With the release of Elif Yalvaç’s new album L’appel Du Vide on Curated Doom, we took the opportunity to talk to her about growing up in Turkey and how cassettes headed off teenage angst and turned it into creativity instead.
Tell me about your background and growing up in Turkey.
I was born into a family that lived with music, in a very green town with a lovely lake. I grew up in central Anatolia due to my father's job as an engineer at an aluminium factory there. All kinds of music were on in the house, so I had chance to explore. We used to make recordings on cassettes with my sister, making up songs in our very own language that we used when we played with our dolls. We found ways to manipulate our recordings because the tape recorder was broken. It could still record but you would touch the tape. Therefore, we could pitchshift our voice and it was so much fun.
I was not very social in school and was very much into exploring music. Where I grew up I didn't have many options for musical exploration. My father would bring me cassettes from the capital city, Ankara, and they were still mostly difficult to find around Turkey. I enjoyed collecting them, and most of them included Turkish rock bands, while I slowly dug into the international acts like Björk, Pink Floyd, Metallica, Rush, also with the help of my father, who showed me a great deal of awesome music.
When I was 10, I found a cassette of this Turkish female rock singer and it literally blew my mind at the time. I was about to become an angry teenager, angry with her classmates and her teacher. That music was great for me to discharge those feelings. So, I became interested in music and sounds from a very early age.
I wanted to play the guitar, but I was in a city where there weren’t any guitars, let alone people teaching guitar. However, my parents got one for me from the capital city and I learnt it by myself, with some support from my father. Having been a self-taught guitar player in a city with limited opportunities helps me deeply appreciate musical opportunities that I come across on my journey.
Do you think you are part of a Turkish music scene, or something more global?
I actively engage in my local scene where I can, especially with events organised by my university in Istanbul. Recently, for example, I was invited to compose a piece (‘Dearly Departed’) for Istanbul’s currently deserted railway station, Haydarpaşa. But I also explore every opportunity to have a more global presence. I don’t want to define myself based on any boundaries, so my engagement is more international.
Your music is very eclectic, what drew you to the more experimental side of music?
From an early age, I was fascinated by sounds. Playing an electric guitar as a teenager, one of my favourite activities was to explore the whole spectrum of noise that I could generate. But the more conscious exploration happened after I delved into progressive rock with Porcupine Tree, which later took me to 70s prog, an amazing time for music where each work is more beautiful than the other.
I was particularly fascinated by Richard Barbieri’s sound design. I explored his solo works and they inspired me to dig into sound art. Hence, my current study. King Crimson also had a huge impact in that sense. Then I delved into some of the mainstream electronic music acts like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss at a time when I did not feel good and wasn't able to listen to some of the music I loved very much. I simply needed new sounds. One of the things I did at the time was to simply listen to the sounds of my environment. I had sound walks in my city or I just took field recordings during my daily commute. At the time, I was also preparing for the exams for my current study place. So, I explored the works of early pioneers such as Stockhausen, John Cage, Varese, Eliane Radigue, Else Marie Pade, Hugh le Caine, Halim el-Dabh. I have huge respects for these composers and was blown away by the way they could innovate at their time, working for days and weeks to create a short scene that we can create a lot more easily today.
Those explorations further inspired me to design my own sounds.
Your music is made in a variety of ways: guitars, sound processing and field recordings. Tell me about some of your composition and workflow techniques.
I utilise a wide range of methods and sources in the composition process. I always carry a field recorder with me and try to capture many sounds on my way. I later process some of those that sound interesting to me through improvisation. I also explored a range of synthesis techniques at school, including granular synthesis. Those things I learnt have been very helpful to unlock even the shortest possible sound and see how it can be turned into a zillion other sounds.
I also use my guitar and process it heavily in some of my live performances with Max/MSP and Ableton Live.
I'm also fascinated by the procedure of chance operations, as coined by John Cage when a performer is involved. One recent example is a set I performed in Oslo, Norway. It is available on my soundcloud at soundcloud.com/hazalelif/kafe-haerverk-live-set
In this example, I have had field recordings and some guitars ready but the form and transitions, as well as effects and which sounds to use among them were just a result of instant decisions I made on stage. This type of performance can also be what I do in my studio. I can just go and explore a number of field recordings or play with my Animoog app on my iPad. The process is diverse for me and I can spend hours working and not realise it at all because it is extremely fun.
You recently released an EP of acoustic guitar music, quite different from your ambient music. Are there other kinds of music and genres you would like to explore?
I grew up exploring a huge spectrum of genres. My studies also taught me a lot about them, especially when I took a course called Music of the World, or while I studied Western Art Music History. So, it is an on-going process, and I’m pretty much open to exploring more and more rather than being tied to any specific genre. I’ve spent quite a long time listening to progressive rock bands, and I still do. More recently, I’ve also been fascinated with the music of Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Jacob Collier, Teebs, and Air. One of the next things I do may involve prog rock influences, together with these other artists. That acoustic EP is also a part of this work in progress.
Do you have a preference for live work versus working in the studio?
I love presenting my work live. Working in the studio and sharing things online is also a way of doing things, but I love directly interacting with the audience when I perform. So, I try to convey any work I create in my studio to a stage and interact with people who may appreciate it.
Do you consider the theoretical side of music, or do you just follow your instincts?
Both happen. Up until a couple of years ago, I hadn't taken any official music education. But the things I've learnt at school have been a huge help. I've composed music under the supervision of my teachers and it is great to have feedback as you make a progress in your work. You sometimes want to follow a certain form, a structure, for your music and you need to be familiar with ways that will help you create a "consistent" work if that's what you want. Still, there is that side of me that just follows her instincts and sometimes the most genuine things are created that way.
You’ve been travelling around Europe recently, what has that experience been like and how has that fed into your music?
It has truly been inspiring for me. My passion for travel has long been there in me, even before the world of Instagram existed, as it is driven by my curiosity to learn, which led me to choose my day job as a translator because that kind of job teaches you a lot, and helps you interact with the outside world. Most recently, I visited and performed in one of my dream destinations, Iceland, and another favourite destination, Norway.
Apart from that, I remember traveling solo with my interrail ticket to gigs and playing my guitar on the streets and sleeping in the trains and at the airports, many years ago. I may feel too old to sleep in those environments now, but I still have the spark that inspires me to get in touch with venues and showcase my music by traveling. I also feel grateful and lucky because I would not have been able to do any of these without support and grants. They not only inspire my personal journey, but they also help me build amazing music-driven relationships and connect with people in a sincere, deeper way. I personally find those connections a lot more meaningful than simply visiting a place as a tourist. Rather, I introduce my music to locals and experience their culture by becoming one of them, while still being myself, the woman traveling from Turkey. And conveying that experience to my homeland makes me extra happy.
You’ve worked with Mike Bearpark from Darkroom quite a lot, how did that relationship come about?
I mentioned the sincere connections my travel has helped me to build, and this relationship is one of them; one that has influenced me so deeply that I feel grateful for knowing him. I was traveling to No-man concerts back in 2012, when I was an intern in Krakow, and I had an interrail ticket. I met Mike after the Netherlands show and asked him how he manages to find a balance between “professoring”, music making and family. And today, I can tell that he still answers that question through what he does. He has inspired me so much and I simply wanted to get back in touch after that concert, which later evolved into our collaboration after several meetings and sharing our music with one another. After some false starts he sent me a magical “Suggestion for 2016” email, which brought me to the UK to record and perform with his Darkroom project with Andrew Ostler, in amazing festivals like Eppy Fest and Secret Garden Party. Truly magical and life-changing! Our collaboration is ongoing, and makes me feel excited.
Tell me about making the album L'appel du Vide.
It has been a long but a very naturally-evolving process. The title track was originally composed for four channels and was performed in a quadraphonic setting for Istanbul Bilgi University here. I was planning on publishing it, along with some of my back catalogue from my studies at Istanbul Technical University. But I found myself creating more sounds last summer when I had a mini retreat in Tekirdağ, a small city to the West of Istanbul. Being there was meaningful and important, while also difficult at times. I was mostly exposed to sea and tree sounds and I always recorded them. It was great to be in there but there was also some “noise” in my head, mostly the kind of noise when that anxiety underneath starts to speak up. So, while the tracks can be ambient, they also have noisy and dark characteristics. Every night, I revisited my field recordings there and other recordings I took in the past, including sounds from Finland. I also used recordings made in data centres in London and Istanbul with Mike. I love the lengthy sounds generated by these machines that change based on computing activities. One album track, Computer Room, is created solely from those sounds. So, it was an ongoing process of travels, field recording, Ableton sessions and choosing pieces that were brought together in a mini-retreat before an amazing journey I would embark on: my travel to Iceland in September, with album mastering completed in Istanbul shortly afterwards.
What are your plans for the future?
My focus nowadays is finishing my Sonic Arts master’s thesis, and it is a bit stressful for me in many ways, including time pressures, as I also need to sustain my day job as a translator. I also want to do more gigs, both electronic and acoustic. I’ll have a mini tour coming up in November, and more performances in my homeplace, Turkey. My collaboration with Darkroom also continues and there will be more releases, based on our Eppyfest performance as well as my “guest” vocal appearances via field recordings released on the Champion Version label. I’m also working on my “rock music” album and it will involve collaboration with other performers. I hope to make more progress with it next year. (Acoustic versions of two tracks were released back in September to coincide with my first Iceland concert).
© Curated Doom 2018. Interview by Jason Arber.