Danse Macabre

Kitsos Harisiadis: Lament in a Deep Style, 1929–1931

an album produced by Christopher King with Vassilis Georganos
Third Man Records, $15.00

While You Live, Shine

a documentary film directed by Paul Duane
Nikos Economopoulos/Magnum Photos
Musicians and dancers at a festival in Ganadio, a village in the region of Epirus in northwestern Greece, 2000

In 2009, the American record collector and audio engineer Christopher King bought a stack of 78 rpm discs while on vacation in Istanbul. A self-described obsessive for whom “the rare musk of shellac” is “the second most arousing smell in the world,” he waited impatiently to play his purchases. Their contents were mysterious: the labels were written in Greek, and King knew enough of the language to realize that they “made no linguistic sense.” He returned home ten days later. “Decades of listening to unvarnished prewar music—Delta blues by Charlie Patton and fiddle records by the Carter Brothers and Son,” he writes in Lament from Epirus, had not prepared him for what he heard when he dropped the needle:

Insistent droning voices and instruments merged, clashing against each other. One vocal threaded its way between instruments while another voice mirrored the lead singer an octave below. The music reached a crescendo, crashed, and repeated…it sounded like a massive coffee can of angry bees had been shaken and released in front of me.

The music deeply affected King. He felt as if he “had been taken apart and rearranged,” but the sensation was “pleasurable—a necessary catharsis.” It was love at first listen.

King learned that the records were made in the 1920s and 1930s by musicians from Epirus, an area straddling northwestern Greece and southern Albania. Eager for more, he contacted Elias and Vasilis Barounis, Athenian brothers who owned an impressive collection of Greek folk 78s and sparingly sold some to him for a few hundred dollars apiece. After Vasilis died in 2011, Elias sold their entire archive of Epirotic recordings to King—“something unprecedented among record collectors”—giving him the “staggering responsibility as a caretaker of this region’s ancient musical legacy on the 78 rpm disc.”

Elias couldn’t have chosen a more loving or passionate custodian. Born and raised in Virginia, King has remastered thousands of songs from their original 78s, including works of Delta blues, Cajun, gospel, and Sacred Harp music. His unorthodox methods for capturing sound from these old records yield brilliant results. The music critic Amanda Petrusich observed that in King’s home studio,

the turntable…was littered with oddly sized bits—matchsticks, tongue depressors, little plastic ice-cream spoons—that he used to weigh down the tone arm based on assumptions he’d made or things he’d learned regarding certain studios or recording sessions. He accommodated for factors like ambient humidity, or a tilt in the floorboards, or a distraction on the part of the original engineer.1

Over the past seven years, King has released six albums—nearly ten hours—of songs from his collection of rural Greek and southern Albanian 78s. In Lament from Epirus, he recounts his odyssey, as he calls it, into the region’s music, its history,…

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