Erdem Helvacoglu has been travelling along the melting point of various genres from electroacoustic and live electronics to field recordings, from sound sculpture to modern classical compositions; and even more with his producer identity for various projects and scores for a number of movies. While his compositions ingeniously take us on a journey full of excitement, he also travels the world not only to collaborate with names like Per Boysen or Ros Bandt, but also to take part in various festivals and occasions as a guest musician and composer. His rich palette of sounds and projects surely prove his ability as a global artist with a unique local touch.
I guess the Black Falcon album that you have released with Ros Bandt is your first album released in Turkey. As an artist who has been producing work since the beginning of the 2000s, do you feel excited about this release?
Yes that is right, although I have released five albums so far, Black Falcon is the first one that has been released in Turkey. The Altered Realities album which has been released in New York was imported to Turkey by AK Muzik in 2008. On the other hand, Black Falcon has been officially released in Istanbul by the Turkish record label, Pozitif. The album definitely has a special meaning for me. I regard the album as a synthesis of all the aesthetics and techniques that I have used on my previous works. Both Ros and me regard the Black Falcon album as a special world music work that has influences of ambient, electroacoustic, contemporary classical and modern jazz. On this album, Ros played the intrument called the tarhu and I played the electric guitar and controlled all the live electronics. We did not use any other instrument and any other sound source. This restriction along with the minimal performance of the instruments has resulted in a subtle but emotionally very powerful album.
You do many collaborative projects. Could you tell us about the collaborative projects that you have released recently and the works that you plan to do in the near future?
The Sub City 2064 album that I have done with Per Boysen was released in Sweden in April 2010. This is a futuristic album that tells the story of a city built under the ocean in 2064 and it includes the aesthetics of many different genres such as ambient, electroacoustic, dub, electronica, industrial and orchestral. The harp and electronics album that I have done with Sirin Pancaroglu was released in June 2011 by the British label Sargasso. Besides these works, duo albums Planet X (with Ulrich Mertin), Fields and Fences (with Bill Walker) and Erlik Khan (with Bruce Tovsky) all were released in late 2012, and the very latest duo record, Esther’s Memory, was released in June 2013. Right now, I am working on a new electroacoustic piece which [that was] premiered in Marseille in August 2013. This is a 60 minute piece commissioned by MUCEM and is completely based on the soundscape of Marseille. [There was] also another premier this year in November, [which was] a 60 minute piece for the American new music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars, commissioned by Borusan Muzik Evi.
In the meantime, as far as I remember, you have also been working with the vocalist of the band Cardigans.
We have been talking about this project for sometime with Nina Persson and her film composer husband Nathan Larson. We started recording some demos and basic ideas in New York in November 2010. We gave a premier concert during the Istanbul International Film Festival in April 2012. I will be moving to New York by the end of 2013 and we plan to finally release the record in 2014.
Could you tell us more about your involvement with the Timucin Esen project?
Timucin is a close friend of mine whom I have known for a long time. I have been enjoying his songs and his vocal style. I am the producer and the arranger for the album. On this record, we have tried many different guitar sounds, have used special fx processors, drum machines and I think we have come up with a unique electronic rock sound. Besides being the producer and the arranger, I have also played the electric guitar on some songs.
Do you see yourself as a local musician who has gained success internationally, or as a musician who has limited fan base here but is rather happy to be working abroad?
This is a hard question to answer. I do not think that this has only one answer. I guess I experience both conditions in everyday life. There have been times where I have felt like a local musician from Istanbul and also the opposite. The interest towards the Black Falcon album has shown me that I am not stuck in a restricted community in Turkey. A lot of people told me that they had begun to enjoy electronic music because of this record. It is really wonderful to share this enthusiasm here in Istanbul.
You have a background in electronic music while on the other hand a lot of your works have an organic, acoustic feel to them. Is there a balance between them for you?
I started playing the classical guitar and then my musical interest turned towards rock ‘n’ roll and electronic music. It seems that a clean guitar sound is always in my subconscious. I rather work along the lines of the project and I do not want to lock myself to a certain aesthetic. Although I like heavily processed timbres and sounds, at times a clean guitar tone coming from a Vox amp could be really inspirational and interesting.
Isn’t this switch between genres and aesthetics difficult for you?
Actually this switch of mind set between different genres and aesthetics is not difficult for me. I have been involved with different projects at the same time through my musical career. I have found that it really improves me as a composer. I can work on an abstract electronic piece, while producing a rock band or writing a classical music work. I can try a new mixing technique that I have learned from an electronic piece on a rock song or I can try a new microphone technique that I have discovered during a classical music production at another piece in a different genre. Also, working on different projects at the same time improves your production quality and gives you a fresh perspective on things.
Finally, what does a sonic idea mean for you?
Within musique concrete, any sound can be presented and treated as a sonic object. I feel more comfortable within the soundscape composition genre as a composer. For this genre, the environment that the sounds have been recorded at, the meaning of that specific place for the composer and all other parameters have an importance for the final sonic composition. The composers related with this genre do sound processing as much as the sound needs it in a way, nothing more and nothing less. For example, minimal processing after a five minute unprocessed section may have a very powerful effect on the audience. Because of all these points, I enjoy the works of Canadian composer Hildegard Westerkamp very much. My work, Memories on Silent Walls, presented at the Istanbul Biennial, is a good example of this aesthetic.
Interview by Okan Aydin