Name: Hüma Utku
Occupation: Sound artist, musician
Recent release: Hüma Utku's The Psychologist is out via Editions Mego.
Recommendations: Read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and observe The Tortoise Trainer by Osman Hamdi Bey. Both are full of such great teachings.
If you enjoyed this interview with Hüma Utku and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official homepage. She is also on Instagram.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I grew up with music always present as my father was a musician.
When I was around 14, I started learning to play the piano and a few years later started poking around with music production software.
What always drew me to music is that it feels like an alternate reality, a form of escapism.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
Same happens to me! I see colours, landscapes and I feel a story. I think this also reveals itself in my work.
I don’t do it intentionally but let myself be a vessel to whatever that wants to come through.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
It has been a journey of finding authenticity. I’ve been looking for what I can add to this universe of music in my own unique way and how it would resonate with others.
Recently learning to use my voice as an instrument has been a major breakthrough for me and also a major challenge. In my personal life while I can be blunt about many topics, there are some that are to be avoided at all costs. Those topics that I avoid, I have been trying to transmit in my work.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
This is a tough one. I sort of see myself as this odd creature who often feels like an outsider. Sort of like a traveller, an observer. The subject of self-realisation and individuation is pretty big in my world. Also learning to feel a certain belonging is a journey that I'm on. That's not to deny the role of family and culture - it’s just that some of us feel a bit off.
Of course there's also this other side of identity, which is determined by how others view you, their assumptions about you and expectations from you. I do struggle with that, because all these things really do affect my experience in life. Sucks really.
Both as a listener and a creative, my choice in music is determined only by my own perception of my identity. Doing field recordings and using them in my pieces is something I love doing, because of this feeling like an observer thing. Like I'm desperate to share how I perceived a certain place at a certain moment in time.
When I use sonic components from my own culture, it's because I feel like it and it is a native tool of communication for me. Not to sell anyone anything. When I use a component from another culture, it's because it triggered a deep response in me. I cherish and respect that culture, and I take it with me for the rest of my life.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
The idea is to let it go, be playful and only focus on the process. In other words, the artwork creates itself and I try to be the vessel. The vessel sets the tone, sets the angle and inevitably shapes the artwork but the prima materia comes from the source.
Maybe progressing as an artist is learning to not taint the process by thinking how the final outcome will be received but focusing on the steps of creation and learning to move with the waves of inspiration.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I’m not really interested in either.
Music is timeless by nature, it depends on whether the artist decides to make it trendy or not. I’d say striving for excellence and authenticity could be the way to create something timeless and all three are of utmost importance.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Most definitely the piano, a sound recorder for field recordings, a DAW of choice.
I think what worked for me is to keep on practising until I grew sick of it. Then I leave it until I miss it. That has helped me approach the same instruments / tools with a fresh attitude each time.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
I can talk about an ideal day where I'm actively composing or producing, as an example.
I wake up early, around 06:30, and have a calm, quiet morning. No early breakfast, only 2 cups of coffee. I might practise pilates or another workout.Then start working around 09:00 or 10:00, deep focus. Have breakfast around noon.
Over the last two years I found I'm the most productive when I'm in a fasting state, or a couple of hours later than lunch. On such a day, I'd be done with work by 15:00 – 16:00.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I can talk about the process of my recent album The Psychologist.
Everything started with a ping, the moment when the idea hits. Then I started building the concept of sketching musical ideas around psychological phenomena. Then I recorded a bunch of improvisations on Buchla 200. Sonically, this was the base of the whole work and this machine is such a beast, it gave me so much inspiration.
[Read our feature on the Buchla 200]
Then I started to chop up pieces from hours of recordings and started to compose for other synthesisers, strings, piano on them as well as recording percussion. This is the stage where I decided on which topics I would work on, basically which track would be about what. At the end of this stage I had nine demos. This took me a few months in the fall and winter season. Then I went back to square one to work on the second drafts where we had recording sessions for double bass, cello and violin.
The third take, which are the finals, was working on sound design, mixing and doing some other touch ups.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
This has been a struggle for me, I must confess. I'm a solo worker. In every field that I worked in, I always worked the best alone. However I've been actively trying to find a way to collaborate with other artists of different fields.
During the production of my recent album, this was an intention I had in mind and I'm happy to say there were six more artists working on what ended as the final work. They added so much to this work and made it as rich as it is. Now I'm very intentional about having more collaborators.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
My work is just another star in the galaxy so actually nothing special. But I put so much love, healing and compassion into it that I think these creations must relate to the world and the universe in some positive way, somehow.
As for the role of music in society, I believe it's role is to unify as it dates before any language.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Music has always been therapy for me. As a listener and as a creator. It’s how I reach out and how I receive.
All my works are outcomes of how I deal with death, grief, frustration, disconnect and love - by taking a step back and trying to make sense of things in a language that I’m familiar with.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Well, music is based on mathematics. Yet is it merely mathematics- that's another question.
From a romantic point of view, I'd say music and science have a similar dynamic as chaos and order do.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Funny that you ask, I was recently having a conversation about this.
The old me would say these are completely separate and the act of creating art is above anything else BUT now I wouldn’t say the same. Cooking, learning to grow plants, painting the walls - these are valuable, meditative processes that are equal to composing or performing I’d say. It's about being intentional, enjoying the process and a sense of achievement in the end.
Some are more of an emotional journey than others, but all have my appreciation.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
This is a mystery to me honestly. The auditory cortex works in the most fascinating ways and just like language, music triggers an array of responses in us.
How exactly? I do not know.