Ephemeral Now: An Interview With Ipek Gorgun

Ipek Gorgun's solo works are like choreographed chemical reactions on a micro scale or a terraforming planet on a macro scale. Here she reveals how silence, ontology and the physicality of sound influence her rich fusions of ambient and noise. Portrait by Nazli Erdemirel

"The sequence of ‘nows’ is uninterrupted and has no gaps. No matter how ‘far’ we proceed in ‘dividing up’ the ‘now’, it is always now."

Heidegger, Being And Time

Brimming with facts and fictions, polluted by messages and texts, and under the tyranny of dates and deadlines, our inner thoughts are more often structured within the limits of language, all the while anticipating the passing of time. ‘Now’ has become a procession of self-inflicted alerts, provoking the articulation of questions and decisions, all the while acknowledging and modifying an internal ‘to do’ list, as we aspire to maintain a ‘good use’ of our time.

This self-imposed attrition of modern life can lead to an envy of ‘nature’, where it is speculated, perhaps ignorantly and condescendingly, that lesser beings live in a more permanent state of ‘now’, acting according to a blind faith in instinct. While this overlooks the harshness of having to build your own home and hunt for your own food, all the while being predated upon by other ‘free souls’, seeing ‘nature’ as separate from our continually nurtured behaviours clearly betrays a desire for respite from the constructs of language and time.

Such rare and profound instances can sometimes be tripped by music that avoids words and regular rhythms to engage on some non-linguistic level providing some much needed temporal distortion. Ipek Gorgun is one such artist. Currently approaching the end of her doctorate in Sonic Arts at Istanbul Technical University, her debut album, Aphelion, was re-released on Touch earlier this year thanks to a recommendation from the Austrian sound sculptor Fennesz. Aphelion refers to a phase in an orbit furthest from the body it is circling and, as such, takes the listener far from the timetabled land of words into a refreshingly new and distinctly different ‘now’. Yet, like Fennesz, her work is inflected with ambient and noise strategies from outside academia, giving a luxuriant, welcoming edge to her wayward experiments. We met in London to unpack the philosophies, influences and experiences that underpin Gorgun’s rarefied sound.

You were born in Ankara, where your studies in sound arguably extend back to when you were just four years’ old.

Ipek Gorgun: I was a hyperactive child and I spent a lot of time outdoors. Of course, in a big city like Ankara it is dangerous for a four year old to hang out on the streets, so my dad, an electronics engineer, brought this tape recorder back home for me to listen to music. He also taught me how to record my own voice and the sounds around me and, after that, I got hooked on it, I couldn’t live without it, recording stuff every day. Since we couldn’t afford to buy too many cassettes I kept recording over and over the same tapes. I started making these imaginary recording sessions, calling it The Ipek Radio, my little radio show in my little world – very old school and DIY.

Ipek Gorgun – Kairos (Trailer) from Noetic Works on Vimeo.

You spent 12 years on bass and vocal duties for experimental rock band Bedroomdrunk, at what point did you switch from traditional instruments to electronic music?

IG: Between 2008 and 2012 I was in this band [Vector Hugo] with Osman Kaytazoglu and Erdem Dicle. We were just a small electroacoustic trio with Osman writing the computer parts then Erdem and I were recreating or adding stuff, and then I was playing bass and Erdem was applying guitar over it. It was really inspirational going over to electronics – I must definitely thank Erdem and Osman for that because they were the ones that introduced me to using Max/MSP, and Ableton and who proved that I can do something with them.

It wasn’t like a full transition – the instruments [guitar, bass, drums] can seem traditional but the way I approached them was always non-traditional because I didn’t know the tradition, so it was a natural switch. The computer was not there to be a computer but to contribute to the experience as another instrument, having its own limitations. That’s the way I behaved on Aphelion as well – even though some parts of it sound like they are made by synthesisers, I used a lot of acoustic and electric guitars and a lot of bass guitar, but they are all embedded in the process, it’s not like one thing is stepping in front of each other, but always in a dialogue, feeding each other.

At what point did you encounter electroacoustic music like Xenakis or Stockhausen?

IG: When I was writing music with Bedroomdrunk I was really interested in making noise – hearing noise in music fascinated me. I was into post punk and shoegaze bands but, before that, I grew up listening to a lot of punk so I was always realising this sense of noise coming out of the music, whether it’s a small grain in the sound or whether it is something bigger like a huge noisy section. I started diving deeper into creative ways of making this noise, reading interviews with guitar players like Lee Ranaldo or Thurston Moore, listening to Coltrane too. I was fascinated in the way they approached their instrument and used noise to enrich or enhance their sonic world. That’s when I ended up getting more into Stockhausen and Xenakis and the GRM – like a big world opening up to me, which was exciting.

I found it interesting you studied philosophy and wondered what relationships you found between music, particularly electroacoustic music, and things like ontology and existentialism?

IG: In terms of my thesis on Heidegger, he refers to the importance of silence, how it is based on nothings and how the existence of the being is rooted in nothingness – where the whole being emerges out of and where it ends up. Heideggarian philosophy also has implications on our daily life: according to Heidegger, when one speaks too much they might say nothing, whereas someone else’s silence might mean so much more. You can say a lot by using silence: you can resist, show your acceptance or show you’re criticising or disagreeing [by remaining silent]. Silence is really hard to describe because it has this ability of changing its shape and its form, and what it is fascinating for me is that silence makes silence – you don’t need to push, it can just come out naturally and beautifully.

What was also fascinating to me was that silence can also work in Heidegger’s “inauthentic situations”. In very basic, daily communication, like when there’s some bizarre silence between two people who don’t know each other very much, not finding anything to say, silence is like a big wall staring at us and breaking down our whole communication and making us dive into this moment of nothingness. But, at the same time, there’s too much evolving out of that nothingness, which makes us sometimes feel uncanny or uncomfortable about it.

Silent moments in music sometimes can say so much more [in contrast to] the times you use a lot of noise. But, on the contrary, one can feel really serene when listening to a lot of noise and it can just give you a sense of silence – an inner silence, an inner peace. What I call silence may be noise for someone else and vice versa – it’s hard for me to articulate it.

The physicality of sound also seems important to your work.

IG: Absolutely. We are so concentrated on our eyes and other senses, like touching and smelling, we sometimes tend to forget that hearing is also as physical as our other senses. We don’t see the sound waves travelling, but, actually, right at this very moment when I’m speaking to you, my voice is travelling right across and there is a physical touch that happens between the sound source, the air in which the sound is propagating, and the way it touches our ears, then travels through our ear canal and the basilar membrane before it gets processed in our brain to become a meaningful structure. In terms of that I always like the idea of physicality in that the moment I create something audible , although I’m not touching the listener with my hands, but, with the sounds I’m making I’m actually touching them, so that’s the somatosensory part of things for me.

But also I don’t like the idea of limiting the sense of hearing only to our ears, because I believe that we can also hear with our bodies – I think [Holger] Schulze was also saying that the body becomes this ear. You can feel bass noises in your lower abdomen or feet and when there are higher frequencies you can feel them around your head. Sound is actually touching you not only in your ears but also in your body and because of that resonance – our whole body responding back to us – I think it’s very instinctive and primordial in terms of our experience of music, be it harmonic or non harmonic.

In 2014 you performed at the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo with Ryoji Ikeda’s Test Pattern system. How did that work, was it an installation?

IG: Ikeda’s work was, of course, an installation; I just played in the opening of that installation. It was made on six speakers, the crowd was amazing and people were so nice. Japan has always been very influential in terms of experimental and electronic music since the late 50s, so I felt like I was going to the Mecca of these things and be part of this beautiful and amazing legacy. It made me feel very emotional, not only opening for one of my favourite and biggest influences – Mr. Ryoji Ikeda -but also living within this overall experience – it really shaped how I performed in that space.

Then there was a collective improvisation with Otomo Yoshihide – who else was involved?

All of the participants of the Red Bull Music Academy – thirty people in the middle of a ballroom in a circle. We all had our instruments and Otomo was basically pointing at one of us to start something then he just points to another one to respond, so it’s like a collective improvisation. At some point he directed all of us to join in – thirty people playing at the same time – it was pretty magical, yea.

At what stage did your debut album, Aphelion, start to be recorded, is it something that evolved over a long time or was it all made together?

IG: I wrote ‘Bloodbenchers’ [third track on Aphelion] as a single piece, which I spent seven or eight months on overall – it was pretty exhausting. After that I couldn’t write anything for five or six months. Then, when I was in Tokyo, I got exposed to these beautiful synthesisers and I was bombarded by the Academy, producers and music – it was like a 24/7 thing. I was sleeping three or four hours a day, the other 21 hours was full-on music – either listening or talking to musicians or just going to lectures – that helped me get out of my rut. I started recording music when I was there in the studios and kept writing and improvising and collected all the material I made there, then headed back to Istanbul after the Academy was over. A month later I shut everything down, closed the door and just started writing more music and editing. I finished the album in three to four months; it was a bit of a blurry process as I’d done ‘Bloodbenchers’ in eight months but I then got so much of a kick out of Tokyo I did the rest of the album [in half that time].

So what was it about ‘Bloodbenders’ that took so long?

IG: I was trying to make a cross over between ambient sounds and microsounds, separating tiny grains of sound from larger scale sounds. I kept imagining tiny worlds of grains and small structures gathering together to become these longer, reverberating, almost fluid sounds. It was a huge challenge for me as a young composer, to make them co-exist and in their own way.

The Touch re-release of Aphelion has an additional track that sounds quite different from the rest of the album – where the rest of the album was this chemistry of fluctuating sounds, this is more like field recording, albeit a warped one.

IG: [The original] Aphelion was recorded in the night time – for months I didn’t see any light of day (except for the times I had to run my errands) so it was my own personal Aphelion: I was so far away from the daylight, away from humanity’s implications. So I wanted to make a twist – I’d made some field recordings in this island called Heybeliada – it had the full sounds of birds, and ferries, planes – human sounds and machines, so I thought that would be a nice contrast in the reissue.

Like the daytime following the rest of Aphelion’s night time?


Aphelion is available now from Touch. More information about Ipek Gorgun can be found here

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