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


textura march 2009
Erdem Helvacioglu: Wounded Breath
Aucourant Records

VA: Spectra: Guitar in the 21st Century
Quiet Design Records

While 2007's Erdem Helvacioglu's Altered Realities marries acoustic guitar playing and live electronics in distinguished manner, Wounded Breath at least appears to dispense with the former altogether in its focus on electro-acoustic sound sculpting. Having said that, it's entirely possible that the Turkey-based composer created the material by filtering his acoustic guitar playing through a series of processors and programs, but, even so, nothing remotely resembling conventional guitar sounds surfaces during Wounded Breath. It's interesting to discover that while, on the one hand, his new material is considerably more abstract in stylistic approach than its predecessor, it's also more direct in that he's included associative info that allows the listener to contextualize the five pieces with ease. As a result, one has no difficulty visualizing the diving crew plunging into the freezing arctic waters during “Below the Cold Ocean” and to hear the rhythmic churn of the ship's steel blades in the icy water and feel the already sub-zero temperature plummet dangerously further when biting winds blow across the open sea. Helvacioglu creates a brittle and ice-cold universe of micro-sound textures where sounds reverberate from ink black depths and rise to the murky surface. Mystery is heightened during “Dance of Fire” when he challenges the listener to imagine what the elemental experience of fire is like. Convulsive ripples and crystalline tones careen throughout the piece's eleven minutes, generating an effect that's by turns mesmerizing and threatening. A seemingly lighter mood prevails during the opening minutes of the middle setting, “Lead Crystal Marbles,” when the percussive bounce of glass marbles is heard alongside creaking noises that sound like slowly-opening doors but are perhaps intended to mimic marbles rolling slowly across schoolyard pavement. Moving away from the earth-bound activity of marble-playing, Helvacioglu exploits the supra-dimensional associations of the track's title with what's either a deep-space exploration or a plunge into a microscopic biological universe. Having covered a remarkable amount of ground during the setting's seventeen minutes, the composer nicely caps it with a peaceful coda. The album's final piece, “Wounded Breath,” represents an elderly woman on her death bed and, as such, one might expect the composition to be reflective and peaceful in style. On the contrary, its twelve minutes are turbulent and shape-shifting with Helvacioglu distilling in sonic form the agitation the woman experiences as memories, both joyful and upsetting, pass through her final moments of consciousness. Not surprisingly, here too the activity level diminishes as the piece moves towards its end, and we even hear faint traces of the woman's final thoughts before her last breath is taken. Such attention to detail helps make Wounded Breath about as accomplished an example of contemporary electro-acoustic sound design as one might hope to find.

Helvacioglu also appears on Spectra: Guitar In The 21st Century, an hour-long collection issued by Austin-based Quiet Design that puts him in the company of Tetuzi Akiyama, Keith Rowe, Sebastien Roux, Jandek, and others. The recording's goal is to give voice to the unconventional sounds experimental artists generate from the guitar and to reaffirm the instrument's status as a sonic resource of immense dynamic and harmonic range, a status that's never been more evident than today given the seemingly unlimited possibilities afforded by current technologies. While conventional acoustic and electric guitar playing is heard on the release, more often than not the instrument mutates into a mini-orchestra of metallic and industrial character. A bit surprisingly, the compilation is also largely easy on the ears as the performers eschew high-volume intensity for explorative restraint.
Recorded live in Houston, “Three Small Pieces” presents Akiyama's acoustic guitar alone, with pregnant pauses capturing the artist deliberating over every note and every tiny rustle audible in between. Texas-based Mike Vernusky sculpts a truly remarkable sound-world in his steely drone “Nylah” in juxtaposing rippling washes with granular sheets of groaning rumble. Helvacioglu's ruminative “The End of the World,” arguably the recording's most elaborate piece (and, at eleven minutes, the longest), opens in placid mode with layers of guitar melodies flowing in glissandi-like manner and then morphing into an oceanic mass. Electric figures advance out of the shimmering whole and then are just as quickly subsumed backed into it. Keith Rowe's “Fragment from a Response to Cardew's Treatise” aggressively simmers with brittle, factory machine-like churn and clatter, while Duane Pitre and Cory Allen contribute a steely drone (“Music for Microtonal Guitars and Mallets [Edit]”) and lulling loops of electronic and grainy character (“Fermion”). Jandek's “The World Stops” (from the album I Threw You Away) is clearly the wild card of the bunch, given the song's vocal drawl, harmonica wail, and guitar stabs. Of course no single-CD compilation of experimental guitar music can hope to be comprehensive—Fennesz is conspicuous by his absence, for example—but Spectra: Guitar In The 21st Century nevertheless provides a compelling overview of the field.

March 2009
textura march 2009