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15 Questions to Erdem Helvacioglu

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hi. Thank you very much. I am fine. I am in Istanbul at the moment. I have been working at my studio for some new productions and albums that will be released soon.

What’s on your schedule right now?
There are a few different things on my schedule right now. I am working on a big sound installation that will be premiered at the Istanbul Biennale in September 2007. I have been also writing new pieces for acoustic instruments with fixed electronic parts. Besides these, I have been working on my next solo albums that will be released in 2008. I am also about to start producing 2 new projects.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

There is a crisis in the record industry, but not a crisis in the music scene. I think all over the world there are very interesting sounds created that we would not be able to hear 10 years ago. Technology has changed the whole music industry. For better or worse, as composers we should definitely need to learn how to make the best of this new major change. As long as we try to embrace the technology and make clever use of it, this crisis will turn into an advantage.

What does the term “new” mean to you in connection with music?
For me, new in music is anything that is exciting aurally. It does not need to be associated with the art music, avant-garde or contemporary classical. The idea of new and innovation is usually associated with the Western art music. Whereas, the traditional Anatolian music is based on the idea of continuation, not progress. The musical works are mostly songs that are recited within the villages. I think this idea of continuation and tradition should be as important as the idea of progress.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

I think the hard distinction between composition and sound has waned. Even only 10 years ago, this separation was still in place, whereas today, the new generation of listeners are very much used to hearing sound design, sound fx, wild textural elements in the movies, r’n’b productions etc. Maybe in 100 years time, there will only be one term for musical composition and that will be the term sound.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?

This very much depends on the moment and the context. For nearly all my work, I start with a defined idea, and then improvise a little bit based on this basic idea. I then do many edits to the musical figures that I have improvised and create the final work. As a composer, I think improvisation is a very important, vital tool. Improvisation can give us so many different musical ideas that we would not think about while we are sitting donw composing with a pen / pencil.

How would you define the term “interpretation”?
Interpretation is trying to discover new meanings from an already defined meaningful composition.

Harmony? Dissonance? The freedom to choose both, none or just one?
That is a very hard to decision to make. It depends on what we mean by harmony and dissonance. I think the composers of 20th century western art music have literally redefined these terms. As a composer living in the 21st century, the dissonance and noise for the previous century is like the sweetest harmony and consonance for me. I feel that a lot of the composers from my generation think the same way. So, I would choose both of them, not leaving anything aside.

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?
I would not draw a border. For me, anything that deals with sound could be called music. I think in the 21st century, with the help of the digital communication, the meanings of various terms will change. One of these terms will be music most probably. The idea of sound and the term soundart will replace the term music. Likewise, the term composer will be replaced by the term sound artist.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?

I think these terms are very general. Any serious art music could have elements of popular music itself, and likewise popular music can also have the elements of serious art music. I do not think that there should be a very distinct border between them. These kinds of titles actually really do hurt the contemporary art music scene. When ordinary listeners hear the term “serious music”, they immediately lose interest, even long before they get a chance to hear the actual work. For them, that means music that they will not enjoy and understand at all. As composers, performers, institutions, we should stop using the term serious music. A folk song that deals with an issue very deeply intellectually could be called a serious piece of music too.

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?

First of all, the composer should be happy with the results of his work. But besides this, I think art in general should definitely have a social aspect. I have noticed that my musical tasted have changed lately. The more I listen to abstract works, the more interested I have become in political music. I am attracted to any kind of music where the composer has something interesting to tell me.

True or false: People need to be educated about music, before they can really appreciate it.
This depends on what we mean by music education. Nobody can be or should be forced to have musical education at a conservatory or another kind of music school. I think the best education in music is listening to different kinds of music a lot and reading about them. That way, the ordinary listener can appreciate the little sonic details within the composition. I think at schools students should be taught how to listen and make reasonable comments about the works rather than taught theory that they will not need at least for a long time in their lives. As a part of musical education, many years ago in elementary schools in Turkey, students had to learn how to play the mandolin. And mandolin is not an easy instrument to play for a 7 year old. I think this is one of the main reasons why students who failed playing the mandolin did not do anything related with music later in their lives. The main focus in music education should be about communication, sharing, experimenting and fun rather than the idea of success and virtuoso.

True or false: The cultural subsidies doled out by governments are being sent to the wrong kind of people and institutions.

I think this may be true to a certain extent. When we talk about institutions, governments, money and people, we actually talk about power and the usage of it. The percentage of freelance composers who would have the chance to receive the subsidies is pretty small. The only real solution to this would be reaching a point in our society where there would be no need for these subsidies because every artist would be able to live and create his work without any outside financial help. Of course, this is a dream that will never become a reality, at least for a long time.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would
be on your program?

I would definitely include pieces by Ilhan Mimaroglu and Bulent Arel. Besides those works, I guess I would include these names too: Alva Noto, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Harold Budd, Hildegard Westerkamp, Salif Keita, Erkan Ogur and Susanne Abbuehl. 

Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?
I think magnum opus is a pretty romantic term. I do not think a term like this is relevant in the contemporary musical world. As long as a composer continues to compose good works, the idea of creating a magnum opus will be irrelevant. But that does not mean that I am completely satisfied with the works that I have composed until now. I have so many different ideas, concepts that I would like to deal with. I hope that I will be able to compose interesting works and share them with the audience as long as I am alive.

A Walk through the Bazaar (Locust Music) 2003
Altered Realities (New Albion Records) 2006

Erdem Helvacioglu
Erdem Helvacioglu at MySpace

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