Erdem Helvacioglu: Eleven Short Stories
Erdem Helvacioglu first became known to us as a guitarist when his New Albion release, Altered Realities, was reviewed in 2007. But these days, the Istanbul-based artist is perhaps better described as contemporary composer, given the myriad ways by which he's branched out into other electronic music-related areas in the years since. That's obviously reinforced by Eleven Short Stories, which eschews guitar playing altogether and instead finds Helvacioglu concentrating exclusively on playing a prepared grand piano, whose strings, in the long-standing tradition associated with John Cage and Henry Cowell, were altered using pencils, erasers, paper, kitchen utensils, drumsticks, guitar plectrums and slides, e-bows, metal plates, ear plugs, and paperclips, among other things. Amplifying the approach, Helvacioglu pays homage to a number of his 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), not to the extent that specific film scenes are cited but more that the directors are used as inspirational springboards so that a given vignette conjures the mood and style associated with the director.
The prepared treatments naturally allow for a wide range of atmospheric textures and effects to enter into Eleven Short Stories, which thereby deepens the connection to cinematic evocation all the more. There's an undeniable programmatic dimension to the recording, too, in that the character of a given piece is often reflected in its title. In “The Billowing Curtain,” shimmering rustle of prepared strings conjures the title image, while violent scrapes in “Blood Drops by the Pool” add to the mood of foreboding and impending doom. “Six Clocks in the Dim Room” is brooding and mysterious, with loud plucks suggesting an illegal gambling parlour in Morocco, with all of the intrigue associated with it. Both “Jittery Chase” and “Trapped in the Labyrinth” ooze portent in augmenting ominous motifs with percussive splashes and dramatic swirls.
One could get the wrong idea from the prepared piano detail, as, the eleven pieces aren't solely made up of the instrument's inner sounds, as piano playing in its conventional form is heard, too (most prominently during “Will I Ever See You Again”). More precisely, the settings offer a meeting-point between familiar piano playing and unconventional prepared sounds. But regardless of the project concept in play, Helvacioglu remains a composer above all else, and as such his melodic voice can't help but come through. That's never more true than when an affecting degree of melancholy seeps into “Have Not Been Here in Forty Years,” and memorable too is “Shattered Snow Globe,” which evokes an image of snow gently falling on a fresh winter's day (though Welles isn't among the directors' names cited, the title seems a clear reference to Citizen Kane).