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CD Feature/ Erdem Helvacioglu: "Wounded Breath"

img  Tobias

With a world of sounds and software-tools at the tip of everyone's fingers, eclecticism is no longer a unique selling point these days. Still, the career of Erdem Helvacioglu beggers belief. Coming from a background in Progressive Rock, his first solo outing „A Walk through the Bazaar“ was based on field recordings in both pure and processed state and presented him as a Sound Artist with a sensitive ear. For „Altered Realities“, meanwhile, released on the prestigious New Albion imprint, he returned to his first instrument, the Guitar, taking it however on a melodic and textural tour de force through the lands of Ambient and Drones. The all but unanimously positive reception the album received seemed to call for a thematically-linked follow-up. But „Wounded Breath“ has turned out something different alltogether again – an electro-acoustic work of inspiring imagination and captivating narrative power.

In fact, the record differs from its predecessors in more than just stylistic aspects. While „A Walk“ and „Altered Realities“ were clearly identifiable as works with a natural, preordained tension arch (which would almost by default turn the latter into a favourite for end of the year-lists with some of the most prominent publications of the genre), „Wounded Breath“ inherently constitutes more of a careful selection of separate pieces written for various festivals. In terms of compositional technique, too, Helvacioglu has once again taken a complete turnabout. If his tender Guitarscapes were recorded live and foremostly relied on improvisation and in-the-momentness, the material on display here is pristine, precise and planned to the highest possible degree. Each bar, each single note serves a function in the overall design of a piece and the buildups of these tracks reveal a meticulous process of organisation in terms of sound and arrangement. Concretely spelled-out concepts have taken over from associative abstractions and their consciously stoked inner conflicts lend an air of suspense to a genre which is all too often tainted by the fug of academia.

A perfect example of this newly found love of storytelling is „Lead Crystal Marbles“, the epic creative core of the album. On this 17-minute composition, Helvacioglu sends hundreds of glass beads crashing to the floor. The sound of their impact is a dramatic curtain-raiser triggering a chain of concrete events, perceptional processes and mnemonic associations. The original noise is pitched, slowed up and down, morphed, mixed and altered in volume and timbre to yield a field of related events all connected by the big-bang-like explosion of the first few seconds. Depending on their degree of transformation, the marbles will alternately sound like colossal orbs in one moment and like tingly water bubbles playfully rising up to the surface in the next. While some scenes consist of nothing but subtle variations of the original stem cell, others are combined with harmonic and rhythmical motives, thereby gently altering their effect. It is almost, as if developing his material in technical terms were irrelevant to Helvacioglu and as though his real aim were to depict the emotional impact of the event and to put to music the opaque cloud of sensations following in its wake.

Similar progams, elucidated by means of short verbal introduction in the booklet, pervade the remaining four pieces as well. On „Dance of Fire“, percussive pulses and constantly changing moods are direct references to the accompanying concept of the dance being „sometimes elegant, sometimes aggresive, sometimes rhythmic and sometimes not – but always beautiful“. Backwards loops and gradual deformation of motives, meanwhile, symbolise  „A blurred image in the mirror“. And on the title track, the final breaths of a dying woman are ornamented with gleaming nocturnal chords – the final images of a life ending with „so many things yet to be done“. Helvacioglu is exclusively tackling the big issues on this album: Life, death, fire, cold, the meaning of existence, salvation and atonement. The serenity of his compostions and the expressive gloom of his colours match the seriousness of this topics, yet their exciting dramaturgy and head-on sonic collisions also infuse them with an elegant aura of film-noir.

Perhaps this visual component can partly be explained by his activities in the realms of sound track work in his native Turkey.  But they also stem from a natural desire to captivate his audience from a track's beginnings (the first seconds of all these pieces are exceptionally startling) to their grand finale. Each of them represents an aural journey, whose power extends well beyond the outwardly simple scenes at their foundation. This may actually prove the most memorable part of the album over time. Programmatic ideas may lend additional weight to some of the statements on the album. But just as with Richard Strauss, the uninformed listener can get just as much out of them as the initiated expert. The music doesn't need the programs which imbued them in order to make sense, because they are held together by the inspired breath of their creator. As much as one may have been prepared for yet another stylistic volte-face, the artistic singularity of this record remains as baffling as Erdem Helvacioglu's eclectic personality.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Erdem Helvacioglu
Homepage: Erdem Helvacioglu at MySpace
Homepage: Aucourant Records

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