"Timeless Waves" album has been included in the "BEST ALBUMS OF 2012" list on the Canadian music magazine EXCLAIM.


Andante Magazine February 2012
ARTER’s First Sound Art Project Opens with Erdem Helvacıoğlu’s “Freedom to the Black” 
9-26 February 2012  

In 1970, a group of New York avant-garde artists called Fluxus, organized a public performance that involved an unusual way to play a piano. Fluxus’ founder, George Maciunas, invited French performance artist Ben Vautier to perform Maciunas’ “Piano Piece” which required nailing down all the white keys of an upright piano, one by one, thus leaving only the black keys to function.   

This performance was one of several the group did in seven European cities, in which they asked people to “play” the piano, that is, by rubbing objects on the strings, scratching it, striking the soundboard and pins, in addition to pounding nails into it, effectively destroying the instrument. This was considered scandalous in Germany; however, the public’s fascination evidently was so great that these concerts appeared on German television four times and became integral to the legacy of Fluxus. The experimental rock band, Sonic Youth, video-taped their own performance in 1999 of one of Maciunas’ pieces requiring key-nailing on an upright piano, and posted it on YouTube in 2006.   

The Vehbi Koç Foundation owns the original piano used by Vautier in 1970. So the Foundation’s Culture and Arts Advisor Melih Fereli (acting also as curator in this case) commissioned composer Erdem Helvacıoğlu to create a piece, taking inspiration from Maciunas, and using that piano, for Koç’s ARTER contemporary gallery exhibition in Beyoğlu this month. The title “Freedom to the Black” emerged from the obvious elimination of all the white keys, but also as “an attempt to liberate the ‘the black’ from all biases and prejudices” according to Fereli.  

Although black is the overwhelmingly popular fashion color of choice in these times, black has long been associated in Western culture with death, fear, and mourning, as well as direct references to racism and political prejudice. “To many, black represents the primordial void,” states Fereli in his written introduction to the ARTER brochure package for the exhibit. “Other  examples of negative attributes are ‘Black sheep,’ ‘Blackmail,’ ‘Blackball,’ and so on. I have simply assumed that Maciunas was intent on leaving more room for imagining deeper meanings beneath nailing down the ‘white’ keys and the freedom of movement granted to the ‘black’ keys of the piano.”  

For Helvacıoğlu, it’s “a search for different timbres” within the piano, he reveals, especially the highlighting of the pentatonic scale that is the result of being limited to only the black keys. “The piano has 35 black keys,” he said, “and when you have only those basic five notes to work with, well, that was very interesting for me. The first challenge was to totally mute the other strings that surround them -- in many cases, even silence the two sympathetic strings aside the center string of a single note. For that purpose, and to extract a wide range of sounds from within the piano, I used pieces of silk and wool, earplugs, stuffed toys, scissors, bows, drum sticks, mallets, hammers, and screwdrivers. We set up 17 microphones inside, outside, under, over, everywhere, to record. To tell you the truth, this was the most physically difficult project I’ve ever done. For four days, I lived inside this instrument, even under it. Because I was so close to the mics, of course I couldn’t breathe. The engineers only saw my legs. I might have been dead, for all they knew.”  

The installation is mounted within a 5-meter-square room on ARTER’s ground floor. Maciunas’ piano is placed on a ramp, surrounded by 16 speakers using a unique Ambisonic B-format, developed by Dr. Tony Myatt at the Music Research Center of the University of York. This new spatial design system envelops the listener with full spherical effect. Helvacıoğlu’s semi-improvised composition plays for 10 minutes, starting with random scratches and taps, crescendoing slowly into a sonic beehive of activity.  

“Freedom to the Black” commences a series of sound art projects that will be produced each year and will always involve a composer or sound artist. This one, “although it is inspired by and structured around an early seminal Fluxus piece.” Fereli explains, “is not another Fluxus project. It’s not avant-garde for the sake of being avant-garde. We couldn’t have kicked it off with a better artist. Helvacıoğlu’s music, and in particular his composition as part of this installation, teases the source. You can think of it as a universe; each note has its own journey and randomness, but still there’s form and personal expression. [It is] filled with the riches the black deserves.”

Alexander Ivanoff