“A piece of music, at the expense of being misunderstood, must speak the language of the times, and preserve its predecessors in its genetic memory.”
Interview: Tuğçe Asya Yaldız
Photographs: Şener Yılmaz Aslan
Çağdaş Tanık is a young composer who explores contemporary music through a filter of the traditional and the modern… As we listen to time, personal dynamics and processes in his music, we talked about the place where the composer is positioned in musical production for existential reasons and the path of contemporary music in Turkey with the realistic and candid attitude he captures in his compositions.
Who is Çağdaş Tanık, the young composer? Please tell us about yourself and the journey that produced your works.
I was born in 1987 in Niğde. Since my early childhood, I have had an affinity to music. I sang in the opera choir when I was a kid. I learned how to read the notes on my own in high school. I had figured out some piano sonatas from classical music tapes, and put them on paper with a graph I devised.
Then, one of my friends could not bear this situation anymore, and brought his notes and I grasped some things and found my way. In my opinion, the longest distance I covered in my musical journey is the phase before my friend’s notes. In that phase, I had unknowingly become aware of things like dictation, hearing, listening practice, love of music, style, and form, etc.
I was always interested in playing musical instruments but it could be because I wasn’t that good at it that the music in my head has always been ahead of playing and perhaps this motive drove me to produce. I believe that the most important steps to be taken in instrument training can be skipped before developing resistance to life. You must have an instructor you unconditionally accept, and work hard without questioning. Shortly after I learned the notes, I took piano lessons for six months, and then I was accepted to the composition department of the Faculty of Music and Performing Arts at Bilkent University. The next year I left school because I lost my mother. The following year I was accepted to Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University’s Composition Department. While I was studying there, I was accepted to the Royal Conservatory of Brussels. The following year I was accepted to the composition section of the Musik und Kunst Privatuniversität der Stadt Wien, but I did not submit my German language certificate and did not attend the school. I am currently doing my master’s studies at Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University.
In October, I will be attending the Munich Conservatory to work with composer Isabel Mundry within the scope of an Erasmus program. I am very excited because it will be a very important experience for me.
Do you have a specific inspiration for your compositions? What are the sources that nourish you?
My inspiration usually comes from a situation or existential problems. It could be an article, a movie, a sound or a story, or even another music piece but first you should be ready to feel the inspiration. I do not believe that someone who is currently not working can be inspired. As a matter of fact, I cannot say that I really believe in inspiration. It all comes down to how everything is visualized in our minds. Two artists can be inspired by the same story, but one can connect with it and the other may not. This is not something that can be directly explained by logic. Contrary to what appears to be in or is attributed to the works that have made history, there is deep work involved and sometimes this work may not be directly on the piece. If you have worked on other pieces for years, you will have an advantage in terms of creativity and technique.
Who are some of the contemporary composers that have influenced you?
As someone who is influenced by all the good music I listen to, it is not easy for me to answer this question. There have always been composers whose sincerity in terms of composition has convinced me. Michael Jarrell, Iannis Xenakis, Luciano Berio, and Helmut Lachenmann are among the composers whose composition style I felt akin to, who have inspired me or I learned from in the recent years.
Of course, the works of the composers who are still evolving are as instructive as those of great composers.
As a composer between the East and the West, which do you feel closer to? Do you connect with Eastern music?
Today, to methodize an idea and put it into variation is attributed to the West. I also use these methods in my compositions. But I also believe in instinct. The musical ideas that come to me materialize after listening to myself for a long time and hearing my inner voice. I believe that this process is closer to the music discipline in the East. The foundations of Eastern music are more intertwined with the psychology of space, time and situation because it is more linked to improvisation. I also do improvisations in my head before I start writing and I measure their temporal values, in other words I do not write music without listening to my inner voice. Then, among these numerous improvisations, I choose the ones that resist the most to time and myself; and others disappear. While working on these ideas, I start looking at the material in hand from a method perspective, and I analyze my own musical ideas to build new structures on them using logic. This stage of analysis and development is more visible in the Western music discipline.
Some of the composers who are directly from the West write music with a more algorithmic composition approach based on the material and rules. I am interested in architectural skills in such cases and my curiosity gets the better of me because of my passion for technical matters. To me, however, music is not a process that the composer carries out mechanically but it should be used without hesitation where achieving mechanical progress is inevitable. All of these situations must be taken seriously in order for the real life experience to be well formed. Regardless of the method used, it must first excite its composer, and then the contemporary music listener. Theoretically, it must be absolutely strong, but that is not enough by itself.
Do you also think that the traditional and contemporary music are connected?
I always make that connection. There are various music genres that I think can never be connected, but even an innovation that we think is radical is first nourished by itself. I believe that the weaknesses of humans do not change even if fashion changes. Our weak spots are almost the same, even though we have much more technological opportunities than a person 600 years ago. The struggle against these weaknesses is a part of human nature. Just like the way we wear clothes changes, music’s style also changes with technology, and it will, but it is necessary to perceive the skeleton of this world of music accurately.
A piece of music, at the expense of being misunderstood, must speak the language of the times, and preserve its predecessors in its genetic memory. If it is a valuable production, it will stand the test of time and eventually find its true value. Just like the great geniuses who were not appreciated in their lifetime… And our aim is to follow patiently on the footsteps of those geniuses, and only speak when and if we have something to add.
As a Turkish composer, what are the challenges of composing music in a country without a specific genre of music? Which genre do you consider yourself closer to?
Speaking for myself, I think genres can be used if the need arises, but I have never thought of fully adapting one. Only if the music requires and on condition that it is original, I may consider using it, in other words I do not mind learning another language as long as I speak my own words. The manifestos of contemporary music trends reach the composers here indirectly. Of course, all of these trends have very strong arguments and effective expressions.
We talk about Europe but there is not a singular attitude toward it there, either. They accept lots of orders and perform these projects with excellent instrumental ensembles. They also have good recording environments and plenty of trial and error possibilities. Or, for instance, a young French composer may decide on the aesthetic style of a composition more easily, but is it enough to make the composer stand out? There are good composers, of course, but their positions in this setup should be analyzed well. These are the advantageous sides. On the other hand, there are great influential figures in the world music scene like Stravinski, Xenakis, and Bartok, who did not have an established classical music tradition or one that is just getting started in their own countries. Those that stand in the shadows cannot cast a shadow, so I think we need to start here.
So, in your opinion, what is the status of artistic production in Turkey compared to the past?
It is quite difficult to determine a criterion. Compared to a decade ago, the number of contemporary music composers has increased considerably, which is a good sign. If we are speaking of music alone, I can say that music is living its best age in the period after the foundation of the Republic, and that period saw some great composers. I say this considering the number of composers/works, but this is the same around the world. And this is not a sufficient criterion, either. It is also very important to be able to develop a unique musical approach. The situation is roughly the same in terms of classical Western music. I think the situation is worse in Classical Turkish Music. I recently attended the Üsküdar Music Society to study theory and composition, and learn about the living/great forms. If my references are correct, great forms like the Mevlevi Ritual have been replaced with songs. I do not want to sound presumptuous, but I think the popular world has been fully adopted and music pieces are written to gain popularity. If what I saw is true, it is very sad.
How do you think the conditions needed to advance contemporary arts can be created?
The first condition for the advancement of arts in a country is for the government to approach the topic from the right angle and for the bourgeoisie to consist of intellectuals. The more we can provide these conditions, the better we get in arts. Today, we see that contemporary music ensembles have also made a place for themselves along with symphony orchestras in countries with advanced contemporary music. I think this prerequisite must be readily available to composers, and contemporary music should be included more in symphony orchestras’ repertoires.
Do you have an ideal working environment? Do you believe that creating such an environment is possible?
I have yet to define such an environment because it is constantly changing for me. If I’m working on a long-term project, it may not be the same environment in the first weeks and later. But wherever you are, even if there are people around, being alone can make things a lot easier. There are schools of art in Europe (such as young composers who continue the trends of “Spectralism,” “musique concrète instrumentale,” or “New Complexity”).
What are your upcoming composition projects?
There is a piece of music that I have just started to compose. I am writing for the Diskant Ensemble, a leading contemporary music ensemble from Turkey. Apart from this, we have two other projects combining contemporary dance and contemporary theater that we are currently trying to clarify.
Thank you very much Çağdaş, we look forward to listening to your compositions. Congratulations and good luck.