Erdem HELVACIOGLU (b. 1975)
Eleven Short Stories
The Billowing Curtain [4:02]
Bench at the Park [3:15]
Jittery Chase [3:56]
Shattered Snow Globe [5:08]
Six Clocks in the Dim Room [3:46]
Mist on the Windowpane [4:53]
Blood Drops by the Pool [3:58]
Have Not Been Here in Forty Years [3:09]
Trapped in the Labyrinth [5:42]
Will I Ever See You Again [6:30]
Shrine in Ruins [3:25]
Erdem Helvacioglu (prepared piano)
rec. Robert College Suna Kirac Theater Hall, Istanbul, dates not given.
INNOVA 245 [47:47]
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 the Sonatas 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 Tabula 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.
Dominy Clements
Superb sound - atmospheric but, alas, also rather full of wind.