"Eleven Short Stories" album has been included in the "BEST ALBUMS OF 2012" list by KONTRA PLAK, the coolest record shop in Istanbul.


Cuemix Magazine July 2007
CM>>>Erdem after reading your biography I was really speechless. You won so many prizes and did so many concerts, exhibitions and productions for films, videos, dance... when did you sleep in the last six years?

Erdem>>> Well, I did not sleep at all for the last 6 years ( Laughing ) Yes you are right, I did lots of different projects during this period. I received prestigious electronic music prizes from competitions such as Luigi Russolo, MUSICA NOVA, Insulae. I gave concerts all around the world and my compositions have been performed at very important festivals such as Futura, Nuit Bleue, Sonorities, Visiones Sonoras, SICMF, Third Practice, Musica Viva, Acousmania, Primavera en La Habana and San Francisco Tape Music Festival. My sound installations and music have been heard at galleries, exhibitions such as Track 16 ( USA ), Soemardja ( Indonesia ), Menier Gallery ( UK ), Museum für Angewandte ( Germany ) and Werkstatten und Kulturhaus ( Austria ). I think if you want to accomplish something original and meaningful internationally as an artist, you need to work really hard. That is what I have done during the time. I did as many different projects as possible. I produced a major rock band for SonyBMG, but at the same time I diffused my electroacoustic pieces through a 48 speaker system setup at festivals in France. I composed music for films that were shown at prestigious festivals such as Cannes Film Festival, but at the same time I played the guitar in bands supporting groups such as The Cure, Manic Street Preachers. All this work and experience has helped me to be open to anything sonically interesting and exciting. 

CM>>> Ok let's start first with your musical background. I really would like to know before we will talk about your studies and your education which instrument you learned to play first?

Erdem>>> The first instrument that I learned to play was the guitar. I started studying classical guitar when I was eleven. In a year or so, I started to play the electric guitar. I was really crazy about playing the guitar in my teens. I was practicing at least 4 hours every day and sometimes even skipping school 
(Laughing) I could play songs and solos of Joe Satriani, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore and other rock guitarists when I was 14 and could play like John Scofield, Joe Pass, Charlie Parker and other great cats when I was 15. But in my late teens and during the university time I became very interested in creating different sounds with synths, samplers and pedals. That was the time when I bought my first synth Korg N5, my first sampler EMU ESI400 and my first pc. After that, the electronic music journey for me has really begun.

CM>>>So you are a member of a artistic family? Did you grow up with music?

Erdem>>> There is no musician in my family. I am the rebellious, artistic personality of the family maybe we could say. But although my parents were not musicians, they have helped me a lot during my development as a musician. They bought very rare songbooks, cds and magazines that were impossible to find in Istanbul at the time. Those were the days before the Internet of course. Although I did not listen to music very much when I was a kid as far as I can remember, my life has been full of with music after my 11th birthday.

CM>>>When have you decided to learn sound engineering?

Erdem>>> I started producing my electronic music works during the time at the university where I was studying industrial engineering. At that time, I realized that my pieces did not sound as professional as the artists that I have been listening to. I knew that I needed to study sound engineering to make my productions’ sound quality better. After graduating from the university, I enrolled in the masters program at the Istanbul Technical University Music for Advanced Studies Department. There, I studied sound engineering and electroacoustic music composition. I am about to finish my doctorate there at the same department. 

CM>>>Must I picture myself that you've played around with several tape recorders or stuff like when you were as a child - or have you played football in the streets like any other kid? 

Erdem>>> Well, although I was not very good at it, I played football in the streets as a kid. I did not know much about music until my 11th birthday. I remember very vividly that I was singing along to the number one hit song “Live is Life” by Opus! I think the 80’s pop and hard rock raised the very first excitement in me towards music. But of course my musical style now is very different from 80’s pop (Laughing)

CM>>>From where comes this fascination for sounds and music? Would you describe yourself as someone who can sit for hours at the beach and listen to the different sounds of waves crashing in or listen to the birds in the trees playing there melodies? Or are you more interested in technical aspects?

Erdem>>> I can say both actually. Since I do lots of field recordings and sound design for films, I can definitely sit for hours at the beach just listening. But at the same time, I can read about various musical equipment and software for hours without a break. Since I am also a producer, I need to be aware of all the technical innovations that are taking place in the music industry at the moment.  

CM>>> Your new album is called "Altered Realities", a real breathtaking journey through sounds and musical landscapes. Have you chosen the name "Altered Realities" because of the way you worked on the album, I mean you alter the sound of the guitar in a live situation like "changing the reality"?
Or is the title of the album also a hint to the effect it probably has on the audience?

Erdem>>> The album is about altering the sonic character of the acoustic guitar in realtime. As listeners, we have heard the acoustic guitar at various setups. We have heard the fast single note lines from Al di Meola, the percussive 2-hand tapping from Michael Hedges, the fingerstyle playing from Adrian Legg and many more other great artists. My intention for the album was to focus on the timbre of the instrument and build pieces from scratch (from just one note even) and change the timbre of the instrument gradually over time. Since I alter the timbre (reality) of the instrument over time intentionally, I chose the title of the album to be “Altered Realities”.

CM>>>For me it's really unbelievable that all these tracks where recorded in one shot in a kind of live-situation. Please tell me something about the producing process - how have you developed and written these tracks? Do you first play them clean on your guitar without effects? Or have you used the effects right from the start like an instrument?

Erdem>>>I have treated the live electronics part as another instrument. At various moments on the album, the music can even be heard as a virtual duo. The patches that I have created are not simple effect units. The live electronics part always reacts to the way I play. Like if I play a note or a chord at a certain dynamic range, the live electronics react accordingly. That way, the live electronics part is dynamic and is heard not like another identity but a very organic part of the actual guitar sound. I have started composing the guitar parts and the live electronics at the same time right from the very start. This is not a very easy process, but I think the end results sound great. 

CM>>>And how have you worked during the recordings? 

Erdem>> After composing the acoustic guitar and live electronics parts, I just pressed record on my dat recorder. I did many takes for every piece and then chose the best ones. But remember that there is no edits on the actual final recordings. The album is about performance as well as electronics. In that sense, the album can also be regarded as a modern, futuristic jazz recording. I guess that is part of the reason why various jazz magazines also praised the album very much.

CM>>>But I guess using effects like a kind of instruments is really a big challenge because you haven't any notation for the effects. How have you managed these different effects and sounds during the recordings? I mean you kept all the different scenes in your mind or have you used a kind of "storyboard" or some notes?

Erdem>>>I did lots of sketches, notes during the writing process. Based on these, I created a general score for myself where I could follow which effects to control and when.  

CM>>>Was there also space for improvisation with the guitar and the effects?

Erdem>>>The album was mostly composed, but there was an element of improvisation too. Around 10% or so.

CM>>>I also read that you've used the program "Audiomulch". Do you use it as a kind of effect rig? 

Erdem>>> Audiomulch was the main processing program used on the album. I have created very complex patches that react to the way I play. Most of the processed sounds heard on the album are the results of Audiomulch. I think it is one of the most important music softwares developed in the last 10 years.

CM>>>Another big role-plays the TC Electronic Fireworx. Which type have you used?

Erdem>>> TC Electronic Fireworx is a wonderful hardware multi-effects unit. I used a one with the latest bios. It is a unit on the album that accompanies the Audiomulch very well. Together they become a great team. I believe that for some occasions the hardware units are still better than the software versions. So it is good idea to combine both hardware and software units during a production.

CM>>>Do you have any plans to perform the album in a kind of live-sessions?

Erdem>>> I have already performed live at various festivals. During fall 2007, I will play at some concerts in USA and Canada. I also would like to perform with this setup on other artists’ albums and on soundtracks.

CM>>>How do you get signed on the label "New Albion"? From where do you know each other?

Erdem>>> I have known the wonderful clarinet player Evan Ziporyn from the famous new music ensemble Bang on a Can. He already had a solo album released on New Albion Records. He loved my album and sent it to the A&R department of the label. After a few weeks, I received an email stating that they were interested in releasing the album. I was very excited of course! Because New Albion is a label that have released albums from legendary composers like John Cage, Harold Budd, Paul Lansky, Stockhausen. It is so great and exciting to be among those legends.

CM>>>Unfortunately I don't know too much about your record “A Walk Through The Bazaar”. Have you done field recordings to capture all these sounds I've heard on some snippets of this album? 

Erdem>>> Yes I have done a very long field recording at a bazaar in Istanbul. The whole album is based on this field recording. The album includes the elements of contemporary ambient, glitch, space music and techno. It is like a dreamy sonic journey in Istanbul. The music was regarded as “striking, outstanding and like the musical realization of a recovered memory” by magazines such as The Wire and Pitchforkmedia.

CM>>>And with which kind of tools and programs have you worked to produce “A Walk Through The Bazaar”.  

Erdem>>>For the field recording, I used an Audiotechnica AT822 stereo microphone and Tascam DAP-1 Dat Recorder. Then I imported these recordings to my computer. For the sound design, I used programs such as Hog, Metasynth, Soundhack, Soundforge and as hardware access virus synth and lots of plugins. I edited and mixed the album at the program Sonar.

CM>>>Is this album a kind of "declaration of love" to your hometown? What was the impulsion to create this record with all these live sounds? 

Erdem>>> This album is a part of a 6 album series released by Locustmusic. The idea for the series was that chosen artists would do field recordings around the city that they live. Then they would compose the whole album based on these recordings. There are artists such as Matmos, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Reynols on this series. Since I do lots of field recordings myself and I like the soundscape of Istanbul very much, this was like a dream project for me.  It was a sonic declaration of respect to the city. 

CM>>>You can laugh at me, but when I heard your new album "Altered Realities" for the first time I really thought this album is influenced by the hometown of its composer... Which means not that you hear a kind of ethnic influences in sound, no I mean Istanbul stands for me as a symbol for "bridging" it is a melting point, a place where different influences, people and religions come together. And here I see the connection to your album: music played on a "classic" instrument and modulated with modern machines.... Would you agree a little to my strange thoughts?

Erdem>>> Yes I could agree to that to a certain extent. The album is a bridge or crossover between a classic instrument and 21st century machines. I am not very sure if I have been influenced by Istanbul or not but some reviews stated that there is an interesting Turkish music edge to the album. I think some subconscious influences of the city can be heard.

CM>>>What's the reason that you don't use an artist’s name? 

Erdem>>> I have always been interested in artists who use their own names not any artist names. I think in a sense, using an artist name is like trying to hide behind a transparent curtain. I try to think and read a lot about identity in music. I know very well that if I have used a short English phrase as an artist name, I would have more chance to receive reviews or exposure. But your name is one of the most important parts of your identity and I do not want to change that. Although I know that my surname is hard to pronounce for many people, I guess I like the challenge (Laughing)

CM>>>What are your next projects? Do you work on a new album or do you work for a new art or musical production? Or do you work on both (Laughing)?

Erdem>>> I have been working on lots of different projects. I am about to finish a big sound installation for the International Istanbul Biennial that will be open during September 8- November 4, 2007. I have been working on my new solo album that will be released in 2008. I am about to start composing for a new movie. I will start producing 2 different artists in the fall. Recently, I have received a new commission for a new piece from the famous American new music ensemble Bang on a Can. The piece will be premiered in NY in February 2008. I will start working on this piece very soon. 

CM>>>[Erdem: the next questions are a little bit tricky, if you don't like to answer it  no problem. I am just curious] I remarked that you did a lot of shows in the United States and your albums have been also released by American record labels. From where does this connection to the States come? Did it result from your studies or through the music?

Erdem>>> Actually, this was not a planned thing. From the very start of my career, the labels in USA have been interested in my work more than the labels in Europe. My pieces have been performed and broadcast a lot in USA. I think this has been just a natural flow. But lately, there are more labels from Europe who are interested in my music. Maybe this US connection could change in a way in the near future.

CM>>> so you also have to travel a lot to the United States. Do you feel more observed when you enter the States in the last years? 

Erdem>>> Since I am not a US citizen and I am someone coming from a Muslim country, I have more of a chance to get observed and checked at the airports. But I have travelled to USA many times in the last 5 years and I have not had any bad experiences until now.

CM>>>Are you interested in working and living in other countries and towns or would you say "no Istanbul is MY city"? This is the city I need...

Erdem>>> I am very interested in working in London and New York. I have already done work over there, and definitely would like to do more. Although Istanbul is a great city, I think it is also very important as an artist to travel to other parts of the world to get inspiration.

CM>>>We talked a lot about your wonderful music which can obviously classified more as art music. But do you sometimes enter the rich nightlife of Istanbul just for a party or do you go to some clubs? 

Erdem>>> Yes I go to clubs and parties for sure, but definitely with my earplugs on (Laughing) Since I also play with loud rock bands, I am very comfortable at clubs playing and dancing.

CM>>>To which music do you listen at the moment?

Erdem>>> I listen to various things. A great jazz album by Susanne Abbuehl titled “April”, Tigran Mansurian’s “String Quartets”, Toru Takemitsu’s “Film Music”, David Torn’s latest solo album “Prezens” and lots of soundscape compositions from artists such as Hildegard Westerkamp, Barry Truax and Thomas Gerwin.

CM>>>What do you need for a perfect day in your life?

Erdem>>>  Listening to any piece by Morton Felman is a big part of a perfect day in life.


Thank you so much

Michael

Cuemix Interview -  erdem helvacioglu July 2007



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