Composer Profile: Erdem Helvacıoğlu



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Erdem Helvacıoğlu is one of the most renowned new music composers of his generation in Turkey.  He has received commissions from the 2006 World Football Championship, TBA 21 The Morning Line, Borusan Center for Culture & Arts, Arter “Space for Art”, The Association for the Art of the Harp, Novelum Contemporary Music Festival, International Istanbul Biennial, MUCEM and the world famous new music ensemble Bang On A Can-All Stars. His sound installations have been included at such museums and galleries as 10th International Istanbul Biennial, Los Angeles Track 16, Indonesia Soemardja, Köln Museum für Angewandte Kunst, London Menier Gallery, Arter “Space for Art”. He has released thirteen albums most of which have been included in the “best albums of the year” lists on magazines such as All About Jazz, Textura, Cyclic Defrost, Blogcritics, Perfect Sound Forever and Guitar Player.


What is your earliest musical memory that, in looking back, has proved to be significant regarding your career as a composer?

The “Yellow Shark” album by Frank Zappa is one of my earliest musical memories that has proven to be significant regarding my career as a composer. That whole album in a way encouraged me to become a composer though at the time I did not know how long that would take or how and what I should study to become a good composer. It was a significant start for sure. As a record producer, sound engineer, certain hard rock and pop albums of the ‘80s such as “Hysteria” by Def Leppard, “Bad” by Michael Jackson have been influential. The sonic quality of these albums amazed me and encouraged me to learn about the details of music production. 

Are there composers who have been influential or relevant regarding your own work?  Has this changed over time?

There have been many composers who have influenced my work as a composer. One of them is Jonathan Harvey. His control, detailed work over timbre has always amazed me. Some of the other composers that have been influential are Kaija Saariaho, Anton Webern, Francis Dhomont, Hildegard Westerkamp, Ingram Marshall, Luc Ferrari and Somei Satoh. 

Would you mind speaking a little concerning your working process, i.e., do you have a regular schedule for writing; do you use a computer for composing (either for creating pre-composition materials or notation), if so, do you find that it inhibits your process?  What other technology, if any, do you use?

My working system depends on the demands of that specific project. I have my own studio with lots of analog guitar pedals, different kinds of synthesizers, drum machines, amps, instruments, hardware fx processors and lots of different softwares, plugins. For example, if a project is entirely based on drum machine timbres, then I only work with drum machines, I program them, record, edit, process etc. If a piece is about an ensemble with electronics, then I use another working method. I work within Cubase to edit, process timbres and at the same time by using sample based softwares that mimic the sound of that specific ensemble, I get a general outline of the piece. Then I export that score as midi, import it to Sibelius and do the final edits of the score within that program. Every day I work at my studio. Sometimes the regular working hours would involve post-production work such as editing, mixing and other times sound design, composing.  

Please describe a recent work and provide a link to an audio clip.

I have many projects that have been released recently. One of them is the album titled “Timeless Waves“. This work was originally composed for a 47 channel/53 speaker diffusion system running on The Morning Line – an interdisciplinary art project by Matthew Ritchie, Aranda/Lasch and Arup AGU and was commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (T-B A21). Sonically, “Timeless Waves” is based on the timbres of Togaman GuitarViol, Gibson Les Paul electric guitar, sine waves, various analog pedals and hardware fx processors. The music combines elements from genres such as electroacoustic, drone, noise and contemporary music blended with minimal melodies.

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