Name: Murat Çolak
Occupations: Composer, producer, audio engineer
Current release: Murat Çolak is one of the composers featured on Object/Animal, the new album by the Ensemble Dal Niente.
Recommendations: Engineer and artist Marek Poliks’ interactive robot hydra developed in collaboration with the violinist / researcher Roberto Alonso and Hong Kong Baptist University. It’s a sound sculpture that records its spectators, digests that material via machine learning and generates music with it. It’s an art piece that is programmed to generate original music forever, and it looks and sounds magical!
The second one would the Bay Area-based Halcyon’s The will to nurture album. One of the most original ambient works I’ve heard in recent years. It includes a good amount of synth work in addition to field recordings, and live instrument performances. The album is a 40-minute long composition, and it’s definitely a world unto itself.
If you enjoyed this interview with Murat Çolak and would like to know more about his work and music, visit his official website. He is also on Soundcloud.
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 started playing music around 6-7 years old on a Casio keyboard my dad bought for my sister. I was a one-finger wonder. I would play the lead melodies of the songs I heard and liked with the index finger of my right hand - years went by only doing that.
I can name countless records as early influences but the ones that truly spoke to me and made me want to become a musician early on were these four vinyl records my parents had but never listened to: Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Ajda Pekkan’s Superstar 1983 (same cover art with the MJ, the feline on it is much more domestic, though), Paul Mauriat’s Russie de Toujours, and the 1984 Electro Breakdance compilation which introduced me to early rap and disco artists such as Whodini, Grandmaster Flash, and D-Train. I’d listen to these disks on a daily basis on our 70s-made Akai record player, and a Sony headphone which made me “look like Batman” when I put them on.
What was so magical about these records was, first and foremost, the fact that no one in my 4-people world listened to them except me, and, second, they all had genius music in them with incredible rhythms, harmonies, bass-lines, string arrangements, and a lot of “jazzy” sonorities like seventh and ninth chords. These were things I couldn’t label when I was 4-5, but they educated and influenced my hearing and spirit immensely. I didn’t know what it was, but this little collection of vinyls sounded different than everything my parents’ record collection had.
Other prominent influences were the Turkish protest music artists Cem Karaca and Zülfü Livaneli.
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
The music I like and passionately listen to has a few distinct effects on me. One is that a lot of records make me imagine myself perform or create the music I’m hearing when I close my eyes. This is something I brought to my adult life from my childhood - I’d imagine I performed the music I mentioned in the previous question.
For instance, when I listen to Daft Punk’s Alive ’97, A Real Live Dead One by Iron Maiden or Miles Davis’ Live in Avignon ’88, I imagine myself as one of the band members. When I hear the Rite of Spring by Boulez and the Cleveland Orchestra, I imagine myself conducting the piece. I want to experience the energy that flows between the artists and the audience somehow magically captured in that recording. That’s the most basic (yet very exciting) effect that made me decide to become a musician.
A less “live” recording would make me want to go to the world it builds, paints, fantasizes about. When I listen to the music of this incredible Finnish neo-folk band Tenhi, I imagine myself on a wooden boat, rowing slowly on the Baltic sea at night (which I’ve never been to, I don’t know the language either. So, it’s very stereotypical / naive and childish, I know - but that’s what’s magical about it! It’s the same experience when listening to Thriller at 4 years old when I barely could speak my own language!)
Some music, on the other hand, puts me in a trance state. It’s more of a religious ritual to listen to that kind of music - like the B Minor Mass, or listening to Hafiz Kani Karaca whether he sings religious or secular music, Plastikman’s Artifakts (BC) or Desiderii Marginis. This is the effect I want my music to have on me and other listeners as well. It might stop by cultural destinations and make references on the way, but it’s eventually a spiritual, religious experience. It’s about transcending worldliness.
[Read our Richie Hawtin / Plastikman interview]
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I’m so fascinated with everything about music - performing it, composing, producing, arranging it, the whole production process, million different genres of it, everything. So, my development as an artist expands as I learn about these concepts / processes, feed my curiosity, and thereby learn about myself, my own spirit, and my skills, capabilities and limits as a musician and as a person. It just never ends, and it’s this beautiful cycle where events, processes repeat but each time you learn different things from them.
My breakthroughs were these major learning experiences. My career breakthroughs … Well, I’d say music is so much more than a career to me. It’s more like a religious / spiritual practice. But here’s one, a random phone conversation I had with the Turkish-Armenian jazz guitarist René Macaroglu, who, in 2008, connected me with a musician named Donovan Mixon – an amazing guitar player, composer, and the best ear training coach I’ve ever met (look him up!).
This was an event that changed my musical life. If that conversation in a phone booth in Istanbul had not happened, I’d probably be working full-time in the advertising industry now.
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. What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Identities are important to me, though, identity itself is a very complex matter.
I was born and raised in the small and cute town of Eskisehir in Turkey. That is by itself a complex matter because of the country’s history and its geopolitics. You deal with very prominent cultural influences (Islamic / Middle-Eastern, Turkic / Anatolian / Central-Asian, and Western). You’re continuously bombarded with messages that try to push you in this or that ideological direction. Propaganda is a big part of what the mainstream media delivers constantly. It works as the extension of the state ideology - be it secular, conservative or nationalistic (the state ideology always fluctuates).
So, especially as a small town kid, you develop these flawed opinions about West and East. For me, the only way to break that was to expand my universe, my references, by moving to Istanbul, and then to the US, and luckily traveling some of Europe as a composer. While this demystifies things for a small town boy, it also brings more complications.
Today, I identify as a millennial, international, immigrant, middle-class, Turkish-American, Middle Eastern-Mediterranean-Eastern European, Muslim-Atheist, white-but-not-anglo-saxon-white, hetero-flexible guy … lol! And you can hear every single one of these facets in SWAN. It’s a piece that embraces these conflicting identities in the way it exists.
But I don’t make music that represents specific identities, delivers a message, neither do I make “political music”. I know what I put out there already occupies multiple political spaces that sometimes even contradict one another, and it manifests a complex, ever-evolving identity with many sides that are at times inconsistent. For me the important thing is to be conscious of this complexity, and the political spaces what you make might occupy to the best of your abilities.
The music I listen to changes all the time, honestly. I feel a different part of my identity prominent depending on where I am in my life. I had a Black Metal revival a while ago, for example. For the past year and a half, I’ve felt like I’m tired of all the labels I mentioned above (therefore of modern American society) and felt very antisocial.
So I’m listening to and enjoying very much 90s European neo-folk music these days. It’s very dark, introverted, and anti-society. That’s what I need right now. It really nourishes my soul.
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 absolutely not a traditionalist in any way. Though, I have to admit, every deviation my music has from any tradition, is informed by tradition. So, I study tradition, but I don’t identify with it. I can’t. Not because I’m against it, but the millennium we live in makes us see how diverse the world actually is - with its people, cultures, musics, methods and traditions.
I’m a product of a fairly Westernized Muslim economy, and I’m a millennial. I don’t have any real connection with a tradition, so any tradition is just a concept thrown at me. I can hold on to one, but that would be very ideological, and I doubt ideology feeds the spirit.
You can hear this in my music, too. Both Western and Turkish traditions are just ghosts that haunt me and my music (and I like them that way), but my music ubmits to neither. It creates its own aesthetic.
That being said, I prefer the word “authenticity” to originality. It’s, I think, less pretentious and explains better my sentiment “Make your music. The music of who you are”. This is by no means an advice. It’s just what works for me.
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?
A guitar. I started playing when I was 11, and even though I don’t play as much anymore, the guitar keyboard still helps me crack down the harmonies, melodies, colors, and the physicalities of the music I hear. I still think like a guitarist.
Another one would be my DAW, Cubase. I learned production and engineering with Cubase and I work with it since 2005. I can do everything I need with it, it sounds amazing, and every new release brings something very unique and useful to the table. (I’m not compensated by Steinberg to say this in anyway - wish I was, though. Ha!)
The best strategy for utilizing both is to constantly learn from others while tirelessly exploring and practice the ways to use them that are unique to you!