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15 Questions to Betty Ween

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’ve been in Istanbul for the past seven years. I’m doing really well, thank you. Even though sometimes life here is more difficult when you compare it to life in Europe, it’s still great. The nature is beautiful, the people are full of love…

What’s on your schedule right now?
I’m performing here with Betty Ween every so often. Trying to keep an alternative group going in Turkey is also very difficult, most of the time you’re spending your own money to get your music produced. But there were a lot of people who were saying that we had to get “Bitter” out overseas. I need to really get moving on that, but I’ve been very lazy in that regard, and very shy as well.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
I’m usually influenced by musical concepts and by female vocalists. I would say Iva Bittova, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush and Björk from the avant-garde, Ani DiFranco, PJ Harvey and Tori Amos (her earlier work) from the pop world, and women like Sainkho Namchilak and Diamanda Galas who are doing free improvisation.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
I think there are some very good things going on that are going to get people excited, for example, things from the “new music” scene that can bring a completely new dimension to what people are used to listening to. My music and I have been able to benefit from this movement, too, even if only just a bit. I think that in the 21st century, when we’ve discovered so many complex styles, to be able to make something original is the greatest luxury. To get to your question of whether or not there is a crisis, the way I look at it, this is the crisis: Even though I’m making the music I want to make, because I’m independent, I can’t truly reach a mass audience.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
Actually, for me, “new” doesn’t really hold a particularly special place. For me, the important term in music is “personality”. Music is a very spontaneous and personal experience for everyone, and I believe that, in the end, this is the way in which its value is measured. That’s why the best thing you can do when you’re making music is to enjoy what you’re doing and do it with sincerity.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?
I think that for a musician the relationship between sound and composition develops in connection with how they create their music. With my former group, we went through a short period of producing electronic music. At that time it seemed more appropriate to compose out of the sounds we were creating. My current group is completely acoustic. In this case, it’s important to know the character and the limits of both the musicians and the instruments. I took these as my criteria in composing songs for the second album. Sometimes it felt restrictive to think like this, but together with Onur’s arrangements, the result is that the group’s tone is much more balanced and much stronger when compared to the previous album.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
For Betty Ween, I definitely want the composition to be the take-off point. The form can be totally modern, but for each song, I like to be able to capture a melodic sentence, a riff, the lyrics and the progression of a song. For example, in “By the Pool,” the vocal melody and the refrain are fixed, but the instruments take the notes they are given and hurl them out in a totally freeform manner for the entire length of the song!

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
As someone whose studied advertising, I know the value of visual esthetics. But since the birth of my son, I really haven’t had time to deal with this “detail”. Be that as it may, I know that nothing can come before a good musical performance. With a little help from luck, the listeners and musicians together develop a good energy, a synergy. This is what I try to capture. In our last concert I made a change, and from practically the beginning to the end I sang with my eyes closed. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but the result was fantastic, and the organizers decided to immediately book us for another concert.

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
Yes, this is an argument I like to follow closely, but then again, I’m not sure I really have anything to say on the subject. Like I said a moment ago, I believe that music is a very personal experience, and so there are inevitably going to be different “truths”. In general I can’t draw a line, because if I were to say, “The music made under this category isn’t music,” or, “This person’s music isn’t music,” some work might come out under that category or by that person that might just knock me out.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
My husband is studying composition and is about to finish his doctorate. I can follow the music he listens to closely, how he composes, how his arguments develop, and I can understand how there can be “serious” music that might not be the thing of the usual listener. (the academicians can think what they want).

Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
Music never used to be made with a personal goal in mind. Some people consider this change to be a “depravation,”but I don’t think of it like that. Music can’t be tied down to serving just one purpose. Really, isn’t this what we think when we are composing? “First, just let it come out, we’ll decide what it is later.”

True or false: People need to be educated about  music, before they can really appreciate it.
If an “education” is an issue, beginning in the mother’s womb, and up to the recent past, then I’m personally a witness! From birth, what you hear is what you begin to get used to, which is why a Turk likes odd rhythms and maqâms, an Indian likes ragas, an American likes country music… In order to take a deeper pleasure from a wider range of music, an “education” – and that includes getting your ear in tune –may be necessary, yes.

Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?
Today there are a lot of programs and equipment available to support people who aren’t musicians in making music in their own homes. I’m sure the people who get to listen to what they’ve created are getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. On the other hand, when something has lost its balance, it will be remade shortly thereafter. Lasting music will always make its way to the curious.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
With the help of someone whose repertoire was wider than my own and whose taste I trusted, among the names I would absolutely like to see would be Iva Bittova, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Björk, Sainkho Namchilak, Five Voices and Ani DiFranco.

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
My biggest fantasy is to have a few videos, a world tour, countless album sales and a whole range of projects, just like a pop star, only with the music I’m making now!


In Betty Ween (2003) Elec Trip
Bitter (2006) Web Premiere

Betty Ween

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