Talos Dreams

Spotlight on Costas Dafnis

By Ellie Falaris Ganelin
Costas Dafnis (pictured center)

Today, I want to share some of the magic that goes on behind the scenes, thanks to my co-collaborator Costas Dafnis. On paper, Costas is the composer of Talos Dreams, an epic piece that the Greek Chamber Music Project commissioned in 2021. But he has been really integral to the whole production of this work every step of the way.

I’ve known Costas for about seven years, which is about as long as we’ve both lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. We had been talking about collaborating on a musical project for years, and it finally happened just last year.

We met to talk about the project in March 2020, envisioning that Costas would compose a new piece to be premiered in a concert setting that fall. The project would prominently feature him playing the ghostplate, a novel percussion instrument that he built and designed along with the late and great Tom Nunn.

Costas playing the ghostplate

Well, things didn’t quite turn out that way…

Rethinking the Project

With the pandemic, we quickly reimagined Talos Dreams as a recording project with a virtual premiere on Zoom. When Costas sat down to compose the music, he designed it to be well-suited for this new format. We agreed that about half of the eight movements would feature a soloist, spotlighting each member of our ensemble, including myself on flute, Costas on ghostplate, as well as Kyle Bruckmann (oboe), Ariel Wang (violin), and Lewis Patzner (cello). On Zoom, this meant that individual players could perform live with a backing track without having to worry about syncing up with other players in real time.

The rest of the movements would be produced as music videos. Here’s Costas shooting on location for the movement Aubade:

Our first virtual performance of Talos Dreams was a sneak preview in the form of two music videos, which we premiered at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s (SFCM) Hot Air Music Festival in March 2021. Costas led the artistic direction, having figured out a home recording setup that could be easily recreated by the rest of the players. With a felt backdrop, black clothing, and some strategically placed spotlights, our ensemble created a cohesive look, even though we videoed ourselves separately from our respective homes. Here’s the final product:

Costas got his master’s in Technology and Applied Composition at SFCM, which means he knows a lot about music production. Talos Dreams is a rich soundscape filled with acoustic and processed samples that Costas skillfully recorded and mixed himself. He encouraged me to try my hand at home recording in and coached me at every step of the process: everything from selecting recording equipment to editing and mixing my tracks. As a result of these efforts, GCMP released an album in May 2021 titled Synchronos: New Greek Voices, which is almost exclusively produced using home recordings, including Talos Dreams.

Back in the Concert Hall

We finally got to premiere Talos in-concert in December 2021. With a new performance format came new technical challenges. Electronics are integral to the soundscape of the piece, and as live musicians, we had to figure out a way to play in time with the pre-recorded electronics. For this and subsequent concerts, we each wear headphones onstage that allow us to hear a metronome click, as well as a “virtual conductor” track that Costas developed and recorded, which reminds us of key entrances and moments in the music.

Concert premiere of Talos Dreams at the SFCM’s Bowes Center on Dec. 9, 2021. This was one of the first public performances in the new building’s Technology Hall.

Talos Dreams has taken on different forms over the past couple of years, and is being regularly performed throughout the Bay Area and online. I can’t thank Costas enough for his tireless work in not only composing the music, but also helping to bring it to life in all its stages.

Find out about future and past performances of Talos Dreams.