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Erdem Helvacioğlu is one of the most exciting Turkish composers of electronic music today. In Resonating Universes, in collaboration with harpist Şirin Pancaroğlu, he sets out to combine elements of traditional Turkish music with contemporary experiment, and the çeng (the Ottoman harp) with modern electronica. The concert starts with traditional works, performed by Pancaroğlu and singer Bora Uymaz. After a short break, the programme continues with Helvacioğlu’s work Resonating Universes. Part of the electronic component is made up of pre-recorded and digitally manipulated harp parts, played by Pancaroğlu using bows, ropes and even knives – anything to elicit the desired sounds. At the concert, electronic processing of the instrument’s live sound is added to the mix, forging complex, layered soundscapes of contrasting worlds which endlessly resound in each other.
A concert by composer Erdem Helvacioğlu and harpist Şirin Pancaroğlu, Resonating Universes is part of the programme focusing on Turkey and its region at this year's Holland Festival. Erdem Helvacioğlu is widely regarded as one the most interesting Turkish composers of electronic music today and Şirin Pancaroğlu one of the leading contemporary harpists in Turkey. In Resonating Universes, Helvacioğlu teams up with Pancaroğlu to combine traditional Turkish music with a modern vocabulary including contemporary Turkish art music, ambient, drone, post-rock and electronica. Part of the electronic component is made up of prerecorded and digitally manipulated parts on various types of harps; at the concert, electronic processing of the instrument's live sound is added to the mix, forging complex, layered soundscapes which endlessly resound in each other. With live electronics and sound distribution in the hands of composer Erdem Helvacıoğlu himself, Resonating Universes is a fascinating duet for harp and electronica.
Commissioned by the Turkish Society for the Art of Harp, Helvacıoğlu wrote Resonating Universes on the occasion of Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture. Divided into eight parts, the duration of the piece is around one hour.
Helvacıoğlu's approach for Resonating Universes was to explore the sonic possibilities of the harp to their widest extent. Closely collaborating during the first phase of the project, Helvacıoğlu and Pancaroğlu recorded the most widely differing sounds the harp can produce, ranging from single notes to extended techniques, as well as a complete arsenal of strange sounds which arise when you attack the instrument with all sorts of unusual objects, such as bows, knives and an ebow, a handheld electronic string resonator.
During these sessions Helvacıoğlu was not only the composer and producer, he participated in making the music as well, such as when he was banging the snares of the harp with all his might whilst Pancaroğlu was playing it with ropes. As well as these unorthodox playing techniques, Helvacıoğlu and Pancaroğlu also tried to widen the sonic reach of the harp by using experimental recording techniques originating from pop music studios, for instance placing a microphone inside the instrument. The extensive recording process was repeated for both the electric harp and the çeng, a traditional Turkish harp which was very popular in Ottoman times, until deep into the seventeenth century, before fading from fashion. Having assembled a huge database of samples in these sessions, Helvacıoğlu could start the process of putting it all together in his composition.
One of the reviewers attending the world premiere of Resonating Universes drew a parallel between the concert and the astonishing chaos of creation: an explosion of creative energy without compare. No doubt, the work gives a whole new, extended meaning to the term 'harp music' and will create a listening experience one will not easily forget. A CD recording of Resonating Universes was released in 2011 by Sargasso Records.
Prior to Resonating Universes, the audience can enjoy the çeng in it’s normal form, as Şirin Pancaroğlu will play some traditional works, supported by singer Bora Uymaz. Not a single original 17th century çeng survived into the present day. However, from its depiction in many medieval and early modern Iranian and Ottoman miniatures, it has been possible to reconstruct this once popular and prestigious instrument. Şirin Pancaroğlu has been one of the driving forces in resurrecting the çeng from its ashes, and displaying the unique sound it produces with its 25 strings and leather stretched soundbox. An angular harp with its origins in Mesopotamia, the çeng has a prestigious and colourful history. Played in the medieval courts, it was seen as a symbol of political power as well as carrying a mystic symbolism. Despite its earlier prestige and its popularity, the çeng could not keep up with the developments in music and gradually fell out of use. In 1660, the writer Evliya Çelebi noted in his famous travelogue that there was only one type of çeng and no more than ten players in Istanbul. This is the last written testimony of its existence. In 2013, Şirin Pancaroğlu, together with Bora Uymaz, released her album Çengnagme, whichfeatured a çeng which was built that same year by the Izmir instrument maker Levent Gulec.