AMN Reviews: Erdem Helvacioğlu – Eleven Short Stories (Innova)

Facing the image overload that has come to define contemporary life, writes Camille Paglia in the introduction to her latest book, “the only road to freedom is self-education in art”. Though hardly self-taught, Istanbul´s Erdem Helvacioğlu has been on a grand tour of the art of composition that has taken him far beyond the confines of “A Walk Through the Bazaar”, the 16-minute sound piece with which he began his now ten-year-old recording career. Performed, broadcast and mounting installatiions throughout the world, executing commissions from everyone from Bang on a Can to the 2006 World Soccer Championships, and collaborating with an impressively wide range of Turkish and international artists, he has recorded the most subtle acoustic works and the most flamboyantly electronic ones. And in the process, he liberates both himself and his listeners from genre confines and preconceived notions.

Borrrowing a now-classic John Cage technique, “Eleven Short Stories” grapples literally and intimately with the grand piano, which has been prepared with pencils, guitar plectrums, paper clips – everything but the kitchen sink but much of what you might find in it. And like the abundance of utensils tossed into the piano, the album is crammed with conceptual backstory. Each “story” is a personal interpretation of the sea of images that might have come from the eleven movie directors he chooses to celebrate, from Jane Campion and Atom Egoyan to Kim Ki-Duk and Krzysztof Kieslowski.

These references are only the starting point for his own passionate vision. Beginning with “The Billowing Curtain”, a calming piece that sounds like a cross between a harpsichord, toy piano and snare drum, Helvacioğlu performs eleven salutary investigations of what playing the piano can mean, all the while, like the title promises, telling tales, some straightforward, others more meandering, still others more oblique, dark, almost Kafkaesque, like “Six Clocks in the Dim Room”. The most impressive use of narrative mastery appears on “Will I Ever See You Again”, as the long wait for the piano to sound “different” makes its arrival all that more compelling.

Stephen Fruitman