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Step Right Up: Ah! Kosmos

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Interview with Ah! Kosmos.

“I work on a song like a meditation, I’m trying to get to a state where my mind stops talking so that I can reflect transparently what’s going on inside.”

—Başak Günak

Words: Craig & Mark Carry

Ah! Kosmos_Credit_Yusaku_Aoki-m

Ah! Kosmos is the music alias for the Istanbul-born artist Başak Günak. Thus far, Günak has released the EP-length ‘Flesh’ (released via Istanbul-based independent Müzik Hayvanı in 2013) and this year’s debut full-length ‘Bastards’ (released via German independent Denovali). Currently, Ah! Kosmos is embarking on a European tour in support of her debut LP ‘Bastards’, support from these show come from French composer and Denovali labelmate The Eye of Time (Normandy-based artist Marc Euvrie) which includes shows in Italy, Germany, Czech Republic, Netherlands, France and Turkey. Interestingly, extensive studies into sound (Günak has pursued an MA in both Sound Design & Engineering and Cultural Studies, the latter also with a keen focus on sound) is also evidently pushing Günak to push the sonic envelope while constantly challenging her own sound and music. Much like such contemporary musicians as California-based Holly Herndon (RVNG Intl, 4AD) or Stockholm-based Klara Lewis (Editions Mego), a constant soul-deep desire to push the sonic boundaries while defying any expectations in the process is a cause for much acclaim and celebration.

Listening to ‘Bastards’ proves an intriguing listening experience while it’s also increasingly evident how live performance continues to evolve Ah! Kosmos’ own distinctive sound palette and Günak’s individuality as an artist. One can continually marvel at Günak’s innate ability to conjure such hugely immersive, highly imaginative and utterly compelling soundscapes as they seem to ebb and flow in their own independent timeline in complex, ever-changing and evolving patterns over the course of the album’s sprawling canvas. Crucially, such densely arranged compositions never strive to inhibit the listening experience: the challenge for Ah! Kosmos lies evidently in the pursuit of capturing – and holding – onto emotion above all else. A wide array of emotions are always brimming at the surface as if quietly awaiting a listener’s response to begin a chain of reaction – to somehow “contain” such emotion, to stem the blood flow of Ah! Kosmos’ ever-beating heart.

‘Bastards’ is available now on Denovali.

Interview with Başak Günak.

Congratulations on the sublime debut full-length, ‘Bastards’. It is a remarkable album whose  intricate layers and masterful use (and cross-over) of organic and electronic worlds of sound reveals new significance upon each revisit. Please discuss the musical canvas utilized on ‘Bastards’? In terms of the layers of sound, would the live instrumentation such as voice, guitar comes first (and in turn, form the song) or do the electronic elements form the initial spark?

Başak Günak: Thank you so much. For me the musical canvas is changing in each song. Initial layers of them keeps its mystery for me.  Each time I try to approach with another perspective to not build-up a solid tendency. When you get out of your comfort zone, you experience an open space where you can experience a new landscape. I believe this is what keeps the excitement for me. To talk specifically about some songs, for instances in “Always in Parenthesis” the initial layer is my voice sounding like a synth. I recorded myself and modify it until I feel it is transparent. I like improvising with the relation between organic and electronic sounds.

In terms of the studio set-up, how much did the recording of ‘Bastards’ differ from your debut ‘Flesh’ EP? I can imagine the subsequent live performances and shows since 2013 has affected the tone and shape of the debut record?

BG: Exactly, live performances played really important role in transformation of my sound. They open up an inspiring space for the production. I love to perform as much as I can. I don’t think I can release a song before performing it live.

In terms of studio set-up and time, I focus on ‘Bastards’ a lot. In that time period, I experienced a difference between making  a LP and an EP. I think really carefully for ‘Bastards’ as a whole. I would like it to have a flow and landscape. Finally I’m happy that I break the connection between the songs and me and release them to make new bonds, new connections.

Please talk me through the spoken word elements embedded in many of these songs, from the outro to ‘Always In Parentheses’ to the album opener, ‘Out/Ro/In/Growth’? These segments further heightens the cinematic feel to the record and pulsing human connection.

BG: These spoken words are read by Selen Ansen which are fragments from Deleuze & Guattari.

The reason for these spoken words is coming from the title of this album “Bastards”. Selen Ansen is an art philosopher and I was attending to her lectures. In one of them she spoke about pharesia and she said how glorious is to embrace being a Bastard. After that lecture, I though a lot about it. Bastards means for me a ground for challenging the sovereign in the every realm of life. I like the idea of embracing the negative attributions to “Bastards” in my heart and in my art. Because with this embracement you are taking the power of the sovereign for the categorization homogenization towards Bastardy; “not having power to patronize”. Then I asked Selen to read some fragments for me. I’m really glad that we collaborated.

‘Trace of Waterfalls’ is such a tour-de-force and represents the album’s towering centerpiece. The ambient pulses and the beautiful fusion of the voice, guitar, and electronic wizardry evokes a timeless and searching sound and emotion. Can you trace back to your memories of writing this particular song and indeed, the construction of ‘Trace of Waterfalls’? The song-title is also incredibly powerful.

BG: Thank you so much for those beautiful words. I focus a lot my time on making music. I work a lot on songs, however when there is something special that touches me, I seize it. So the same thing happened with ‘Trace of Waterfalls’, I had a very inspiring conversation with a person, more about life and connections. And in the minute I left alone, I concentrated deep down on sound to release this waterfall feeling that is flowing in me. And at one point I felt that I was finally able to express the feelings as lucid as possible.

In terms of the production – ‘Bastards’ is self-produced – what process lies at the heart of this stage of the music-making process?

BG: I’m doing music every day like keeping a diary. I’m trying to transform and release how encounters and events affect me.  And to do this, I play and record some instruments, start improvising or just try to manipulate a sample. I work on a song like a meditation, I’m trying to get to a state where my mind stops talking so that I can reflect transparently what’s going on inside.

Please take me back to your musical upbringing? At which point did you begin your fascination with sound and indeed began your musical experiments?

BG: Since many years, I have already been engaged in music. I was performing in bands as bass player, I performed with many people from different musical background. After I finished my BA, I started doing MA degree on Sound Design & Engineering. During these years I have had a chance to deal with electronic possibilities for sound. I also had experience with the analog ones as well. In these years, I started to focus more on improvisation and composition. After I started to make music on computer alone, it turn into another experience which is  more powerful and introverted. Then, my ongoing researches on sound and composition encouraged me to decide to compose and perform solo under name “Ah! Kosmos”. And now I’m doing another MA in Cultural Studies with the focus on sound.

You have also composed and created sound design for contemporary dance and plays, short films and installations. How do these varied mediums affect the resultant sound you create/compose?

BG: It is enriching to work with artists from other disciplines. I find it really exciting to approach ideas with different perspectives. Especially working with choreography inspires me a lot.





‘Bastards’ is available now on Denovali.



Written by admin

November 25, 2015 at 11:18 am

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