Marc Sinan/Oğuz Büyükberber: White (ECM 2558)

2558 X

Marc Sinan
Oğuz Büyükberber
White

Marc Sinan guitar, electronics
Oğuz Büyükberber clarinet, bass clarinet, electronics
Recorded October 2016, Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Release date: May 18, 2018

No matter where I am yet I shall not forget our mournful songs,
Shall not forget our steel-lettered books which now have become prayers,
No matter how sharply they pierce my heart our wounds so soaked with blood,
Even then I love my orphaned and my bloodied, dear Armenia.
–Yeghishe Charents

On White, German-Turkish-Armenian guitarist Marc Sinan and Turkish clarinetist Oğuz Büyükberber join more than forces, blending history and all-but-forgotten biographies into a mosaic of reckoning. After working together in the much larger ensemble of Hasretim: Journey to Anatolia, they now present their first recording as a duo, and the result of their collaboration is one of the most ghostly albums to be released on ECM in recent years.

The program consists largely of a suite by Sinan entitled upon nothingness. Combining field recordings from 1916 of Armenian prisoners of war in German detention camps, it is divided into colored subsections of yellow, blue, green, white, and red. The field recordings add a sense of mystery, trickling from cracks in the wall around this unthinkable past while also seeming to scale said wall from a peaceable future. Caged folksongs—each a cry for freedom in places where such a concept feels as distant as the sky—act as catalysts for our two performers, who in their present clarity touch the looking glass of retrospection as if it were a talisman close to breaking. Electronics flood the air, foregrounding inner turmoil.

Sinan’s guitar is multivalent, at one moment tracing a barbed yet invisible border of hatred around the afflicted while the next igniting that ring as a halo of grace. Tents and squalid conditions peak from the images of a lost era like glaciers whose tips only hint at the immense traumas fanning out beneath the surface of a collective amnesia. As lost souls whose only hope is to be grasped like wisps of creative thought, their echoes give rise to electronic embraces wider than any arms of flesh could accommodate. In the album’s eponymous “white” section—a guitar piece written by Büyükberber and transformed by Sinan—we encounter shooting stars, forced to observe from a darkness without ornament.

Interspersed throughout is Büyükberber’s five-part there. Painting a more straightforward, though no less inspired narrative, it strikes a free jazz kaleidoscope, opening windows into windows into windows. Sheltered by their fragmentary architecture, symbiosis becomes the norm, and we as individual agents the exceptions taking in their stories as if they were our own.

Marc Sinan/Julia Hülsmann: Fasıl (ECM 2076)

Fasıl

Marc Sinan
Julia Hülsmann
Fasıl

Marc Sinan guitar
Yelena Kuljic vocals
Lena Thies viola
Julia Hülsmann piano
Marc Muellbauer double-bass
Heinrich Köbberling drums, percussion
Recorded March 2008 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Guitarist and composer Marc Sinan, recently of the (sadly) European-only release Hasretim, made his ECM debut with Fasıl, an album of enduring originality and refinement. The title refers to a suite form used in both classical and modern Ottoman ensemble music, and which here would seem to nod in both directions. It’s almost unfortunate that the Turkish word should so closely resemble the English “facile,” for the music here is anything but superficial. By way of comparison, one might pair it with Jon Balke’s SIWAN, as Balke illuminates and draws out likeminded ethnomusical connections with care.

Siwan’s own fasıl tells the story of ‘Ā’ishah bint Abī Bakr (613/14-678), youngest and favorite wife of the Prophet Muhammad. In this fresh musical context, her sentiments twirl and float by turns along a river’s current of rhythmic libations. Librettist Marc Schiffer weaves into those sentiments influences ranging from the Qur’an to ancient Persian poetry in search of common ground. Pianist Julia Hülsmann’s trio with bassist Marc Muellbauer and drummer Heinrich Köbberling—the subject of such later albums as The End of a Summer and Imprint—flexes the project’s instrumental spine. They are joined by violist Lena Thies, Sinan on guitar, and the Serbian-born, Berlin-based singer Yelena Kuljic in the role of ‘Ā’ishah.

The album begins, as does any fasıl performance, with an instrumental “Peshrev,” which lowers us gently into the waters of this emotionally dynamic world. It is a world of comfort and challenge, a quilt of geographical distances made immediate by design. Other traditional movements include iterations of the taksim, an improvisational interlude which unspools purple braids from Hülsmann’s interpretive fingers. Through these run the finer threads of Sinan’s flamenco-esque strumming and Thies’s spirited bowing. Sinan augments these with two movements based on transcriptions of an imam (Islamic cantor) he recorded while conducting research for this project in Turkey. “Sure 6/51” and “Sure 81 Taksimi” revolve around Hülsmann’s rhythm section, guitar and viola taking respective turns in the lead.

Yet it is by virtue of Kuljic’s portrayal of ‘Ā’ishah that the album comes into its own. Beginning with the drawing of desire that is “This Bloody Day” and ending with the affirmative “You Open My Eyes,” her voice sheds light by which to see. She explores themes as wide-ranging as agency and politics (“Taking Leave”), the body as landscape (“The Last Night”), and, couched in the album’s most entrancing melody, the intertwining of lives under Heaven (“The Dream”). Sinan rocks a lovely fulcrum in the latter through a smooth, jazzy core, and lends his flexible architecture to “The Struggle Is Over,” carving a sliver of moon into the sky.

All in all, these are songs of holdings on and lettings go. The instrumental elaborations are thoughtful (and thought-provoking), unraveling richly dyed sacraments in sound. At their heart is a song entitled “The Necklace.” It is a pivotal moment, both in the lives of its characters and of this cycle as a whole. It refers to story recounted in the Qur’an, in which ‘Ā’ishah, during one of Muhammad’s desert raids, is mistakenly left behind when she goes looking for a lost necklace and returns to camp to discover that her caravan has departed without her. She is found by a nomad under Muhammad’s employ named Sufwan and taken to the next campsite, only to be met with gossip of infidelity. Unbelieving of these rumors, Muhammad takes his wife’s word on faith (albeit after a revelation from Allah confirms her innocence), and her accusers are summarily punished. It speaks volumes about a woman whose strength thrived in her resolve, in her resistance to a world of men, and in her refusal to let her integrity fade into the dunes.

Marc Sinan: Hasretim – Journey to Anatolia (ECM 2330/31)

2330/31 X

Marc Sinan
Hasretim – Journey to Anatolia

Marc Sinan music, guitars, idea, concept and production
Traditional musicians from Turkey
Mustafa Boztüy
darbuka, framedrum
Güç Başar Gülle oud
Ömer Can Satır kaval
Onur Şentürk kemençe
Erdem Şimşek bağlama
Traditional musicians from Armenia
Araik Bartikian duduk, zurna
Vazgen Makaryan duduk, zurna
Andrea Molino arrangement, conductor (DVD only)
Jonathan Stockhammer conductor
Markus Rindt idea, concept and production
CD recorded live July 2011 at Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival by Volker Greve and Holger Schwark
“Prolog” recorded December 2012 at MIAM Istanbul by Can Karadogan
Mastering: Volker Greve
DVD recorded Ocobter 2010 at Festspielhaus Hellerau
An ECM Production

Classical guitarist Marc Sinan, born in 1976 to a Turkish-Armenian mother and a German father, has over the past two decades attracted increasing demand as a soloist and collaborator, and dedicates his output to softening divides between genres, eras, and cultures. Hasretim represents the most significant evolutionary leap in his career as a composer. The result of a commission by Hellerau – European Center for the Arts Dresden and the Dresdner Sinfoniker, this video-musical journey traces Sinan’s heritage along the Black Sea coast to the Armenian border. More than that, it’s an invaluable archive of life and song on the Anatolian plateau, which he explored together with Dresdner Sinfoniker artistic director Markus Rindt in 2010. During the trip, Sinan was saddened to find that the preservation of folk music so prevalent elsewhere (viz: the Baltic states, Hungary, and Greece) was lacking in Turkey. Consequently, he took Hellerau’s commission as an opportunity to address the discrepancy, pooling a storehouse of traditional musicians and incorporating their art into a large-scale, contemporary piece of his own design. “I was quite nervous,” writes Sinan of the recording process. “Unlike musical field research, our project demanded much more than simply documenting the current state of the Turkish musical tradition regardless of its artistic merit. We were on a treasure hunt and would only rest once we stumbled upon something truly special.” As connections grew, so too did the availability of choice musical talent and the opportunity to capture it for posterity. Once satisfied with his bank of original recordings, to them Sinan introduced what he calls “decisive, subjective elaborations” in the form of both through-composed and improvised material.

Hasretim was originally conceived as an installation piece, with videos of these unrecognized Turkish troubadours (many of whom must balance their musical lives with working ones) projected onto five towering vertical screens at stage rear. Before them plays an assembly of European classical musicians augmented by traditional specialists from Turkey and Armenia. The latter bring their expertise to a veritable portrait of Asia Minor in sound as the oud, kaval, kemençe, bağlama, duduk, zurna, and frame drum hold their own alongside strings and winds. It is to ECM’s credit that its release should encompass both the audio on CD and the visual on an accompanying DVD. For while the music stands alone as a welcoming experience, to see the musicians (live and recorded) in their element, along with segues of candid scenes from Istanbul and beyond, brings out the project’s reach in most immediate terms. Both versions feature essentially the same personnel, with the notable exception of conductors: Jonathan Stockhammer directs the CD version, recorded live at the Schleswig Holstein Musikfestival, while Andrea Molino, also the project’s musical arranger, handles the DVD performance, recorded at Festspielhaus Hellerau.

As indicated by the title, which means “I’m yearning” or “My desire,” Hasretim is a search for roots. Yet it’s also a spray of new foliage in the towering branches, nourished by Sinan’s unique ear for montage. The album is bookended by a “Prolog” and “Epilog.” One is a menagerie of harmonics, blips, and whispers that tightens like a spring, while the other pieces together footage of nearly all the recorded musicians in a chain of reprisals, ending as it began: with an attunement that spans multiple geographies.

Within this frame are five distinct “Tableaux,” each named after a Turkish city or, in the case of “Tableau II – Yayla,” for the mountain pastures where an old man (Haci Ömer Elibol) plays the end-blown kaval while his sheep animate the background. His call, for that is what it becomes in Sinan’s contextualization, inspires some upbeat interweaving. In contrast to the dark fiddling of “Tableau I – Ordu,” which details the face of singer Asiye Göl across all five screens, it more fully includes itself in the musical goings on.

Indeed, voices resound clearest throughout the program, even if certain instrumentalists do stand out for their charisma. There is Hüsseyin Altay on the tulum (Turkish bagpipe), joined by droning brass; the unforgettable Ismail Küçük, who sings and bows his kemençe in “Tableau III – Trabzon” from the back seat of a car, thus underscoring the film’s road movie feel; the duet of Ömer Parlak on kaval and Mesut Kurt (along with Göl, the youngest of those featured) on kemençe; and in “Tableau IV – Erzurum” the rhythmically savvy Aşik Eminoglu accompanying himself on the bağlama to invigorating effect. This same Tableau also cradles “In Memory of Vahide,” a 10-minute duduk duet that interpolates shadows into light. All of this buoys “Tableau V – Kars” as the most compositionally unified vision of live elements (especially in the percussion) and descriptive archival work.

In absence of any background information, one might never know that Sinan witnessed firsthand a loss of connection among contemporary Turkish musicians to their rich heritage, or that their art needed recovery in this regard. Neither was the counterpoint lost on him between the boisterous people and their peaceful, sometimes dreary, settings. Such contrast of medium and message informs every frame and staff of this multimedia treasure trove. Although awarded a special prize by the German Commission for UNESCO for its “inspiring and experimental confrontation between different cultures,” Hasretim is less about experiment than experience and anything but a confrontation. Rather, it is a book to which each new witness adds a page.

(See the article as it originally appeared in RootsWorld online magazine, where you may also hear samples.)