Wounded Breath (2008) — Erdem Helvacıoğlu — Electroacoustic Music

Wounded Breath will open you up to new experiences and allow you to explore worlds previously closed to you.

— Blogcritics, Richard Marcus

Wounded Breath is an outstanding acousmatic record, period.

— Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes
CD notes by Erdem Helvacioğlu

Below the Cold Ocean ~ A diving crew. The arctic ocean. The rhythmic push and glide of steel blades on frozen water. The click and clack of the ice. The blowing wind and the bitter cold. The moment of diving. The feel of freezing cold water. The atmosphere. The water all around us. We are also there.

Dance of Fire ~ A fire dance. The first spark. Amazing sound of fire. The feel of burning waves through the air. Hypnotizing and tranquilizing image and sound. Sometimes elegant, sometimes aggressive, sometimes rhythmic and sometimes not. But always beautiful.

Lead Crystal Marbles ~ The fascinating sound of glass marbles. All dropping. Simultaneously. Hitting the ground. Bouncing on the floor. Going their separate ways. Rolling and turning. Some like giant balls. Some like tiny drops. Scattering. All coming to rest. Wonderful memory of the lead crystal marbles.

Blank Mirror ~ A man. A blurred image in the mirror. A closer and deeper look. Is it he? Who is this stranger? A painful journey into his inner self. Search for the meaning of existence. Salvation. Atonement.

Wounded Breath
~ An elderly lady. Lying in her death bed. A dim room. Only memories in the air and her mumblings. Flashbacks. Scenes from childhood. Echoes of joy. Sorrows. Struggling to survive. Miseries. Illusions. Disillusions. Dreams. Agonies. Ups and downs. So many things yet to be done. But no time left. No one around. Bursts of anger. Last words. Last breath..

...as accomplished an example of contemporary electro-acoustic sound design...
While Erdem Helvacioglu’s Altered Realities (2007) marries acoustic guitar playing and live electronics in distinguished manner, Wounded Breath at least appears to dispense with the former altogether in its focus on electro-acoustic sound sculpting. Having said that, it’s entirely possible that the Turkey-based composer created the material by filtering his acoustic guitar playing through a series of processors and programs, but, even so, nothing remotely resembling conventional guitar sounds surfaces during Wounded Breath. It’s interesting to discover that while, on the one hand, his new material is considerably more abstract in stylistic approach than its predecessor, it’s also more direct in that he’s included associative info that allows the listener to contextualize the five pieces with ease. As a result, one has no difficulty visualizing the diving crew plunging into the freezing arctic waters during “Below the Cold Ocean” and to hear the rhythmic churn of the ship’s steel blades in the icy water and feel the already sub-zero temperature plummet dangerously further when biting winds blow across the open sea. Helvacioglu creates a brittle and ice-cold universe of micro-sound textures where sounds reverberate from ink black depths and rise to the murky surface. Mystery is heightened during “Dance of Fire” when he challenges the listener to imagine what the elemental experience of fire is like. Convulsive ripples and crystalline tones careen throughout the piece’s eleven minutes, generating an effect that’s by turns mesmerizing and threatening. A seemingly lighter mood prevails during the opening minutes of the middle setting, “Lead Crystal Marbles,” when the percussive bounce of glass marbles is heard alongside creaking noises that sound like slowly-opening doors but are perhaps intended to mimic marbles rolling slowly across schoolyard pavement. Moving away from the earth-bound activity of marble-playing, Helvacioglu exploits the supra-dimensional associations of the track’s title with what’s either a deep-space exploration or a plunge into a microscopic biological universe. Having covered a remarkable amount of ground during the setting’s seventeen minutes, the composer nicely caps it with a peaceful coda. The album’s final piece, “Wounded Breath,” represents an elderly woman on her death bed and, as such, one might expect the composition to be reflective and peaceful in style. On the contrary, its twelve minutes are turbulent and shape-shifting with Helvacioglu distilling in sonic form the agitation the woman experiences as memories, both joyful and upsetting, pass through her final moments of consciousness. Not surprisingly, here too the activity level diminishes as the piece moves towards its end, and we even hear faint traces of the woman’s final thoughts before her last breath is taken. Such attention to detail helps make Wounded Breath about as accomplished an example of contemporary electro-acoustic sound design as one might hope to find.
— Textura
...Turkeys leading contemporary exponent of electronic music and experimental guitar...

Erdem Helvacioglu, oft cited as Turkeys leading contemporary exponent of electronic music and experimental guitar, opens Wounded Breath with this guise if only to confound the summation by a movement into a more immersive sound environment. Opening with The end of the World, guitar and processing dissolve and distort into long and layered controlled distortions only to be brought back to a melodic phrasing and under/over played waves of sonic textures feed out and return at variant intensity.

After this stance, the focus moves strictly towards sonic conceptualism, sharp tones, heavily processed sound, manipulated sound recordings that highlight the medium, further treatment moving it to proximity of the device itself. The sense that work in film has opened up the full possibilities of digital electronic environments is strongly conveyed beyond the point of the effectual demands of narrative towards the possible sonic worlds available to be transcribed. That narrative structure dissolves with the movement from the guitar as medium for Helvacioglu opens up a harsh edged sonic concentration. Lead Crystal Marbles, working off recordings of dropping glass marbles, highlights this approach with a gleam as the textures of manipulation change and distort eliciting differing tonal possibilities and interpretations.

Final tracks on the album, Blank mirror and Wounded Breath, are described by Helvacioglu as examinations of “a man. Blurred image in the mirror’ and “An elderly woman on her death bed’, self examination and recollections close to death respectively, leading to representations of the states of being of these two images. Existential examinations described bleakly and with a dry sonic palate laying bare its instrument and carving shards remorselessly from possible worlds may be an apt fit. Although the ability to fit narratives presented with sonic representation except as a general thematic coulouring is somewhat obscured here, if not for the vigor and intensity of the examination. Wounded Breath holding the greater of the ranges of emotional possibilities in these explorations as described by the sculptural approach to electroacousic composition laid down by Helvacioglu.

— Innerversitysound

Wounded Breath tells a series of complex tales without saying a word.

Wounded Breath tells a series of complex tales without saying a word.

Turkish solo artist Erdem Helvacioğlu seems to be more concerned with telling an unspoken story than creating conventional music with his latest release, Wounded Breath. Though only five tracks, this record runs for over an hour, revealing five unique and surprisingly easy to follow plots.

Each track is accompanied by a short, fragmented overview of the tacit story at hand, following closely to the highly unorthodox music to create a sinuous tale matching each track title. Though the opening song, “Below the Cold Ocean,” sounds more like a sound effects track for a horror movie, each of the following tracks are indisputably lucid tales. Arguably the most interesting track on the album is “Lead Crystal Marbles,” which prompted Helvacioğlu to trade in traditional instruments for a box of glass marbles being dumped onto the floor. The initial impact and the subsequent sounds of the marbles rolling around set the tone for the 17-minute track, simply chronicling the aural results of the actions. The title track recounts the final moments of an elderly woman, and the sonic complement is an astoundingly accurate portrayal of what one would imagine to be the internal wanderings and reminiscence leading up to an anticipated last breath.

Without the supplemental storylines, Wounded Breath would likely leave the impression of the auditory internalizations of a madman, but once the scenarios are introduced, Helvacioğlu’s genius can be realized. With a laundry list of collaborations and accreditations, Helvacioğlu’s experience in virtually every genre of music reaches an apex with this collection of voiceless narratives. Although it may take a bit of focus and perhaps a second listen to fully grasp, Wounded Breath is a beautifully constructed assemblage of stories that don’t have to be told to be understood.

— Tori Biggs, Black Ink Style

A remarkable album indeed...

Erdem Helvacioglu is a Turkish musician who is very active in a variety of fields related with contemporary art (including films, multimedia, dance and theatre). His work has already been commissioned by important organizational entities and ensembles – two examples at the opposite sides being the 2006 World Soccer Championships and Bang On A Can All-Stars – and he has been joining forces with names comprising Mick Karn, Elliott Sharp and Saadet Türköz. In 2007, his Altered Realities on New Albion – despite receiving critical acclaim and good reviews – somehow hadn’t managed to sufficiently motivate me, but Wounded Breath is definitely a major step forward and an outstanding acousmatic record, period.

The five tracks, whose length ranges from nine to seventeen minutes, are properly conceived and better assembled, gifting us with several moments of astounding trepidation halfway through the indefiniteness of the majority of timbres and the vibrant dynamic multidimensionality that characterizes every single minute of the CD. The composer wisely chose not to exacerbate the spectacular aspect of the sonic events; as a matter of fact, this music frequently shows a deeply touching side, finely represented by the recurrent, almost motionless interruptions – mainly established on a basis of harmonic impenetrableness – that once in a while appear to deliver the pieces from any potential surplus of disaggregation. In that sense, “Lead Crystal Marbles” and “Blank Mirror” present preeminent attributes, alimenting a well-perceivable sensation of uneasiness with surprising changes of circumstances, all the while avoiding the implacable untidiness that often destroys good intentions in today’s electroacoustic melting pot. Not wanting to sound blasphemous, at times this listener was reminded of Roland Kayn’s evolutional climaxes, if only for a few seconds.

A remarkable album indeed, at least on a par with the best offered by labels such as Empreintes DIGITALes. If this is the path that Helvacioglu intends to pursue for the future, we’re all ears.

— Touching Extremes

...bordering on existential meditation...

Wounded Breath (Aucourant, 2009) collects five collages. Below the Cold Ocean displays the usual mastery at combining timbres. The whole piece feels like the micro-recreation of the noise of a glass that shatters to the floor. Dance of Fire toys with the juxtaposition of harsh industrial noise and silence, operating at a level of extreme movement and tension even without excessive audio excursions. More than a fire dance this sounds like the soundtrack to a nervous breakdown. The 17-minute Lead Crystal Marbles begins with the sound of marble balls falling to the floor, perhaps a metaphor for the whole travail of the human existence. Those few seconds are revisited over and over again from different angles, yielding ever new visions of the past and the future, disintegrating and recomposing, until they finally fade away into nothingness; a veritable poem to chance. Blank Mirror sounds like a simulation of symphonic and choral music via clusters of drones that inflate, explode and disappear. Wounded Breath is a nervous dissonant score that feels like an audio documentary of life in an ant-nest, or the maelstrom of thoughts in the mind of a dying person. Helvacioglu’s music has become more tragic, bordering on existential meditation.

...aural glimpses into unearthly environments...

This release from 2008 features 62 minutes of abstract noise.

Turkish sound sculptor Helvacioglu offers a selection of aural glimpses into unearthly environments with electronic sounds presented in atonal compositions.

While often employing severe electronic resonance, the results are generally passive with traces of escalation to denote emphasis. Each track is tailored to evoke specific notions.

Track 1: “Below the Cold Ocean.” Squealing noises blend with the grating of mechanical rotors, somehow approximating a descent into dark waters. Blips of cybernetic fury occur, peppering the piece like cracks stretching across a hull fracturing under deep sea pressure.

Track 2: “Dance of Fire.” Here, the harsh sounds are mixed with haunting textures, achieving a sense of ascension. Gritty scrapes travel through ruffled soil, launching into an austere sky that gradually brightens with ringing tones. Metallic clatters duel with the sounds of cloth rubbing together, the latter evolving through processing into a surging combustion.

Track 3: “Lead Crystal Marbles.” A plethora of glass marbles are dropped, their impacts resounding through a valley of acrimonious runnels. Moody tonalities provide a counterpart to the erratic rhythms, while treatment’s transform certain impacts into vibrant shuddering specters. A distention of spookiness is accomplished as auxiliary electronics embellish the impacting marbles.

Track 4: “Blank Mirror.” Disassociation is produced by mixing abrasive mechanical sounds with spurts of harmonic tension. These contrasts collide again and again, each time rebounding with fresh tenor and generating a sense of emotional perspective.

Track 5: “Wounded Breath.” Crisply compressed clanging travels through a zone of pulsations crafted to evoke desolation. This dark void envelopes everything, surrounding the traveler with harsh sounds that smother the present and plunge one into almost forgotten memories. A tension is accomplished, then eradicated as the piece emerges into a static-laden passage of liberation.

While possessing little in the way of even harmonic definition, these compositions are rich with passion. They communicate an organic detachment from reality, transporting the listener to a realm where abstract sounds embody emotional responses to the world left behind. As the music removes the audience from its native environment, its very strangeness strikes visceral chords with familiar aspirations and human conditions.

— Sonic Curiosity


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