Helvacioglu Interview


Erdem Helvacioglu: Petri Kuljuntausta Interview. On Soundscape Composition

May 14, 2008

–  There are some composers and colleagues who see soundscape
composition as subgenre of musique concrete. What is your opinion on
this matter?
I don’t see it as a subgenre of musique concrete. Soundscape
composition could be understood as part of the continuum, which
started from musique concrete and other early art forms, which were
based on recorded sound. The importance of context in soundscape
composition, and the connection between the sounds and the environment
(that particular place and its habitants in particular time) from
where the sound textures of the work are taken from, is so important,
that I can’t put it too closely to the genre of musique concrete.
Soundscape composition could be linked to the tradition of musique
concrete, radio art, documentary, sound art, and performance art, at
least. And what is special in soundscape music is that it could be
analyzed from so many perspectives, this is because of its close
relation to culture, social relations, environmental matters and to
the actual sounds of time that the work presents. Soundscape music is
a form of art, but at the same time it offer us something true from
the real world, by referring to the (sound) components of our culture.


–  What has changed in the soundscape composition genre during its 30
years? Do think it is still a vital way of composing and raising
awareness to acoustic ecology?
It is absolutely vital art form. In fact, now it has reached the
point, where the people really could understand the artistic meaning
of environmental sounds. The interest among young generation of
composers and artists is growing and we could hear more and more works
that are based on environmental recordings. Environmental music is
slightly different thing than soundscape music, but anyway, it is very
much question on the same interest, but slightly from different angle.


–   How does the Finish soundscape influence your compositions?
I record my living environment often, so I have close relation to my
own surrounding sound environment. It is trivial environment to me, as
I live here and have used to hear these familiar sounds, but despite
of that, I could find always new perspectives to my sound environment.
It is also important to continue the activity (to listen to your
environment), as only then you could notice and understand the changes
that happens in your environment. If you record the sounds of Helsinki
city during one summer, and continue this some 10 years, then you’ll
notice how the sound environment will change. I have recorded Helsinki
so many years that I can tell you that it changes…  In 1990’s you
heard archaic sinewave sounds of mobile phones in every place at the
downtown, but this disappeared in few years when the advanced mobile
phone technology allowed to use your own music samples.


–   What are the differences between Finnish soundscape composition
and  soundscape composition in other parts of the world?
It is difficult to say, and it depends on the case. We have our own
fauna here, so the animal sounds affect to the soundscape recordings
naturally. We don’t have big city metropolitans or their sound
textures here. Helsinki is the capital, and that’s where I live, but
the population of some 0,5 million people in Helsinki is not much. It
is active city, but not a metropolitan. Finnish have close relation to
nature, that is cliche, but it is true. And we could hear nature
recordings in many classic Finnish electroacoustic music compositions
created since 1960s. But, the use of nature sounds doesn’t give the
whole picture in the matter; nowadays we have here a really active
noise music scene. The noise musicians might use environmental sounds
(like soundscape composers do) in their music, but they’ll do that
totally different way. Basically all international trends (from noise
to soundscape activity) could be found from here.


–   What are the technical tools that you use these days for composition?
For composing I use portable recorder, mics, computer and different
audio softwares, nothing special. But when I am performing live, I
have a slightly different view to the music, as I don’t want to just
sat down and play files from the laptop. So, I want to really play
live and I have built my own electronic instrument set-up, which
contains possibility to sample and recycle (live process) the sounds
that I play in real-time. The material that I sample could be
soundscapes or anything else I like. Also, important part in my set-up
is my feedback system, which I have developed for years. In my sound
chain, I could generate feedback sounds, control their pitches,
textures, densities and so on. So with feedback sounds my sound
palette is from tiny bird chirps (like thin sinewave sound gestures
controlled w/ KaossPad) to massive, heavy-metal-guitar-kind of
sound-walls. The textures that I generate depends on the context of
the piece. I always use my feedback sounds as my “solo sound” — it is
my solistic instrument. (You’ll get a better idea if you listen to my
concert recording ‘Live in Berlin’, at MySpace.)


–   Do you think that soundscape composition could be the base of new
electronic music composed outside of Europe and North America?
Absolutely! It is not a question about technology, or tools, but
willing to notice the environment. The sounds are around us, we just
have to find them!


–   In the last 10 years, there has been a growing interest towards
field recording. New terms like phonography, aural safari is being
mentioned at mailing groups. Do you think that this interest towards
will affect soundscape composition aesthetics today?
We could use the environmental sounds in many ways in music,
Soundscape composition offers us one possible aesthetic, one possible
way to go. I believe there are many possible ways to use the ideas of
soundscape music in other music forms. By that I mean, there is always
possible to make fusion of aesthetics and styles (or genres). You
don’t have to be a real ‘soundscape composer’ to use the basic ideas
of soundscape music in your music.


–   Do you think that soundscape composition can raise awareness
towards environmental issues?
Absolutely! That’s one of the main thing with this music style, raise
the listener’s awareness towards the environment around you.


–   Who are the soundscape composers you enjoy the most?
Uhhh, difficult question. Hildegard Westerkamp of course. She has
composed really nice works, which I have used as an example of
soundscape music many times at my lectures. The way how she use rhythm
of water-drops, for example, has been motivated me especially. I have
said this many times to my composer students: “you don’t have to use
drums or drum samples to create rhythmic music”… and as an example I
have played HW’s ‘Talking Rain’.