Pro/File: Cycles of Strings

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Erdem Helvacioglu

Experimental music naturally brings with it a sense of risk, adventure, and endless possibility. And with the current state of technology, all it takes is a single instrument and a few key pieces of gear to create a whole new galaxy of sound. Joining the ranks of solo innovators like Christopher Willits and Imogen Heap, guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu has begun to make his mark outside his native Turkey with live and fully improvised excursions using only an acoustic guitar and a little programming ingenuity. His most recent album,Altered Realities(New Albion, 2006), offers a good view of where he's headed.

“I'm interested in continuity,” Helvacioglu says, “but I'm also interested in changes within the live-electronic sound and within the playing itself. Each is part of the same story. A lot of live-electronics albums with guitar — or with any other instrument — are based on looping. First you loop a sound, then you change it a little bit, and then maybe you add something. But the sounds themselves don't evolve that much. I'm trying to make everything evolve.”

Helvacioglu initiates a cinematic and sweeping exploration right from Altered Realities' start with “Bridge to Horizon,” which opens with a series of 2-note chords and plucked harmonics that gradually morph into a cavernous echo wash of orchestral proportions. Like each of the other six pieces on the CD, “Bridge to Horizon” is the result of a live stereo mix of one pass, with no overdubs. The signal of Helvacioglu's Ovation guitar is split out to both Ross Bencina's AudioMulch interactive studio software and a TC Electronic FireworX processor, then recorded straight to DAT. He uses a Behringer MIDI foot controller to manipulate virtually any combination of effects parameters he wants.

“I've used lots of other sequencing and sound-design programs, like [Steinberg] Cubase, [U&I Software] MetaSynth, and even a little [Cycling '74] Max/MSP,” Helvacioglu explains, “and at first I used AudioMulch basically for sound design — importing a sound, processing it, and then using it for something else. But then I started getting into more of the live-electronics aspect of it, and I found that it's very intuitive. Pretty soon I incorporated it with the hardware side [FireworX], and so it's gone on from there.”

Real-time sample chopping and multiple rhythmic gate effects drive songs such as “Frozen Resophonic,” which, under the insistent pulse of rapidly regenerating guitars, seems at one point to break apart like an ice sheet during a spring thaw. By contrast, the soaring corps of violins that fills the high registers of “Pearl Border” arises from a combination of granular synthesis and the resonators in AudioMulch, propelling the song into otherworldly regions. Always ready to follow a melody or rhythm wherever it may lead, Helvacioglu recalls the free spirit of other Turkish guitarists (Erkin Koray and Erkan Ogur, to name two of the biggest) who have come before him — a link not immediately detectable in his music, but one that he acknowledges.

“Our generation definitely listened to those records,” Helvacioglu says. “I'm not sure if they've had a very direct effect on my music. If I played a fretless guitar and used the scales of traditional Turkish folk music, that would be too obvious. But it's in our subconscious and in our soul, so I'm sure there are hints of it in what I'm doing now.”


Home base: Istanbul, Turkey

Guitar: Ovation Custom Legend 1869 acoustic-electric

Other key gear: AudioMulch software, TC Electronic FireworX processor, Behringer FCB1010 MIDI foot controller