Altered Realities is a new album electroacoustic guitar music by Turkish composer Erdem Helvacioglu. On the CD, Helvacioglu makes very interesting use of electronics, recording all the compositions in real time directly to tape. No overdubs or post-processing was used on the material, so the CD captures ideal live electroacoustic performances.
The music is a collection of solo acoustic guitar, enhanced with effects and computer processing. Helvacioglu plays an Ovation Legend, using a TC Electronic Fireworx multi effects processor, Behringer FCB1010 midi foot controller and Audiomulch, a Windows-based audio processor optimized for experimental performance work.
The sound of Altered Realities is an intriguing blend of abstronica and sparse guitar work. While the compositions are solidly grounded in the world of electroacoustic performance, there’s an emphasis and focus on Helvacioglu’s guitar, which gives the pieces an accessible sound and a sense of intimacy.
Helvacioglu processes the guitar in a wide variety of ways. At times, guitar notes are accompanied by an effected doppelganger, soundling like a ghostly mirror of the original. This expands Helvacioglu’s playing in many interesting ways, sometimes sounding like a delay effect, other times sounding like an alternate-world version of the acoustic performance. The double often moves the peformance into new territory, adding a mysterious echo or a glitchy accompaniment.
At other times, Helvacioglu’s processing creates a sort of background accompaniment. Guitar notes that would normally quickly die away are translated into pulsing background effects, or washes of reverberated sound.
At other times, the processing work takes the performace in multiple directions at once. Acoustic guitar may be mirrored by a sitar-like sound, while glitchy effects percolate in the background, and the guitar notes are also being translated into synth pad-like effects.
Though the guitar processing zings off on many tangents, the music is consistently grounded by the acoustic performance. There’s also a definite sense of cause and effect between Helvacioglu’s guitar playing and the effects and computer-generated accompaniment.
The combination of guitar, and the sense of immediacy it brings, with the more abstract sounds of Helvacioglu’s computer processing is quite effective. Throughout the recording, Altered Realities feels like a guitar performance in a mysterious or magical space.
While Helvacioglu’s technical approach is very different, his music brings to mind Harold Budd’s ambient piano work with Brian Eno and the work of Steve Tibbetts. Like Budd and Tibbetts, Helvacioglu’s music captures a sense of wonder, like he’s exploring what happens in a artificial acoustic space, reacting to what he hears and discovering new textures and sounds and their emotional effect.
Altered Realities is one of the most interesting experimental records we’ve heard this year. While it’s very experimental, it’s also relatively accessible. And, while it frequently has an ambient feel about it, it rewards focused listening because of the ingenuity of the processing and the way Helvacioglu plays against the processed sound.