Mihalis Shammas “Cathedral”

Mihalis Shammas uses an instrument he designed, engineered, and fabricated over the last two years called the Lyraei to craft pensive, bewitching drones. From the album’s description, the Lyraei is described as “an eight-string walnut instrument, featuring deconstructed and redesigned string exciters that oscillate according to the waveforms of analog signals; that is, the movements found in traditional analog synthesizers is transposed to the oscillating vibrations that resonate the metallic strings, to create different electric-dependent harmonics.” 

There’s a certain elegance and precision in these collected live improvisations and the way Shammas slowly builds these extended drones into sonic monuments with their own gravity is hypnotic. Opener “Ascending” feels like a solid beam of light shooting out of the atmosphere and into distant realms. Restraint simmers at the margins as the piece begins, hovering in a certain resonant zone before Shammas lets it ride. “Ascending” grows into a colossal mountain before disappearing into the fog.

A key element of the Lyraei is how Shammas uses the tuners on the instrument to dig into microtonal dissonances in strangely inviting ways. “Stasis” hums, aloft and still as discordant passages shift in the slightest ways to change the sonic landscape. Hanging there we begin to feel the pull of the finite. Darkness lurks in “Immanence,” though, as if everything was decided well before we arrived. Waves of shifting tones move between spaces where light sneaks through in streaks and total blackness as the dissonance rises. I’m taken by how much movement there is in these solid, massive expanses of sound.

Cathedral is special. Shammas’s Lyraei does a masterful job of using a palette that feels familiar but twisting it into new shapes and motifs. Unburdened and alone, “Descent” stings in its reverting footsteps as a connection is withdrawn and slow aural flow begins to run out. The quiet sets in and we’re left to pick through the details. 

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