Erdem Helvacioglu is one of the big names in Turkish contemporary
music, having been given awards through competitions such as
the Luigi Russolo, Musica Nova, and Insulae Electronicae for
Electroacoustic Music, and been commissioned by organisations
such as the 2006 World Soccer Championship and the Bang on a
Can-All Stars. He has also received awards for his film music.
Eleven Short Stories is a collection of pieces for prepared
piano which pays homage to some of Helvacioglu’s favourite
film directors: Kim Ki-Duk, David Lynch, Krzysztof Kieslowski,
Theodoros Angelopoulos, Jane Campion, Anthony Minghella, Ang
Lee, Atom Egoyan, Darren Aronofsky, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
and Steven Soderberg.
As the titles suggest, these pieces are atmospheric vignettes
which are suggestive of particular scenes, rather than a more
general catch-all attempt to sum up a particular director’s
oeuvre. Often quite eventful, the music can be meditative, but
doesn’t always lull you into a kind of New-Age stupor.
The prepared piano is well known through composers such as John
Cage, who added extra elements to the strings of the piano to
alter the sonority and timbre of the strings to create some
strange and often rather magical effects in works including
and Interludes. The cover photo shows the composer performing
within a forest of plastic spoons, and further items used apparently
include pencils, erasers, paper, metal spoons, knives, forks,
drumsticks, guitar plectrums and slides, e-bows, metal plates,
clapsticks, ear plugs, paperclips attached to the strings, a
toy train and a 60s fashion magazine. With this recording you
have a stunning close-up of these effects, and with microphones
placed close to the strings you have a remarkable stereo image
and some startling percussive sounds and low bass thuds.
As a set of atmospheric soundscapes this is an intriguing collection
of works, and with those deliberate cinematic associations these
pieces often have a way of conjuring imagery of one kind or
another. There are some strong musical ideas and nuances here,
such as sonorous ostinato of Six Clocks in the Dim Room
or the dark and ritualistic rhythms of Trapped in the Labyrinth,
but I have to admit to feeling a little let down by the thinness
of most of the actual musical ideas on this album as a whole.
As a composer I doubt I am alone in having driven my parents
up the wall as a child, dismantling the family upright and exploring
some of the sounds we hear on this recording. If I’d felt
there was more artistic mileage in that kind of thing as a springboard
for new music no doubt I’d have kept going, but the kind
of musical meandering I hear in many of these pieces seems to
me a very good reason for having stopped in my early teens.
Yes, I’ll use those effects from time to time, but if
it still sounds too much like a piano and doesn’t have
enough musical chutzpah I’m afraid the associations with
a surfeit of exotic plucking hammering and scraping will have
me throwing the whole lot in a canal. Less is all too often
more in this context, and the spell of Arvo Pärt’s
Rasa is one in which the voice of the prepared piano
plays an essential role. In this case we’re talking about
the emotionally crushing weight of a single note or phrase -
the unforgettable fleck of perfectly placed gold rather than
the boringly diamond-encrusted skull. If we’re talking
about content, then, love or hate them, the Cage Sonatas
and Interludes are also in a different league, also emerging
from a foundation of musical inventiveness, with the preparedness
of the piano an exploratory solution to ideas conceived, rather
than the raison d’être for atmospheric effects.
This is a personal feeling and I don’t want to tar this
recording with my own historic brush, but have a listen to something
like Will I Ever See You Again and you have to ask yourself,
‘will I ever want to hear you again?’ Gather your
posse and run me out of town if you like, but is this not just
a collection of rather naively assembled notes with a rattly
bass tone? It’s not the sound or the sonorities as much
as the content. The Billowing Curtain is another unfortunate
opening track in this regard: yang yang yang - yang….
I’ve been here too often to get anything from this. I
suppose my point of view is the same as when I go to a restaurant:
I don’t want to be fed something I could cook as easily
myself at home - and not be satisfied with the results
when I finished preparing the meal and sat down to eat.
If you like Roger Eno and fancy something similar with the extra
spice of a richly endowed/encrusted and unusually well recorded
prepared piano, then this will be right up your street. Please,
I don’t want to sink anyone’s boat, but as one seeking
substance these appear to me more as flash fiction than short
stories. I’m afraid my Anatolian horizons will have to
be expanded elsewhere.