To some, the argument for keeping music and technology distinct and apart is nearly as contentious as that concerning the separation of church and state. But while bringing together the latter arguably creates, at the very least, a moral dilemma about freedom of choice, the concept of integrating conventional musical instruments with modern technological advances only becomes a problem for those who believe that there's something inherently purer
about an unadorned, untreated acoustic instrument.
Turkish guitarist/electronic composer Erdem Helvacioğlu clearly faces no such predicament. The only thing more remarkable about the music on Altered Realities is that it was created with a single acoustic guitar and live electronics. There's no overdubbing, no post-processing, no editing and no previously recorded material. Hard though it may be to believe, every note on Altered Realities was recorded in real time, and these seven original compositions can absolutely be recreated in live performance.
The only guitar recording in recent times that approaches the same degree of innovation is Dominic Frasca's Deviations (Cantaloupe Music, 2005). But where Frasca, no stranger to electronics himself, largely builds his music around specially designed instruments, Helvacioğlu uses a conventional six-string acoustic guitar. It's the live electronics, and a keen compositional aesthetic that views texture as an equal partner to melody, that makes Alterered Realities such a unique recording.
The album is not entirely without precedents. While the processing is generally more extreme and the textures more varied, there are times when Helvacioğlu sounds like a guitar alter-ego to ambient composer/pianist Harold Budd, especially on the hauntingly lyrical "Bridge to Horizon and gently melodic "Frozen Resophonic. But while Budd invariably looks to create "eternally pretty music, Helvacioğlu isn't averse to angular music possessing sharper edges, although the results are rarely anything less than beautiful. While the electronics of "Bridge to Horizon and "Frozen Resophonic work in concert with the unmistakable sound of acoustic guitar, "Sliding on a Glacier is more abstract, more quirkily electronic, and there's little of the natural instrument to be heard.
Helvacioğlu's music is too intrusive, too demanding of attention to be placed in the same category as seminal ambient artists like Budd and Brian Eno, but their influence is felt, as is soundscape guitarist Robert Fripp a factor in his overall vocabulary. There is, however, greater compositional complexity and depth, with Helvacioğlu's music often finding its way into unexpected territory. The ethereal opening of "Dreaming on a Blind Saddle builds gradually, but gives no indication of harsher extremes to come at its halfway mark.
Helvacioğlu isn't new to the electronic music scene, but Altered Realities is his first release on a label with international distribution, and his first to work with an acoustic instrument at its foundation. It's a groundbreaking record that proves how music of resounding depth, beauty and understated power can be created where the conventional and the technological meet.
Personnel: Erdem Helvacio?lu: acoustic guitar, live electronics.