Eren Gümrükçüoğlu: Pareidolia

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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.



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.



Bandcamp Daily: Best of Contemporary Classical October 2022

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


AnEarful Best of 2022: Classical

The title refers to the phenomenon of seeing shapes in randomness, like picking an elephant out of a cloudscape. But "peripatetic" could have worked just as well, so well-traveled through various realms is this Turkish-born, Florida-based composer and performer. And it's not just geographical, as his jazz guitar roots, engineering skills, and experiences creating soundtracks for television all inform his compositional approach. This debut portrait album features five recent compositions performed by the likes of Conrad Tao, the JACK Quartet, the Mivos Quartet, Ensemble Suono Giallo, and the Deviant Septet, bookended by two electronic pieces, for a 360-degree view of his stylish, entertaining, open-hearted music. Seen strictly as a calling card, Pareidolia should have students flooding his composition classes at FSU.

— Jeremy Shatan, 1.02.2023


The WholeNote

Two suppositions: music is only music to the extent that it elicits recognition and response, and not all music (not all art) is good for one. Consider these as you read why I recommend this disc. Think catharsis. Composer Eren Gümrükçüoğlu makes brilliant use of acoustic and electronic media, with strong collaborators including the excellent JACK Quartet. His ideas, once you settle into the terrain, make sense. There is pitch and sound contoured into melody, and there is rhythm, lots of it.

The opening track is frankly scary. Pandemonium comes to us via Milton in Paradise Lost. Not a good place, to say the least. A demonic gathering place ain’t peaceful, it’s a harrowing funhouse!

I found myself beating time to the title track, Pareidolia, even during the intervals where metre and rhythm seem absent; rather they are partially submerged in silences that allow only some of the contours to show. When “time” is introduced explicitly, at various points in the piece (at nearly 24 minutes, by far the longest single track), the material is taut and jazzy, the silences filled, the pulse revealed. Track four, Ordinary Things, pits a small wind band with bass and percussion against fragments from speeches made by Recep Erdoğan, composed as mimicry, a satiric chorus riffing alongside the autocrat’s overblown rhetoric, forming a kind of sonic haze around the vocals. Mesmerizing.

Those step-dancing squirrels in your attic crawl space have spotted a canary, who calls out from various places as they scutter about chasing the hapless bird. That describes the spatial and rhythmic fun of the final track, Asansör Asìmptotu.

Kudos to all the performers and especially to the composer.

— Max Christie, 4.03.2023


Avant Music News

“Pareidolia” describes the condition of seeing meaningful patterns—in, e.g., the grain of a wood panel or the shape of a cloud formation—where none have been put there. It’s a well-chosen title for a collection of music by the Turkish-born, Florida-based composer Eren Gümrükçüoglu, whose music tends toward the assembly of rapidly changing yet cohesive patterns from seemingly random sounds and gestures. Fittingly, the album’s twenty-three minute long title track epitomizes the approach. The piece is scored for string quartet, fixed media, and performers doubling on clarinet and tenor saxophone, piano and synthesizer, and percussion and drumkit. The basic material is made up of fragmentary surges and abrupt bursts of sound coalescing and dispersing in an unpredictable series of instrumental combinations. A low-density middle section for piano, electronics, and vibraphone falls on the pointillistic side of Gümrükçüoglu’s pattern creation, while the concluding passages embrace denser textures and more assertive dynamics. The two string quartets Bozkir and Xanthos, both performed by the Mivos Quartet, bring two variations to the basic schema. Bozkir is organized around a focal tone and rhythmically-charged shards of melody that are passed around the four strings, while Xanthos features a textural and startling timbral diversity balancing on the fulcrum of a long, purely pizzicato passage.

Pareidolia also includes Lattice Scattering for piano, flute, and fixed media; Ordinary Things for fixed media and small chamber ensemble, and opening and closing tracks for fixed media generated by a computer program improvising sound structures from an input of recordings made of an elevator.

— Daniel Barbiero, 1.04.2023


Take Effect

The Turkish composer Eren Gümrükçüoglu brings us 7 of his inimitable works for chamber ensembles, and it makes great use of several groups and artists that help cultivate a rhythmic, abstract and uniquely harmonic body of work.

“Pandemonium” starts the listen with media electronics, where timbral manipulation and three dimensional soundscapes are met with a very unusual delivery, and the title track follows with the JACK Quartet, as brass, drums and fixed media emit an atypical rhythm, syncopated textures and quivering strings for the organic versus synthetic swells.

Further into the unconventional landscape, “Ordinary Things” recruits the Deviant Septet for an iconoclastic mashing of brass, winds, percussion and strings that even mixes in excerpts of speeches from the leader of Turkey, while “Lattice Scattering” benefits from the Ensemble Suono Giallo’s flute, piano and media, where the pair of acoustic instruments and the electronics make for a dense and unorthodox album highlight.

The final track, “Asansör Asimptotu”, is just electronics, and it’s as exciting as it is unusual, glitchy and groove filled, but not in the traditional sense.

Gümrükçüoglu’s background in jazz is present here, as are plenty of cinematic ideas, and the research he’s done on the dynamics of electronics and live instruments is put to great use for our appreciation and fascination.

— Tom Haugen, 4.29.2023



When you listen to Baroque music and look at Baroque paintings, the two seem congruous, and today’s New Music resembles contemporary art in being so conceptual and theoretical. This holds especially true for the soundscapes created by electronic composers like Eren Gümrükçüoğlu and his “abstract sonic cinema,” as the booklet note describes his craft. Born in Istanbul in 1982, Gümrükçüoğlu creates music that is a screen filled with quicksilver gestures, flicks of sound that resemble the flicks of paint in a Cy Twombly canvas, where squiggles, dabs, flashes of color, and occasional scrawled words come together as a kind of visual map where clues are scattered to indicate the subject of the painting.

Translate this into musical gestures, and you get the effect of Gümrükçüoğlu’s technique. On its own terms he has invented a strong, beautiful style that is surprisingly accessible, evocative, and often mesmerizing. The cover art for this debut album is taken from a U.S. Geological Survey map, so the parallel to abstract mapping might be in the composer’s mind. The booklet note also mentions the symphonic quality of this music, which is largely achieved through the electronica mixed and performed by the composer, interwoven with instrumental sounds across a wide canvas that sounds to me flatly one-dimensional, like a river that is a mile wide and one inch deep.

New Music is dependent, over and above anything else, on a composer’s ear, and Gümrükçüoğlu has a fine one. I take it, since he performs on five of the seven pieces, that the fixed media is a template that he uses improvisationally, and several works are performed live. I’m sure that the quality of the music is what attracted top-tier performers like the JACK and Mivos Quartets and pianist Conrad Tao. The Mivos are heard in two string quartets, Bozkir and Xanthos, the only purely acoustic music on the disc, but the scattered, refracted gestures are much the same as elsewhere on the disc—there are very few sustained notes set against the jittery, propulsive texture, and some sounds made by the violins imitate high electronic whistles and whispers. In any event, the Mivos Quartet delivers virtuosic performances that seem ideal.

I don’t mean to imply that these pieces are so uniform that they turn monotonous. Ordinary Things, exuberantly performed by the Deviant Septet alongside Gümrükçüoğlu, features spoken, at times shouted, phrases excerpted from speeches given by Turkey’s dictatorial leader, Recep Erdoğan. The ingenuity of the fixed media here is indicated by a description of the first work on the program, Pandemonium. Its basic materials “are sourced from a recording Gümrükçüoğlu made of the Duke University music department elevator, where he did his PhD work.” The extended program notes are an articulate, well-written guide to each piece, if not entirely free of jargon (e.g., “spatialized sweeps and timbral events … conjure a mechanized drama of timbral relationships”).

In the end, this is that rare example of New Music that is at once experimental and accessible to the general listener, filled with colorful, often exquisite sounds, compiled with remarkable ingenuity by Gümrükçüoğlu. Warmly recommended.

— Huntley Dent, 2.15.2023

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