Eren Gümrükçüoğlu: Pareidolia

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About

Turkish born composer Eren Gümrükçüoğlu's Pareidolia presents seven of his kinesthetic works for chamber ensembles, with and without electronics, as well as fixed media. Featuring performances by Conrad Tao, JACK Quartet, Mivos Quartet, Ensemble Suono Giallo, and Deviant Septet, Gümrükçüoğlu's music merges a rich harmonic palette with charged rhythmic gestures and a sensitivity to the interaction between acoustic and electronic elements, reflecting his background as a jazz guitarist and his electro-acoustic focused research.


 

Audio

Eren Gümrükçüoğlu’s compositional world fuses unique timbres with gestural instrumental writing to craft a kind of abstract sonic cinema. There is a symphonic quality to many of these works despite their scoring for ensembles seven players and smaller, with orchestration and color occupying an essential role in Gümrükçüoğlu’s writing. Equally influential is Gümrükçüoğlu’s background in modern jazz, which presents itself not so much in full garb, but obliquely, in refracted form, coloring the rhythmic and harmonic material at pivotal moments and shaping his process for generating material.

The album opens with Pandemonium for fixed media electronic sounds that are sourced from a recording Gümrükçüoğlu made of the Duke University music department elevator, where he did his PhD work. Gümrükçüoğlu establishes a three dimensional soundscape, using spatialized sweeps and timbral events to conjure a mechanized drama of timbral relationships. Discrete pitch takes a secondary role to register, sound color, and contour as we hear an audio snapshot that is reminiscent of a dystopian, futuristic factory environment. For this work, Pareidolia, and Asansör Asi̇mptotu, Gümrükçüoğlu designed an improvising computer program, providing sound files and setting parameters, and then selected and assembled materials from the results to create the electronics that we hear on the final track.

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Pareidolia, for string quartet, clarinet/tenor saxophone, percussion/drum set, piano/synthesizer, and fixed media (drawn from the same elevator recording) shares Pandemonium’s charged, kinetic rhythmic interplay, exploring various permutations of pairings between instruments and electronics. Urgent, reflex driven rhythms ricochet through the ensemble. Disembodied sustains contain hauntingly complex multiphonics and eerie clusters. Occasionally the texture coagulates into extended passages of rhythmic regularity anchored by the drum set, such as the simmering groove at the five minute mark, the insistent pointillistic passage at 9:30, the furious moto perpetuo that comes into focus at 16:45, or the climactic material at 21:15 that leads to a scrambling, syncopated texture. Duos between piano and electronics and saxophone and electronics provide structural contrast, and focus the listener’s attention more immediately on the expressive quality of Gümrükçüoğlu’s electronic palette. While the saxophone part includes improvisation on the materials of the piece, the other parts are through composed but retain an improvisatory quality, highlighting Gümrükçüoğlu’s deft ability to compose material that sounds nevertheless spontaneous. Pareidolia ends with undulating swells in the strings, as the saxophone floats over the top with unstable multiphonics and gravelly figuration.

The two string quartet alone works included on the album, both performed by the Mivos String Quartet, highlight Gümrükçüoğlu’s ability to tease longer lines from fragmentary material as well as the influence of Turkish makams. Bozkir, which means “steppes,” opens with intense, emerging swells swirling around a central pitch, before settling into an off-balance groove of hocketed pointillistic attacks that circle through the quartet. A distorted cantus firmus emerges from the resultant arrival pitches. Near the work’s mid-point the forward energy pauses to explore a more static texture of ethereal sustained tones and tremolos. When we finally hear an extended, non-truncated ensemble melody emerge towards the end of the piece, it is heard shrouded in closely spaced clusters. Xanthos is awash in colorful microtonal relationships, painting the poignant sighs and kinesthetic swoops in the instrumental writing with shades of flavor. An extended pizzicato passage unfolds like a charming pas de deux (or perhaps de quatre), the four instruments shadowing each other’s attacks to form a percolating emerging melody.

Ordinary Things features a fixed media part including excerpts of speeches given by the authoritarian leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The ensemble of clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, percussion, violin, and double bass shadows the cadence of the spoken recording, with the group functioning as a sort of sardonic Greek chorus, egging on and mocking the impassioned rhetoric. A reflective instrumental interlude in the middle of the piece seems to hint at the cadence of political march music, with slow siren sounds winding through the texture. Despite the satirical framing of Erdoğan as a bombastic megalomaniac, the expressive impact of Ordinary Things is ominous — biting humor, unfortunately, will not be enough to transform this dark trend in our global politics.

Like Bozkir, Lattice Scattering for flute, piano, and fixed media develops its compositional argument with urgent, frenetic rhythmic activity. It is constructed as a trio between the two acoustic instruments and the electronics, where the electronic sounds lend a timbral multi-dimensionality to the texture. Dense fields of sound across registers create a counterpoint of simultaneous activity.

On the final electronics alone track on the album, Asansör Asi̇mptotu, sounds careen like pistons firing through the spatialized stereo field. A disjunct groove evolves with glitches and starts, gradually traveling through a series of shifting environments. Gümrükçüoğlu subjects the material to successive layers of distortion and transformation, nearly obscuring its identity entirely before the opening idea seems to reemerge briefly for the close of the piece.

– Dan Lippel

All music composed by Eren Gümrükçüoğlu (ASCAP), published by BabelScores, Paris

Performers: JACK Quartet (tracks 1 and 2), Conrad Tao (tracks 1 and 2), Zulfugar Baghirov (tracks 1 and 2),

Thom Monks (tracks 1 and 2), Mivos Quartet (tracks 3 and 6), Deviant Septet (track 4), Ensemble Suono Giallo (track 5)

Recording Engineers: Eren Gümrükçüoğlu (tracks 1, 3, 7), Rick Nelson (tracks 2, 4, 6), David Giacchè (track 5)

Mixing Engineer: Eren Gümrükçüoğlu

Mastering Engineer: Murat Çolak

Produced by: Eren Gümrükçüoğlu

Cover Design: Bora Tekoğul

Cover Photograph: United States Geological Survey

Eren Gümrükçüoğlu

Born in Istanbul, Turkey, Eren Gümrükçüoğlu is a composer and improviser of acoustic/electroacoustic music, a professional guitarist, a music technologist, and an educator. He attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC where he studied jazz guitar. Eren received his Bachelor of Music degree in Film Scoring and Jazz Composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has shared the stage with musicians such as Dr. Billy Taylor, Aydin Esen, Bob Moses, and Grammy Award winners Shirley Horn, Ruslan Sirota, Ben Williams and many more. In 2004, he moved to Los Angeles and composed, arranged, performed and recorded music for ABC, WB and Lifetime TV networks. After his return in 2007 to Turkey, Eren worked as a studio and concert guitarist while also working as a producer on other artists’ albums. Following a performance of his orchestral arrangements in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in 2008, he decided to return to academia and pursue his lifelong passion of composing music.

Eren currently serves as Assistant Professor of Composition at Florida State University. He holds Master’s degrees in composition from Istanbul Technical University and Duke University, and a PhD in composition from Duke University. His research is focused on the dynamics of interaction between electronics and live instruments, generative systems, the utilization of non-western elements in concert music, jazz improvisation, and genre divisions with an emphasis on listening practices. Performers of his music include Quince Ensemble, Semiosis Quartet, Ensemble Suono Giallo, JACK Quartet, New York Polyphony, Mivos Quartet, Conrad Tao, Reuben de Lautour, Ulrich Mertin, Deviant Septet, yMusic Ensemble, Naked Drum Project, UNC Wind Ensemble, Istanbul State Symphony Orchestra, Metropole Orkest among others.

Eren’s music dwells at the intersection of diverse musical styles. As a concert music composer with a strong jazz background, he refrains from creating a crass amalgam of genres but rather incorporates the idiosyncrasies, contours, shapes, rhythms and pacings of different styles into his music. Improvisation maintains its central role in all of Eren’s creative output. His compositions evoke the sense of spontaneity and elasticity that are central to musical development in jazz, while at the same time maintaining a rigorous approach to managing musical form and texture that is typical of much contemporary concert music. As he attempts to upend norms and provide context for diffusion of cultural barriers, Eren combines elements of Turkish folk music with the hallmarks of high-modernist concert music as well as utilizing culturally or politically charged materials to transform their meaning and broaden the scope of discussion that surrounds them.

Eren’s scores are published by Babel Scores, Paris.


Reviews

5

Bandcamp Daily - Best of Contemporary Classical

I’d never heard of the Florida-based Turkish composer Eren Gümrükçüoglu before encountering this heavy-duty portrait album, but it hit like a ton of bricks. He studied at Berklee and was seriously rooted in jazz improvisation before pivoting to concert music in 2008. Here he takes a loose-limbed approach that’s comfortable with various kinds of ambiguity and that reflects those roots, both in purely electronic works and highly interactive ensemble pieces. His music thrives upon different sorts of dichotomies and polarities.

The hefty, densely episodic title piece rolls through frequently shifting structures and collisions, contrasting string quartet parts (masterfully played by JACK Quartet). Conrad Tao’s piano, Zulfugar Baghirov’s reeds, and Thom Monks’ drumming combine in ever-changing forms, forging momentary alliances and navigating uncertain spaces with authority. While the music throbs, hums, and cracks up, the real pleasure is the endlessly modulating timbres Gümrükçüoglu summons, with acoustic and electronic tension, or floating tones frequently battered by terse polyrhythmic sallies. Mivos Quartet tackles a pair of disparate string quartets, with the explosive, splintery start of Bozkir yielding to a more measured second half of harmonically ambiguous long tones and tremolos. The jarring Ordinary Things is peppered with excerpts of speeches by Turkish authoritarian Recep Tayyip Erdoğan set with stark martial beats and the corrosive brass and strings of Deviant Septet. The electronic works that bookend the collection are no less novel in their sonic texture and color.

— Peter Margasak, 10.26.2022

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