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Just before their first ever duo concert: Erkan Zeki Ar & Baturay Yarkın

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Just before their first ever duo concert: Erkan Zeki Ar & Baturay Yarkın

08.02.2021

Erkan Zeki Ar and Baturay Yarkın, who play together in many ensembles aside from individual productions, will be on the Akbank Sanat YouTube channel on Thursday, February 25th, with their first ever duo performance. Before the concert, we spoke to them about their collaboration and creative processes.

Interview: İpek Temizkan

Illustration: Saydan Akşit

Translated: Cansu Çubukçu

How did you get together in the first place? Can you share some of your recollections from the first time you performed on stage together? 

E.Z.A.: Before we met, I had heard of Baturay from some of my friends and saw him on some social media posts. We coincided with each other at one of the first ensembles I joined after finishing my undergraduate degree. In the ensembles, the harmony of the guitar and piano can be a bit tricky, but we've never had that issue with Baturay, and he eventually became a companion.

B.Y.: Our first encounter dates back to the time when I returned to Turkey after an Erasmus Program at Codarts University for the Arts. It was almost 5 years ago that we ran into each other at the studio during a meet-up of another project. Our friendship remains since then, on and off the stage.

Baturay, you started to play the piano at the age of 6, and you carried your musical life to this point with some major career milestones, like Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, Anadolu'nun Renkleri, and dozens of others. How would you summarize this journey? 

B.Y.: I love music so much, I lose track of time when I'm playing the piano. Music and piano have always been my foul-weather friends, and I approach music with respect. Music comes to life once it's delivered; it gains meaning through the audience. Of course, listening is crucial. The musicians themselves have to be excellent listeners. The music reflects the musicians in their entirety; therefore, their thoughts, feelings, relationships, sincerity, and the books they read, the subjects they feed on, the relationship with themselves, and their overall view of life hold a central place.

Coming from a musical family has been an advantage for sure. I've learnt so much from my family members who were professional musicians; my grandfather Kamuran Yarkın, my father, uncles, sister, and my mother, who was my first teacher. The universality of music allowed me to travel and perform in many different places. Musicians should acquaint themselves with various musical cultures even if they don't incorporate them into their own works; especially on the brink of universality, I think we should have at least some idea on the Turkish music. For this reason in particular, my doctorate thesis partially focuses on Turkish music, although my main field is jazz and Argentinian tango.

As Yarkın duo, you've published the meditative Quintessence, which was a breath of fresh air against the pandemic. Could you tell us a bit about the story behind Quintessence?

B.Y.: Thank you so much, we established the Yarkın duo in 2016 with my sister Nağme Yarkın, who is an Istanbul kamancha artist. Our third album comprises meditative music, which we produced not by determining a specific melody and looking at sheet music, but by improvising at the moment and listening to each other instead. Jazz and Turkish Music collided under the roof of meditation music, and the album was recorded with a 432 hz.

When we look at nature, we see and read that there are four elements and an invisible fifth. Everything's in its own order that is carrying on silently but firmly; the sun sets and rises again, eclipses occur, new moons and full moons repeat in a certain duration, seasons end and begin. This is a very powerful cycle. And inspiring from this, we assigned one of the four elements to each of the four works and named the album after the fifth element, Quintessence.

When we look at the nature of humankind through our territory, music, we realize that compositions recorded with special frequencies such as 432, 528, 639 hz. are very good for people. Musicians who have worked with meditation music, academics and many sources have talked about the importance of these frequencies. In 1955, with the proposal of the American Standards Institute, National Standards Organization suggested that all the albums released should be recorded in 440 hz. But because of the mentioned reasons and that we have experienced 432 hz., we, as Yarkın Duo, decided to record this album with 432 hz.

Erkan, you also had some content on Youtube where you either talk to or play with various artists. Whether we stay at home or not, will these videos keep coming? 

E.Z.A.: Of course, I intend to continue sharing these kinds of posts. The pandemic process caught us all by surprise. In my case, an unpleasant circumstance gave birth to a pleasant production process thanks to the posts I've made on Youtube. As a person who had spent most of his time performing live on stage, being away from it and finding alternative ways to produce was highly productive. Exploring other methods of producing created a motivational space for me to focus on my other skills. Whether we're home or not, I want to keep sparing some of my time for video productions. I had to take a break from them due to some health issues in my family, but once I recover, I will resume these works with a live broadcast update.

Nodding to your words about musicianship and composition, I want to ask you how you would elaborate on your journey as a young musician and composer. Could you outline how everything began and how it's going? 

E.Z.A.: If you ask me, certain cultural backgrounds rendered producing a shrine process. What I'm implying isn't the process's insignificance, but its spontaneity. Composing, for me, has been something natural and something of itself. While studying the technical and theoretical topics in music, I tried to apply the information that I encountered into my production instruments. The blend of theory and practice polished my compositions and led me to revise the topics I've been studying. I think producing during youth, adulthood, and maturity all have their own pros and cons. But, they each possess a value of their own. Because, artistic productions aren't structures that are free from their makers. Also, like a photo album, continuously producing brings certain memories to light.

In an interview you did two years ago, you said that you wanted to give more concerts and participate in more festivals in the future. What kind of revisions did these circumstances put you through? What do you think about pandemic-induced musical platforms?

E.Z.A.: I have to admit, I was distant from music and broadcast technologies until the pandemic hit. I’ve just recently started researching and thinking about what I could do with the new technologies. After the quarantine regulations were introduced, I inclined towards this direction as I had no other opportunities for artistically expressing myself. I always thought of myself as a producer of music, but I realized that I gain much more from thinking as an interdisciplinary artist.

Specialisation and "professionalisation" are indeed precious actions. But, I think although holding on to these actions morbidly is vertically successful, it is horizontally inefficient. When it comes to artistic production, I believe teamwork is extremely important. The significance of attaining a unifying language, especially in interdisciplinary works, cannot be bypassed. In my opinion, the pandemic granted a great opportunity for different art branches to get closer. And as digital media acquired relevance unlike any other time before, they've entered into the process of taking over more responsibility. In summary, everyone will come out of this process with new knowledge, and I think we're all at the beginning of the road, and it's too early to accurately and detailly interpret these times.

Baturay, as an educator, what is your perspective on maintaining music education from home? What could we say about the musicians and artists resuming their education online, and what kind of tips do you have for them?   

B.Y.: Lately, our education program in Istanbul University is proceeding from distance. Distance education is more difficult for educators compared to how it was before, and I think it's even more difficult for art and performance. I can say that after the pandemic, students will earn so much from planning to improve, finding motivation inside the music, thinking about why they started music in the first place, and working persistently towards them. They may not find another time like this where they spend most of their time at home. Aside from this, I hope we can healthily return to normal as soon as possible.

Although we listen to both of you together in Tecelli's tracks and the "Çok Tel" single, the Akbank Sanat YouTube channel concert on February 25th will be your first duo performance. How are your dynamics as music partners? How do you pick the repertoire and the compositions? 

E.Z.A.: For starters, there is the comfort of having worked together in different projects over many years. We had delightful performances where we hadn't talked about the arrangements in advance. Thus, we usually throw ourselves on the stage after briefly discussing what we want to express ideologically and experiment on a couple of possibilities. Jazz is music that is cooked on stage, so thoroughly plotting everything beforehand seems a little uninnovative for me. In this concert, we are planning to greet the audience with the compositions and covers we both love. This kind of a project was something Baturay and I've occasionally been talking about anyways, so maybe we can begin working on a duo album after this concert.

B.Y.: We are musicians who love to share what we produce with the audience. Guitar and piano are instruments that can find their way into different varieties of musical genres, and due to these inclusive ranges, they contain comprehensive harmonic approaches. We can't wait to bring the audience together with this.

From your individual productions, are there any tracks that you may want to work on as a duo in the future?  

B.Y.: Of course, this concert could be a kick-start to a duo project.

E.Z.A.: I'm already ready!

And finally, both of you shared new albums with the audience in 2020, which were composed of the projects you had worked on simultaneously. Are there any new records or ideas you are currently dwelling on?

B.Y.: I've been working on my solo piano albums these days. The records are very fresh, and there are mix-mastering and publishing stages to be done. It's been an exciting progress for me. I'm very used to solo piano thanks to my classical education. The idea of sharing these as an album originated when I was home alone during the pandemic. I've never had this much spare time in my life before, so I merged my old compositions with the new ones, which shaped into a piano album over-an-hour long. Besides that, we want to share our concert recordings from Borusan Müzik Evi as an album. It was our Anadolu'nun Renkleri project that incorporates piano, contrabass, drums, and Istanbul kemenche. Studio and live albums carry their individual features and dynamics. I'm so happy that we'll get to hear the sound of applause we've been longing for.

E.Z.A.: I'm working on two albums, one of which is heavily focused on acoustic and instrumental elements. For the other, I'm going to work with neo-soul vocals. There are some artists whom I make productions and arrangements for, so I'm working on that as well. When I need a pianist, Baturay is one of the two or three pianists I call first. We will also work a lot on these projects that I mentioned, depending on his availability.

 

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