CD review: Helvacıoğlu/Bandt: Black Falcon

Pozitif Muzik Yapim PMY030

Following his first, and well-received album Altered Realities in 2007, Erdem Helvacıoğlu (guitar and electronics) has made a speciality of duo recordings, working with Kazuya Ishigami, Per Roysen and now the Australian Ros Bandt.

Bandt is an experimental composer and multi-instrumentalist, possibly best-known for sound-art projects such as Stargazer, a Deep Listening-like exploration of the cavernous resonances of a Melbourne car-park. She is also a player of custom-built instruments, some of which she has made herself. On Black Falcon she plays the tarhu, a long-necked spike fiddle built by Peter Biffin.

Unusually for a CD review, I want to begin with the sleevenotes, since they dramatically affected my listening experience. They describe two species of black falcon – the Australian Black Falcon and the European Eleanora’s Falcon. (Mirroring the Australian-Turkish/Bandt-Helvacıoğlu duo.) ‘The album you’re holding is a contemporary lament about an endangered species,’ the notes state. ‘Both falcons are rare and endangered despite being the fastest to dive for their prey.’ Except that a search on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species will tell you that neither the Black Falcon or Eleanora’s Falcon are currently considered at risk (although both are rare).

I discovered this after listening to the album a few times and beginning to write this review, and it rather undid my initial listening impressions, which were built on ideas of ecological destruction, the passing of things, man’s domestication of the wild, and so on. I read the story of the black falcons as one of accommodation, of a scarcity that is simply part of their identity rather than a consequence of the industrialisation of the planet (although population of the Eleanora’s Falcon is declining slowly), and of a nomadic, almost transient existence. As species – blessed with extraordinary aerodynamic skills – they survive, in the margins, thinly spread, without ever overwhelming their environment.

In fact, I think that makes a better summary of the album. Scarcity (perhaps even as a virtue), rather than endangerment. Across the seven tracks (five improvised, plus one composition from each player) Bandt employs the resonances of her instrument and a surrounding halo of electronics to produce typically complex, deep sounds that have a quality of both airy flight and earthy lament; Helvacıoğlu’s guitar and electronics sometimes act as a bed for the tarhu but often break out on their own. As a duo, the two players give a superficial impression of great smoothness – owing in part to their respective enveloping sounds – but they also frequently push and pull at one another, combining both ease and wanderlust. There are moments when the line is crossed into sentimentality but more often this is a beautifully evasive record.

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