Esther’s Memory (2013) — Erdem Helvacioğlu & Stuart Gerber — Avant-garde Music

About Esther's Memory

An aurally stunning collaboration between Turkish guitarist/composer Erdem Helvacıoğlu and American percussionist Stuart Gerber that merges the guitarviol with a variety of percussion to create a sound world unlike any other. Recorded during two days of improvising, Esther’s Memory explores the line between reality and illusion, memory and hallucination through the eyes of an elderly lady with dementia.

In November 2010 Erdem Helvacioglu and Stuart Gerber met in Atlanta with the idea of creating a completely improvised album for guitarviol and percussion. These musicians had never met and knew each other’s work only vaguely. In addition, to the their knowledge, there are no recordings (improvised or composed works) for this quirky instrumentation. Therefore they felt that this venture was initiating a kind of history for this pairing. The guitarviol was a newly acquired instrument and Erdem, while a virtuosic guitarist, was still somewhat learning the instrument during the course of the session. Stuart’s percussion set-ups changed for each piece. The instruments weren’t new to him, but the specific configurations were, and changed for every track. These instrumental components help keep the music fresh and frequently project an exploratory feel.

This was a very pure way of working; the musicians set up in the studio, hit the record button and began playing. While there was very little in terms of pre-determined plan as the session progressed they realized that while often sweet the music frequently had a very disturbing and hallucinatory feel to it, as if someone was in the early stages of dementia and trying to recall their life. There’s an almost constant tension between the musicians as they navigate the novelty of the learning the other performer and their “new” instruments but yet creating cogent musical phrases; not unlike the tension on may feel between reality and psychosis.

Only after the recording and editing process was completely finished did Erdem and Stuart think about how the tension inherent in their performances would transfer to a narrative for the album. Therefore this narrative was not an inspiration for the performances but is instead a reaction to them. The title Esther’s Memory of course has two meanings to kind of reflect these tensions. It both refers to Esther’s particular thoughts, memories, history, etc. as well as to the memory others may have of this character, particularly after her passing.

Track Listing:

1) The Nascent Thought
2) Herstory
3) Mnemosyne
4) July’s Provocateur
5) The Muse of Interiority
6) Solitude in Aught 6
7) Bells of Remembrance
8) History’s Laterality
9) Cognitive Flotsam
10) An Unmeasured Loss of Acumen
11) Diodic Multiplicity
12) Discrete Inlets (of Yesterday)
13) Transcendence (Re)Incarnate

Esther’s Memory was recorded on 18/19 November 2010 at the CARA studios at Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Recorded, mixed and produced by Dr. Robert Scott Thompson. Initial editing was done by Erdem Helvacioglu and the final editing and mastering were done by Dr. Robert Scott Thompson and Stuart Gerber in consultation with Erdem Helvacioglu.

This music is rife with meaning and room for interpretation...

In Esther’s Memory, Turkish composer Erdem Helvacioğlu and American percussionist Stuart Gerber explore the mind of a woman with dementia through sound. It was recorded while improvising over two days yet it feels very cinematic. I couldn’t begin to dissect each movement individually in the space I have here so I’m going to attempt to look at the project as a whole.

The primary instruments on the recording are melodic percussion instruments that seem to include chimes and bells and an instrument I had never heard of before, the guitarviol. A guitarviol is a guitar that is constructed with the bow in mind, though you would not necessarily use a bow in the same way that Jónsi from Sigur Rós uses it. It’s a much more classical approach that here sounds almost primitive. There isn’t a single melody to grab onto as you listen, everything is kind of helter skelter. I think this is due in part to the fact that it was improvised and also to the subject matter. While there are no lyrics, this is absolutely a conceptual piece.

After a very small amount of research, I can say that I find it interesting that the third movement is titled “Mnemosyne.” Mnemosyne is the personification of memory in ancient Greek mythology and is also the mother to the nine muses, each representing a form of music, poetry or science. The association with memory alone makes sense, yet to include creativity seems to be a nod to the creation of this recording in the first place.

The further into the project I got and the more I tried to see what this woman would have been going through, the more heartbroken I became. This music is confusing and infuriating at times. There’s no point of reference that holds up under an attempt to lean on it. If this is what it is like to lose your memory and your sense of self, I can’t help but wonder how you cope or if coping is possible. This project also proves that avant-garde in music does not have to mean Yoko Ono. This music is rife with meaning and room for interpretation, not mindless screaming. I’d love to hear what else these guys have done.

Guitarist Erdem Helvacioglu carries on in his cinematic vein with Esther’s Memory, a CD of free improvisations with percussionist Stuart Gerber. Prepared guitar (actually a TogaMan GuitarViol) and selected percussion, rather short tracks that weave an inner dialogue, in addition to creating pensive moods. Less aerial than Planet X (his collaboration with Ulrich Mertin).

— Divide and Conquer Music

Artist Biographies

Erdem Helvacıoğlu is one of the most renowned contemporary composers of his generation in Turkey. His music has been called “revolutionary,” “groundbreaking,” “luscious and unique,” and “completely arresting and disarmingly beautiful.” He has received awards from the Luigi Russolo, MUSICA NOVA, Insulae Electronicae Electroacoustic Music Competitions and has been commissioned by numerous organizations, from the 2006 World Soccer Championship to the Bang on a Can-All Stars. Helvacioglu is also actively involved in composing for films. He won the “Best Original Soundtrack” award in –the 2006 Mostramundo Film Festival, and his film scores have been heard at Cannes, Sarajevo, Locarno, Seoul, Sao Paulo, and Sydney film festivals.

Lauded as having “consummate virtuosity” by The New York Times, Stuart Gerber has performed extensively throughout the US, Europe, Australia, and Mexico as a soloist an chamber musician. He is Associate Professor of Percussion at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

As an active performer of new works, Stuart has been involved in a number of world premiere performances. He gave the world premiere of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s last solo percussion work Himmels-Tuer in Italy, and his percussion trio Mittwoch-Formel at the annual Stockhausen-Courses in Kuerten, Germany. He has also given the US and Australian premieres of Stockhausen’s duo version of Nasenfluegeltanz for percussion and synthesizer, and the US premiere of his solo percussion work Komet. Dr. Gerber has been the faculty percussionist for the Stockhausen-Courses since 2005 and has recorded a number of pieces for the Stockhausen Complete Edition released by the Stockhausen-Verlag.

In addition to his work with Stockhausen, Stuart has worked with many other notable composers, such as Kaija Saariaho, Steve Reich, Tristan Murail, Frederic Rzewski, George Crumb, Tania Leon, Michael Colgrass, Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon, and John Luther Adams.

Recent performances include: The White Light Festival at Lincoln Center, the Now Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, the Chihuahua International Music Festival in Mexico, the Gulbenkian Center in Lisbon, Portugal, the South Bank Centre in London, the Ultraschall Festival in Berlin, Germany, the Melbourne Recital Centre, Australia, the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, as well as, a performance with Stewart Copeland (the legendary drummer for The Police) at the Savannah Music Festival. Stuart has extensive recording experience and can be heard on Innova Records, Urtext Records, Bridge Records, Capstone Records, Telarc, Code Blue Records, Mode Records, Wesleyan University Press, Albany Records, and Vienna Modern Masters.

As pedagogue Dr. Gerber has recently presented a lecture-recital at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) as well as papers at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic and Hawaii International Conference on Arts and Humanities in Honolulu. He has given numerous master classes at conservatories and universities around the US and abroad. Recent master classes include: the Eastman School of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, Arizona State University, the University of Texas-Austin, the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of Montreal, the Southbank Centre (London), and the Sydney Conservatory and the Victoria College of Arts in Australia.

Dr. Gerber is a founding member of the Atlanta-based new music group Bent Frequency, performs internationally as one half of the piano-percussion duo Ensemble Sirius, and is regularly heard as extra percussionist with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Dr. Gerber received his Bachelor of Music degree from the Oberlin College Conservatory where he studied with Michael Rosen and a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). His teachers at CCM were Allen Otte, Russell Burge, and James Culley of the Percussion Group Cincinnati. He has also done advanced studies at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater in Hannover, Germany, with Professor Andreas Boettger.


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