Orphica is Mikhail Karikis’s debut album, released worldwide in 2007 by the experimental music label Sub Rosa/Quatermass to international critical acclaim. The album was published soon after Karikis was selected in a worldwide music competition initiated by pop music icon Björk (in collaboration with UNICEF) to create a music album – Army of Me (2005) – to fund-raise for victims of the 2004 Tsunami in Indonesia. A different version of Orphica’s first song, ‘Untitled in CoF Minor’, appeared on Björk’s aforementioned album. Twelve compositions at the vanguard of contemporary electronica and sound-making draw inspiration from the legend of Orpheus and follow on the long tradition of artists – spanning from Monteverdi to Nick Cave – who employ the Orphean theme. Orphica is placed well within avant-pop music but is “iconoplastic” in that it creates a sound-world using an unlikely combination of sound sources: field recordings of bats and insects made by retracing Orpheus’s steps into a cave on Mount Olympus, electronic beats made of CD scratches and digital glitch, baroque harpsichords, strings and sampled choirs. Karikis uses his voice in a way which references the Futurists and the Italian avant-garde, incorporating sounds of coughing, screeching, growling, whispering and rasping.
Orphica’s album cover was produced by Karikis and features the artist emerging nude out of a sea of digits while he transforms into a lyre – Orpheus’s mythical musical instrument – with extended ears and vocal chords. The monochromatic cover is contrasted with a dark spiky growth around blood vessels appearing on the inner sleeve of the album, reflecting the dramatic emotional content of the album, which was composed, according to Karikis, from ‘the perspective of someone who is trying to speak without being able to.’
For his first album, Karikis collaborated with directors Paul Gittins and Paul Bloomfield who produced film animations for the tracks Maenads and Archon respectively. These were screened in numerous European animation festivals and at the British Film Institute (London) alongside new works by Peter Greenaway (15. & 16.3.07). Orphica received over thirty international reviews, including in national newspapers such as Le Monde (29.5.2007), influential music websites (Pitchfork) and alternative music magazines Plan B, Neural and Mojo. A full-page image of Karikis performing ‘Untitled in CoF Minor’ in London (organised by Non Classical label) made the front cover of the Culture section of the Times Newspaper (18.4.2008). Orphica was broadcast on French, Italian, German, Belgian, US and Greek national radio stations. PRADA fashion house bought the publishing rights of ‘Love Song’ (track 11) – notably one of Karikis’s most experimental sound works and part of his doctoral audiobook thesis ‘The Acoustics of the Self’ at the Slade School of Art (UCL). In 2008, the American choreographer Maurice Causey worked with Orphica’s music to create the contemporary ballet ‘Mythical Laboratory’ (also the title of track 5 on Karikis’s album) for the acclaimed dance company NDT (Nederlands Dans Theater).