Tradition and modernity in endless resonance

Resonating Universes

Erdem Helvacıoğlu, Şirin Pancaroğlu

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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.

Resonating Universes - Erdem Helvaciogly breed


Turkish composer Erdem Helvacıoğlu (1975) studied electroacoustic composition and engineering at the Technical University of Istanbul. In 2003 he debuted with his album A Walk Through The Bazaar. Since then he released fourteen albums, solo and working together with composers such as Per Boysen, Ros Bandt and Bill Walker and musicians like violinist Ulrich Mertin and percussionist Stuart Gerber. In 2011 he released the album Resonating Universes with harpist Şirin Pancaroğlu containing one long composition of Helvacıoğlu, which they will perform live at Holland Festival 2015. In his music, Helvacıoğlu combines electronics, field recordings and influences from (contemporary) classical music, jazz, ambient, noise and (Turkish) folk. He also composes for theatre, film and multimedia installations and he worked as a producer for several Turkish pop and rock bands. He was commissioned to write new works by a broad variety of festivals, organisations and ensembles, amongst which were the American ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Novelum Festival in Toulouse, the Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerrannée in Marseille and the 2006 FIFA World Cup which was held in Germany. He made sound installations for several museums and galleries, such as İstanbul Bienali, Track 16 in Los Angeles, Galeri Soemardja in Bandung, Indonesia, and the Museum für Angewandte Kunst Köln. Helvacıoğlu’s albums and compositions were praised by magazines and websites like The Wire, All About Jazz, Musicworks and Signal To Noise. His work was rewarded with several prizes for eletroacoustic composition, like the Luigi Russolo Award and the Insulae Electronicae Competition.

Praised by the Washington Post as a ‘major talent of international caliber’, Şirin Pancaroğlu is Turkey's leading harpist. Trained as a classical musician, she is equally active in the realms of Turkish traditional music, improvisation, electronic music and tango as she is in the mainstream harp repertoire. Central to Pancaroğlu's approach to her music is the exploration of new musical identities for the harp, as evidenced in her genre-crossing collaborations with performers and composers from diverse backgrounds. Born in 1968 in Ankara, Pancaroğlu studied harp in Istanbul before continuing her studies at the Geneva Conservatory and at the Indiana University School of Music in the US. She has been a guest soloist at the major international festivals in France, the UK, the US, Brazil and Mexico, as well as in her native Turkey. Since her return to Turkey in 2000, Ms. Pancaroğlu has sought to connect her Turkish roots with her ideas of contemporary music. Her work on the traditional Turco-Ottoman lap harp called the çeng has played a prominent part in this process. In 2013, she started to collaborate with the singer and composer of Turkish music Bora Uymaz, founding the Şimdi Ensemble, dedicated to the tradition of Sufi music from Anatolia. As the founder of the Association for the Art of the Harp, 'a kitchen for harpists' as she calls it, Ms. Pancaroğlu has been a tireless ambassador for the harp and especially the çeng. Pancaroğlu is also a published writer on music, as well as serving on the board of the World Harp Congress since 2011.

Hailing from from the Aegean town of Izmir, Bora Uymaz is a Turkish singer, composer, performer and music teacher. In his native Turkey he is renowned for his personal, emotional treatment of traditional material. Uymaz studied at the Ege University Turkish Music Conservatory between 1994-1999. He has trained with renowned musicians such as Cinuçen Tanrıkorur, Akın Özkan, Vefik Ataç and Reha Şağbaş. Uymaz completed a master’s degree at the 9 Eylul University where he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in religious music. He performed all over the world, both solo and as a member of the Kudsi Erguner Ensemble. He is credited with four solo recordings as well setting to music Ahmet Ilgaz’ extended poem Rüya içinde rüya and releasing an album consisting of Ilgaz’s poems and scores. As a composer, Uymaz is known for his use of spiritual lyrics. He has nearly 600 works to his name and has won several awards for his composing. He is also the creator of a new Turkish music form entitled Natık-ı Elhan. In 2013, Uymaz teamed up with harpist Şirin Pancaroğlu on various projects. Together, they formed the Şimdi Ensemble, which is dedicated to performing mystic Sufi music from Turkey. Uymaz also joined Şirin Pancaroğlu for her Cafe Tango and Elişi projects, both as a soloist and a composer, as well as producing Pancaroğlu’s historical Ottoman harp (the çeng) album which was released in 2014. Since January 2015 Uymaz has been the musical director and soloist of Aşk-u Muhabbet, a radio show on mystic music aired weekly on TRT Nağme.

Resonating Universes (1) half breed Resonating Universes (2) half breed


Erdem Helvacıoğlu
commissioned by
the Association for the Art of the Harp through a grant of the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency
Erdem Helvacıoğlu,
harp, çeng and electric harp
Şirin Pancaroğlu,
çeng and (elektronic) harp
Bora Uymaz,
vocals, percussion