboard the grand cruise ship, On the Ocean, a state-of-the-art vessel in the renowned ‘Pytheas Travels’ fleet. An elderly passenger sitting in one of the cruise ship’s live-music bars, gazes out of the window, observing the ever-changing oceanic landscape and bustling ports. He travels immersed in an internal dialogue that seems to be scored in real time by the music being performed in the bar, compositions derived from data and mapping of moving and living species along the way from the Mediterranean Sea towards the Arctic Ocean.
As the ship leaves the port, the initial muzak continues to set the mood for the journey before real musicians enter the bar, appearing as members of the ship’s crew.
The journey is intermittently interrupted by the ship’s speakerphone and company jingle, relaying announcements for passengers and promoting various onboard events and amenities, courtesy of the front office.
The cruise sails smoothly, unveiling extraordinary ports and captivating sights to its passengers, meanwhile our narrator makes poignant observations and slowly becomes washed over with an eerie sense of nostalgia, as he recounts fragmented memories of visiting the route’s stops in past travels.
The music performed live and onscreen by the ship’s musicians is composed with melodic themes for all types of whales observed in the Norwegian Sea and with gestures corresponding to four different Atlantic plankton and their diel vertical migration shifting between day and night. Mixed with imitations of sounds from Mediterranean underwater creatures and various field recordings, this forms the core of the musical score of the piece.
The cruise ship pays homage to the burning of the Library of Alexandria, as well as the renowned voyage log penned by Pytheas, titled “On the Ocean” which was lost in the fire along with many other ancient manuscripts.
After the night of revelry the atmosphere onboard shifts drastically as a disagreement between groups of passengers escalates rapidly. Although our protagonist remains within the confines of the bar, he follows the unfolding events through the speakerphone’s announcements, as the ship’s crew endeavors to regain control of the situation.
The chaos resulting from the passengers’ tumultuous riot appears to ignite fires and violence that engulfs the cruise ship, plunging it into darkness akin to being devoured by a colossal whale.
Within the depths of the whale’s belly, our passenger narrator, revealed as “Pytheas” himself, encounters luminous spirit masks that manifest as AI intelligences from the future.
These technological entities, existing within the liquid realm of water, reveal to Pytheas that he is too a nascent AI undergoing the process of upload and memory-training.
He is simultaneously learning about the world and constructing a personal continuous narrative for himself based on the life story of the real personality of Pytheas, the marine explorer. His memories will serve the nascent AI to wake up to a sense of identity, a sense of self originating from memories of the pre-existing, the final necessary element for digital consciousness. Due to a malfunction that manifests as a passenger riot, the AI intelligences temporarily suspend the uploading code, pausing their task to address the issue at hand.
Accompanied by music combining the sound of Aurora Borealis with mapping of human DNA, the story culminates as the AI intelligences guide Pytheas (and the audience) through a brief meditation exercise and back to “computer-deep-sleep” by describing the inhabiting of a timeless plane in the memory of a moment.
Created by Hypercomf and Maja S. K. Ratkje
Art Direction & Film Direction
Maja S. K. Ratkje
Greek Performing Ensemble for Greek Premiere at Onassis Stegi, Athens, October 2023
Ergon Ensemble: Manos Ventouras (French horn), Andreas-Rolandos Theodorou (bass trombone), Konstantinos Panagiotidis (violin), Dimitris Travlos (cello)
Norwegian Performing Ensemble for Norwegian Premiere at Sentralen, Oslo, September 2023
Tøyen Fil og Klafferi: Hanne Jones Rekdal (flute/bassoon), Elena Perales Andreu (bass clarinet), Eira Bjørnstad Foss (violin), Tove Margrethe Erikstad (cello)
Live Sound, Video & Light Synchronization at both premieres Oslo/Athens 2023
Stage Light Design
Musicians in Recording and Video
Manos Ventouras, Andreas-Rolandos Theodorou, Konstantinos Panagiotidis, Dimitris Travlos, Hanne Jones Rekdal, Elena Perales Andreu, Eira Bjørnstad Foss, Marianne Baudouin Lie
Other Musicians in Recording
Maja S. K. Ratkje, Amund Sjølie Sveen, Craig Snowden, Richard Burrows
Speakerphone Narrator Voice
Norwegian Pytheas Narrator Voice (Norwegian version)
Greek Pytheas Narrator Voice (Greek version)
Recording of Tøyen Fil og Klafferi and Ergon Ensemble, Athens
Jacopo Fokas at Antart Studios
Recording of Greek Narrator, Athens
Bounce Music Productions / Nasos Stergiou
Animation, Modelmaking & VFX
Out . There
VFX Direction & Production Design
Lead VFX Art & Model Making
Shrimp Puppet Making
Art Department Assistance
Christos Fousekis, Nikos Mpourloukas & Dimitra Chasiaki
Director of Photography
All Other Work Not Mentioned
Maja S. K. Ratkje and Hypercomf
Onassis Stegi Credits
Christos Carras, Senior Consultant
Theodora Vougiouka, Vera Petmeza, Transmissions Program general coordination
Vassilis Panagiotakopoulos, Head of Productions
Despoina Sifniadou, Producer
Ultima Festival Credits
Christel Forsberg, Producer
Heloisa Amaral, Director of Ultima
Pytheas Travels is a co-production of Onassis Stegi and Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival (Norway), in the framework of the TRANSMISSIONS project, funded by the EEA Grants and the Norwegian Financial Mechanisms 2014-2021.