I skipped the ten years challenge craze. If I am to join in, it is going to be a little different, of course.
Ten years ago, in the summer of 2009, I was working on my first album ‘a new beginning’. The album was briefly released and soon after I took it down, for reasons that still elude me. Perfectionism is a curse, not an asset. Like a mirage, the ‘perfect’ version of your creation will seem reachable, only to retreat while you try to reach it. In any case, Sony Music seemed willing to release my older catalogue through their Epic Istanbul sub-label.
With all of its imperfections, I am embracing this early effort and re-releasing it for the sake of documentation, and as a time capsule from which my creative output could be scrutinized, if needed be.
In the summer of 2009, I moved into Emre’s flat in Haringey. Little did we know that we were about to embark on a monumental task: to complete A new beginning within two months. However big of an undertaking as it were, it was only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the work on the album was done two years prior to our meeting, in a forsaken, damp riddled, ground floor flat on Endymion Road, Haringey. It was Emre’s idea to collaborate and put an end to my endless tampering with something that was already completed, in his view, but never quite at the standards I wished. At the time, Emre was doing a course on audio engineering at SAE where he had to collaborate with and artist and submit his work as part of his portfolio. As such, the deadline was on our side, pushing us to finish the work no matter how happy we were with the results. Retrospectively, I think this was the single most important reason that I was able to complete the album at all, not to mention Emre's crucial involvement. This also meant that we could use the recording facilities at SAE, a crucial advantage if you are to record a piece of music in London.
During my stay at the Endymion road, and before I moved into Emre's flat, I transformed my basement flat into a 70s-esque bachelor pad, complete with lava lamps, Steely Dan LP records and wooden venetian blinds, and various cinematographic light sources. That room was where I lived, and it transformed into an extension of my psyche. The place became some sort of a hub, people came and went, drinks poured, smoke, legal and illegal, oozed outside through those venetian blinds into the early hours of each and every day. Buray, a rising popstar and a university friend of mine, stayed for a brief time in that very room pictured below. Nevzat, the owner of Ghetto restaurant, an established joint at Nicosia, slept weeks on end on those couches before he managed to find his own place. Kemal, now working as an animator on huge blockbuster movies have danced into the night on that very floor in many Tequila nights. Lots and lost of other colorful characters came and went. I sometimes wonder who occupies that flat now.
Shape of things to come
Lets remember 2009 for what it was. Michael Jackson was to visit London, and the anticipation was stratospheric (so was ticket sales on black market, a web developer friend of ours were at the time working on a ticket sales website and told us all about the dark side). Bitcoin and Facebook like button made its debut, Barack Obama became the first African-American president. The internet, on the other hand, was relatively tamer; Spotify was newly established, and if you were to visit YouTube of that era, you would probably not recognize it. Most of the things we take for granted about the internet and how we interact with it were actually in their infancy. Looking back to it, it was such a crucial time to have lived in, to have had the opportunity to see the future shape right in front of our eyes, for better or worse.
Harringey, summer of 2009. In a ‘standard issue’ Victorian converted flat, a Cypriot is desperately trying to learn the art and craft of a ‘bedroom producer' with a shot glass in hand, which in previous occupation at Endymion road has seen a fair amount of Tequila sessions. Bedraggled hair, pretentious retro pyjamas, a borrowed guitar, Nokia phone, this is the humble beginnings, right here.
I still keep that exact shot glass today. In fact, I have used it for the same purpose on my second album Paradise Lost. It became a memento, of sorts. But how do you explain that ancient Nokia phone on the desk?
Our routine was simple. Wakeup, breakfast at a Green lanes café, work all day while the summer sun is scorching London’s green parks, get a kebab from a now-closed Greek restaurant, work more, get a half-ready meal from the local Tesco, cook, delve into sarcastic humor, shoot videos for a potential making of video, record some more music until midnight – or until lower floor neighbors complain, sleep.
For two months.
The new analogue dawn
2009 was also the dawn of the analogue revival. It seemed like musicians had just tasted and already had enough of the digital age, just when it reached at its peak. It is also when I stepped into the scene myself. Most major companies were a bit late to adopt this new trend. Moog was certainly one of the earlier ones to step back to the scene, after a roughly 10-year hiatus, Minimoog Voyager was the name of their big return in 2002. It is also the last synthesizer designed by the great late Robert Moog himself. After 13 years and 14,000 instruments, the production of the Voyager is stopped (figures from Moog website). Today, this instrument can already be considered a rarity, a collector’s item.
2009 was A New Beginning for me in many ways. It was a time of self-discovery. Discovering, creating and speaking a new musical language. One that was a little alien to me. Though my first venture into computer music goes as far as 2000, it was not until mid to late-2000’s that I began taking it more seriously. All signs were pointing to the increase in viability of being a “bedroom producer”. Each year, the software tools for making music was improving, becoming cheaper, and often exceeding the capabilities of their expensive hardware counterparts. New and exciting Synthesizers were beginning to emerge. It was a fascinating time to make music. The future looked bright.
Why, it is the “bedroom producer” attire!
Unlike Solina (later on about that), Minimoog Voyager is not a one trick pony, though not a swiss knife either. One of the best investments I have made. Time and again Voyager proved just how powerful, sturdy and an extremely well-built instrument. The mere act of touching and turning its chunky knobs is pure joy. At one point before I moved in to Emre’s flat, where we began working with A New Beginning, I asked for his opinion on which synth to buy. I was looking for a one-synth-for-all type of thing. Though Moog is definitely does not fall under this category, I soon realized there is no such one size fits all kind of deal in Synthesizers. What can I say, I was fresh out of school, writing Orchestral and chamber music. What did I know about synthesizers? apart from a basic understanding of computer music.
Following in the footsteps of my idols, Nicholas Godin and JB Dunckel, I set out on a quest to invest in high-quality vintage analogue gear. As best as my bank balance allowed!
When I bought Solina back in 2009, it was not a sought after synth. After all, it is a one trick pony (as you will find out in the video). Compared to today, its price was a real bargain. Emre even suggested that we sample the thing and sell it as sample pack. Today, you can find a lot of different software recreations of this true 70's classic. Its name and sounds are literally in every self respecting retro synth sound library.
Solina is an analogue synth that attempts to recreate the sounds of a classical orchestra, and fails miserably. I used Solina on almost all of the tracks from my most recent album Paradise Lost. Its raw and edgy sounds are a perfect starting point to sculpt a more interesting sound. There is something "woody" about the tone, an instantly recognizable, and, dare I say, cheap sounding strings emulation.
Something happened on the way from 2009 to 2019 that brought the limelight to forgotten gems such as Solina. In the early 90's we were complaining about the pixelated graphics of the computer games. Today, we refurbish and rebrand it as "pixel art". Likewise, audio engineers back in the day were complaining about the inherent shortcomings of recording to tape. When digital recording finally arrived, we see digital plugins that recreate tape hiss (!) It seems like nostalgia surrounds us like a heavy blanked we can't get rid of.
But perhaps, we don't want to let go.
Alex J. Colombo, such an animated and fun character to work with. Although distance (and a decade!) separated us, I hope our paths will cross and we can collaborate once again. After all, this is the technology age, distances mean nothing anymore.
But it did, back in 2009! You don't need to look further than the flickering CRT TV and the white, corded phone in the studio to guess the age this video is from. Though, obviously, both the TV and the phone was already outdated by 2009. So maybe, we can consider the last decade a time of transition, where old and coexisted a brief moment in time, just like the music of A New Beginning.
There is however, another Alex from the album, Alex Harris, who happened to be our downstairs neighbor! He was a sax player and I barely knew him apart from the jazzy licks emanating from the wooden structure of the Victorian flat, on a daily basis. We eventually asked him to perform on the album and he was happy to do so. It remains my only music featuring a Saxophone.
Back to Harringay
There must be some cosmic significance as to why life kept bringing me back to Harringay. When I was young, we had several family trips to London and we stayed with relatives of my father who lived in Harringay. After completing my master degree at Royal Holloway, I moved to Harringay because my father helped secure me a flat through an acquaintance. And that was the flat located on Endymion Road, mentioned earlier. When my roommate left London, I moved in with Emre, who was also living in Harringay at the time. I honestly had enough of that place by that time, but it kept coming back! I looked for a flat, for a fresh start, somewhere cleaner, a place where I would feel I am actually living in London. But that was not to be, I ended up in yet another flat in Harringay, this time on Whiteman road.
Simply put, the main concept and demo recordings were completed on Endymion Road; main production took place at Emre's flat, and by the time I moved to Whiteman road, I had an album on Spotify and several other platforms. I am going slightly off-topic here, but I just wanted to give a little bit of more context, the mindset and the surroundings in which this album was conceived.
When we completed the album and sent it for mastering (we sent it to Streaky, who we found out mastered Zero 7, and we thought it would be appropriate for my music) we couldn't stop there and shot a documentary type film having me blabber about the whole process (well, basically what I am doing here). Just see the picture below. It might look pretentious, maybe it is, but our mindset at the time couldn't be more far from it. Both of us were extremely geeky, and I think we were at the top of our geeky game back then. Talking non-stop about geeky stuff, gadgets, and whatnot. Whenever we wanted to get something done, we were on it like we were a freshman in some college. Searching for tutorials, reading and learning. Film shooting? cinematography? done, let's get to it, and learn it. We didn't see the lack of knowledge as an excuse. The information was right there on the internet. We had all the time in the world. What is the excuse?
Only to end again: the concept behind the album
The beautiful album artwork is the work of Andreea Muntean. Whom I found about through deviantArt, which was a platform to collaborate and find out about artists all around the world, it was a thing back then (although I am not aware if it still is).
The story and the concept of the album dates back to around 2006, when I was obsessed about Europa, a moon of Jupiter. I was obsessively scouting for more information, exploration proposals, artist renditions, documentaries... Because, I was convinced, like the scientist on the documentary, that there is a good chance a primitive life-form could exist within the ocean under its thick icy surface. Scientist often used the term 'cradle of life' in their enthusiastic delivery of the topic. This stirred my imagination like no other up to that point. What If there is some intelligent creature living underneath, if not now then perhaps in the future, or maybe, they have evolved but have since been extinct because of changing circumstances. And what it would mean for humanity if we could find life on our solar system? Suddenly, the odds of life existing on distant galaxies will immensely increase.
The story of the album begins with light, photons, leaving our sun and traversing through space, through Jovian system and into Europa. The surface of Europa have intrigued me from the many depictions of it and have always reminded me of the famous phrase "magnificent desolation". With a bit of luck, and all the necessary building blocks of life in place, a slight change in circumstance could lead to an emergence of organism, such as it happened here on earth. The story then leads to us discovering this species, and not only that, but that they are evolved enough to have some degree of communication amongst themselves. The discovery, I thought, would lead to such pomp and circumstance as the day we landed the first man on the moon. The album ends on a bitter note, however. Thinking that all life, regardless of where it is, is bound to end one way or the other, since circumstances of a "habitable" planet are temporary, and when viewed through the grand scheme of things, is but a momentary glimpse in time.
Once I took A New Beginning after its initial release in 2009, it froze in time, like the images above, unsure whether it will see the light of day again.
But here it is.
I am letting it go, while the blanket is still heavy.
I am in mixed feelings. A blend of nostalgia, excitement, and tick on my 10-year overdue to-do list.
I could never thank enough for the wonderful musicians and artists I've collaborated on the album. On top of the list is Emre Yazgın, who not only mixed the album but contributed guitars and was actively involved in the production. We also have Alex J. Colombo on drums and Alex Harris on Sax. Both elevated the album into a whole new level. I would also like to extend my thanks to my then-roommate and friend Onur Kasapoğlu. Naturally, he was there from the start. Also, Gorkem Muniroğlu, with whom, I had countless hours of discussions about the prospects of life in Europa. Inspirational stuff.
The roller coaster could be a decade old, a bit rusty on the edges. But it patiently waited for its passengers for quite some time. Enjoy the ride.