Helvacioglu: Freedom To The Black
A natural complement to Erdem Helvacioglu's early 2012 Innova release Eleven Short Stories, Freedom To The Black also concentrates exclusively on piano, if in slightly different manner. In this case, the Turkish composer created a ten-minute composition to function as an installation piece for a sound art exhibition presented by the Istanbul-based ARTER organization. The February 2012 exhibition, titled Freedom to the Black, not only featured Helvacioglu's piece but the one that inspired it, Piano Piece, created by Fluxus pioneer George Maciunas in 1970 (and realized by French performance artist Ben Vautier). The exhibition title, logically enough, derives from the fact that all of the white keys on Maciunas's upright piano were nailed down, leaving the black keys the only ones functional—“an attempt to liberate the ‘the black' from all biases and prejudices,” according to exhibition curator Melih Fereli. Like Maciunas, Helvacioglu created his work with the white keys nailed down.
When heard sans visuals, the CD version of the piece presents a ten-minute set-piece of scattered notes accompanied by a restlessly mutating flow of plucks, creaks, rustlings, scratchings, and strums, all of which Helvacioglu generated by applying various materials—scissors, bows, earplugs, stuffed toys, drum sticks, mallets, hammers, screwdrivers, and pieces of silk and wool, among many other things—to the piano's body. There's a clear sense of development in the piece, as it progresses from its opening moments with a few quiet squeaks and carries on through episodes involving scraped strings, tapping, and the occasional accent of a conventional note until it climaxes in a violent swarm. Recorded over a four-day recording session at Babajim Studios, Istanbul, Helvacioglu used seventeen microphones (placed inside, outside, under, and over the piano) to capture the piece in all its rich textural detail.Equally fascinating, however, is the four-minute video (viewable at YouTube) that shows him manipulating the piano—sticking objects such as a knife, spoon, and screwdriver inside it, hammering the black keys after having stuck a California license plate inside the instrument, and dragging a hammer across its inner strings—and coming at it from multiple angles. The book produced by ARTER to accompany the exhibition is a notable document in itself, seeing as how it includes photos documenting the production process, an interview with Helvacioglu conducted by Fereli and an essay by Tokafi's Tobias Fischer, and a CD that presents the piece in a stereo version. It should be interesting to see what ARTER does in its next sound art project, as Freedom to the Black is the first in what's purportedly going to be an annual series.