Mircan Kaya expresses her assessment of the media industry in today’s modern society and the people squeezed in the vise of modern realities by saying, “I believe that all of the media channels we are besieged with are trying to ram a system down our throats through broadcasts, advertising, etc., and I am very frustrated. I am against collective insanity. They are taking away the right of the individual to be himself. How can anyone develop an authentic personality under these conditions.” Mircan embellishes her music with philosophy, literature and, most importantly the practices of her own life. We interviewed the musician, Mircan Kaya, for SanatLog readers. Enjoy the story…
SanatLog: First of all, we want to thank you for accepting our request for an interview.
Mircan Kaya: I appreciate your interest.
SanatLog: Can you briefly tell SanatLog readers about yourself?
Mircan Kaya: My nickname during childhood was Çinka. It is a name in the Laz language. Actually, when this name, which means forest fairy or elf, is used for a human, or, at least, I can say that when it was used for me, it meant someone who was very quiet, calm and seldom spoke but was very determined and stubborn, someone who was actually quiet because they were always thinking about something, someone who was unpredictable and whose tongue dripped poison whenever crossed, was devilishly clever, etc.
I was born in a city surrounded by extraordinary natural beauty and grew up in a mountain village near this city. Anyone familiar with the city of Artvin knows what kind of natural beauty I speak of. I grew up with the fragrances of grass, trees, soil, flowers, animals and even rain, with the sounds of nature, the sound of silence and the sound of darkness that echoes in one’s ears. My suspense-filled journeys of discovery in the backyard of Armenian houses, and the narrow, mysterious streets of Artvin, which looked down from a hill on the Çoruh river and was crisscrossed with steep, narrow streets go back to the time when I could barely walk. We would pour into the streets during the April rains to get wet. Until I finished university in Istanbul, no one could deprive me of the pleasure I felt getting soaking wet walking in the rain. I would go down to the city center just to get wet.
SanatLog: We are curious about what defines you and your areas of interest.
Mircan Kaya: I have lived a colorful life filled with the adventures of exploring every road that leads to art because of my passion for extraordinary stories, journeys, books and art.
The thing that unjustly changed my life’s direction and the way I perceived life at an early age was the premature departure of people I loved. The only way I was able to overcome the pain and weight of the realization that no one else would ever love me the same way was through music, literature, painting, cinema, reading and working. I was in love with the sweet, irresistible light of knowledge which illuminated my spirit. Great writers, philosophers and artists were my soul mates. They were my gurus and they still are.
I have loved creating ever since I was a child. I am passionate about it. I mean about “doing” because I must do it myself. I began cooking when I was very young. I began shopping when I was very small too. I have sung songs for as long as I can remember. On my own, I learned the complex software that facilitates engineering calculations and I have used it for years. I wanted to take journeys and roads that no one else had the courage to travel. I have an incessant enthusiasm for life. This enthusiasm is the source of my inner strength or maybe my inner strength gives birth to this enthusiasm.
In general, I would say that I am about life itself. Of course, life includes death. I have been interested in philosophy, literature, psychology and psychoanalysis for many years. The room I had as a teenager was filled with books and flowers that I grew. My handwriting covered the walls and then there was my guitar. I loved to curl up on the fleece that was spread on the floor and take naps between my reading, music studies or lessons. One of my greatest needs was walking. Because of my passion for nature and my deeply committed personality, I always create an atmosphere that allows me to become one with nature wherever I live. Of the five elements, earth, wood and metal dominate my living space. Of course, I include the air with windows that look up at the sky. And flowers and plants…
Travelling is one of the things that feeds my spirit the most. Occasionally, we must get away from the place where we live. Otherwise, it does not take long for us to become prisoners of the lives we have created. Getting away for awhile and giving myself and my loved ones some space really recharges me. One should miss others and be missed. Then, I am filled with fresh, new ideas.
SanatLog: Your efforts to combine two tendencies in your music are remarkable. The local and authentic is combined with Western sounds and instruments. When did you first begin to practice this artistic vision?
Mircan Kaya: Actually, this is something I have pursued from the beginning – creating authentic music. Creating my own distinctive music that does not resemble anyone else’s and is born from my experiences. Even though I have been doing music for a long time, I had to wait before I could create the music in my head the way I wanted to. Back then, it was impossible for me to create that music. It would have been material for pop music and I would have constantly been chiding myself for it. In this regard, I am a difficult person. I settle accounts with myself. If something I do makes me uncomfortable as a human being, I immediately change course. I destroy it. Many of the compositions I put on my albums today are pieces that I recorded on cassettes in my twenties.
Starting at the age of thirteen, I read Sarte and Emile Zola; in my twenties I transformed the Shakespearean sonnets from their original English into songs and tried to compose symphonic pieces based on Edgar A. Poe’s stories. We had a group too but the members of the group and myself were not accomplished enough for the music we were trying to make.
Now, before every project, I write. Just like a playwright or an author, first I write down what the music is trying to explain. I share the story of the music with the musicians I work with. I take great pains to convey the emotions to them. Then, the reflections of these stories and emotions as they experience them are transformed into music.
SanatLog: Even though my previous question describes your music and how it has developed and changed over the years, on your first album Our Lullabies and your second album, Ashes, you were still very intimate with traditional melodies.
Mircan Kaya: Actually the traditional melodies on the Our Lullabies and Ashes albums were rendered outside of the traditional style people are accustomed to.
SanatLog: In this regard, could we say that your third album, Sala, was the beginning of the East-West synthesis I am referring to?
Mircan Kaya: That’s right. After Our Lullabies and Ashes I was convinced that I could actually do what I really wanted to do. I had proof now that I could present to the musicians that I wanted to work with. I had references. First, I began to write Sala and I sent stories and demo recordings to every musician. For example, I needed Uğur Işık on the cello. A cello that would represent death. Or, on the piece entitled Song, we were constantly talking to the musicians both prior to recording and during recording so that we could perform this piece that described the drama of a woman loved by two men with the cello representing the man who lost and the accordion representing the bridegroom who takes the bride, his joy and victory. This has been the biggest issue in my life – to be loved by more than one person at the same time and the fiery hell this created in my life. Like the other pieces, Song is the tale of another issue of mine that was internalized. The instrumental performance that resulted was highly acclaimed by FROOTS magazine.
SanatLog: “NUMINOSUM”, which in my opinion is a magnificent album, is like a vehicle for meditation that has been painstaking crafted with jazz undertones blended with the sound of rain…
Mircan Kaya: Thank you!
Every album that receives positive reviews gives me more courage to release the next one. That is how NUMINOSUM came about. It contains reflections of my journeys both spiritual and physical as well as numerous events where my life and my various journeys intersected.
I began working with Roger Mills on Sala. My music-related travels and searching led me, through Roger Mills, to the group Limbo. Roger played the trumpet in Limbo, which performed improvised jazz. When I went to Bristol for the mixing of Sala, he told me that Limbo was doing a rehearsal concert in Cardiff for a small audience. We left for Cardiff to watch this concert as soon as we got off the plane. I had never seen a group perform such beautiful improvised music. That day, I made up my mind to do music with Limbo. Because Roger Mills was so excited and approving about every thing I did, he organized everything required for this project.
This journey intersects with another to form the foundation for this album. I had recorded an improvised lament and lullaby with Uğur Işık (cello) for a music project sponsored by the Ministry of Culture for the soldiers who froze to death at Sarıkamış. This was why I was invited to the memorial ceremony. Muammer Ketencoğlu was also among those invited. Sarıkamış, the snow, that enchanting atmosphere, my ruminations on the concept of Numinosum from my ever-present guru, Gustav Jung, all combined to produce this album, which was like an inner birth. As I walked over the snow like I was in a drunk stupor, I was planning out the album in my head. I mentioned my project to Muammer. I wanted him to play again. He said, “Count me in on any project of yours.” (Muammer Ketencoğlu plays the accordion on the Numinosum piece).
Music brings musicians close together. Another musician that I have crossed paths with thanks to music is Osman Kent. Like me, he is an engineer who is constantly thinking about music. He is a British musician with Turkish roots and he established Songhonic Records with the studio he purchased from Roxy Music. I had him read the Mevlana poem on the piece entitled “wordless” on the Numinosum album. He did the mastering on that album as well. As a result, Numinosum developed as an international project that combined many incredible journeys, emotions and ideas. Numinosum was a personal investigation of love and how I perceived it. Can anyone talk about love without including Mevlana? I incorporated material from Mevlana. I was going to voice Sufi mysticism in a completely distinct way, at least in my view. I put the piece entitled Silence in Cxala right in the middle of the album as an allusion to the concept of Numinosum and therefore my past and the village I was born in as well as to John Cage’s concept of silence and the silence of that village.
SanatLog: Your last album “OUTIM” (Once Upon a Time in Mingrelia) is probably the most experimental and complex work you have created to date.
Mircan Kaya: That’s right. Actually, OUTIM, even attempting to do this album, to complete it, all of the events and travel that surrounded it, the challenges I undertook, the process of creating it, the whole thing was crazy. Until it is completed, every music project seems like a disease that I cannot be cured of. When it is over, I wake up. And I say, “If they were to say ‘Do it again’, I could not even come close.” If every living thing has a mission that gives them meaning, then maybe my mission was to do that album. The mission was to let the spirits of the heroes of the stories told on this album and the spirits of my ancestors know, in this crazy way, that the events that transpired in this land where the stories take place have not been in vain. I hailed the spirits of my ancestors. I declared that I was an extension of them on the earth, that I would never forget, and that I had and would always be proud of them. Now every night the spirits of my ancestors, my father, my grandfather, who was the village guard and turned every square inch of that mountain village’s soil into a fertile paradise, my grandmother Megrel, whom he loved passionately, my older brother and all my relatives meet in the house that I built while OUTIM was being produced and they say, “yamo”.
SanatLog: On this album we also see the name of Jim Barr, who is the lead guitar for Portishead and the jazz group Limbo from Bristol. How did you hook up or whose idea was it?
Mircan Kaya: I have described my relationship with Limbo and its connection to Numinosum and Roger Mills. I have also talked about my OUTIM project after Numinosum. As soon as I completed my preparations, I flew back to Bristol. Roger and all of the members of Limbo were working with Jim Barr. They were friends. That is how we got acquainted. One thing naturally led to another and laid the foundation for what was to come.
SanatLog: We also have a small book with this album, mostly things you wrote about your Black Sea journeys. Is that right?
Mircan Kaya: Yes, they are the stories that make me who I am.
SanatLog: You have even ventured into soundtracks for movies…
Mircan Kaya: Actually, because my music is cinematographic, it has drawn the attention of film directors. I suppose it inspires them. At least, that is what I have been told. I am always thinking about ambience in music so this is what has come out of that. This is also something I like very much. I have always loved cinema. It is delightful to adapt music to a story and to images. Sometimes, I don’t even have to do anything. For example, one director told me that he had based his film totally in the piece entitled “Tonight I Long for Rest” from the Numinosum album and that he had the actors listen to this piece throughout the shooting. He had already shot and finished the film. All I had to do was watch the film, make my suggestions and determine where the music would begin and end. However, I had to start from scratch with the soundtrack for the film Snow White (Kar Beyaz), which was adapted from the story “Ayran” by Sabahattin Ali and has just finished shooting.
SanatLog: What is your assessment of the issue of polyphony in Turkish and world music?
Mircan Kaya: My personal opinion is that a simple piece with one instrument can be beautiful and so can a work with many voices. Regardless of where it is made or how, for me, the important thing in music is feeling. The world’s most accomplished virtuoso can play the most advanced technique on an instrument and sing but if it lacks feeling, it means nothing to me. This is something I cannot bear. I use both in my own music. In other words, single and multiple voices. In fact, I do it on purpose because I feel a need for this to create space. Space is important in every area of life. Constantly being full is inhuman. It is not good for people. It is very important to convey space, breath and feeling in music just as they are. I do not like ostentatious or glorious things. All of the works of western musicians and classic composers about death are, in my opinion, excessively glorious. But, death cannot be all that glorious. At the very least, it is painful to those left behind. All of the requiems are literally trying to depict hell. In my opinion, though, death is eternal rest and peace. I do not like musical works that reek of power. I guess I like melancholy in music, like I do in every other part of life. If there is no melancholic feeling in a work or a person, it seems incomplete. As you see, I am always talking about feelings. For the last year, I have been studying western music from the 16th century to the present. It was part of the musical education I received from England. This type of music based on rules and a certain system has, in my opinion, become an emotionless sound in many compositions. I have been nourished by classical music since I was seventeen but what I love and appreciate is creating a universal and authentic sound beginning with something local. What I like more is listening to root music. What I like most is silence. I close my mind to other music when I am working on an album. I do not listen to anything else. I also think that the most advanced stage in music is improvisation. This requires a unique kind of unity among the musicians. Groups of musicians who share not only music but many other things in life do improvised music very well.
SanatLog: Is it true that everyone like music?
Mircan Kaya: What people like is a completely relative matter that varies from person to person. It is difficult for everyone to like a piece of music but it is a huge accomplishment to produce something that everyone can appreciate without compromising on quality.
Just as everyone does not read profound books, and could not understand them if they did anyway, everyone cannot perceive a painting, a film or music in the same way. For example, I have been significantly affected by literature and philosophy so, of course, I look for philosophy in music. I love painting so I care about what the album jacket design looks like. Because I love books, I care about what is written in the jacket. And because I love all of these, I never download music from the internet. I always want to own the original CD and I do not buy pirated CDs.
SanatLog: Is there anything you would like to say in this regard about today’s understanding of music?
Mircan Kaya: I believe that all of the media channels that we are generally besieged with are trying to ram a system down our throats through broadcasts, advertising, etc., and I am very frustrated. I am against collective insanity. They are taking away the right of the individual to be himself. How can anyone develop an authentic personality under these conditions? I almost never watch television except for good movies and world news on BBC World. In my opinion, the plurality of voices that the world needs is now provided by the internet. This is incredible freedom for us. It may have negative and harmful aspects but this varies depending on what the person is interested in. It is an incredible vehicle for communication, for access to and sharing of information. We can record a piece here and collaborate with another musician in Australia by sending the recording over the internet. Towards the end of the summer, we are going to do an improvised recording with musicians from different parts of the world synchronized on the internet. This is a Roger Mills project.
I have created the environment my own children need to create their own original personalities and opened up alternative channels so that they have developed as original individuals. I have not subjected my children to anything that the system imposes. For example, they did not take the OKS exams.
The video clips that I see occasionally or the songs broadcast on music channels that I happen to hear (you come into contact with them even at the beauty salon) all show me that the most important and dominant criteria is sex. How you should sing a song, what you will talk about, how to shoot a clip and how sexy this clip has to be, etc… All of this is being rammed down our throats. It makes you feel strange almost beaten down. The upcoming generation is being numbed with all of this. They say you should be having sex here and now. You still do not have a boyfriend? O, now that is a shame.
No matter what city I visit around the globe, I see the same thing. It is almost as if a gigantic screen that can be seen from around the world has been set up and there is a global broadcast to the people of the world. It is always the same people, the same songs and the same voices.
But, of course, there are good things to and that is what we are after.
SanatLog: Are you busy with any projects at the moment?
Mircan Kaya: I have just finished the recordings for a new album based on Gülten Akın’s poems. She is a poet I love dearly. One of the pieces is something I wrote in my twenties and have been playing and singing ever since. The others I created and recorded during my advanced Masters degree studies on historic buildings that I did between 2008-2009, rotating between Padova University in Italy and Catalonia Technical Univesity in Barcelona or with songs that came to me in Istanbul. Some of Turkey’s best virtuosos are included on the album. In addition to experienced professionals like Göksel Baktagir on kanun, Yurdal Tokcan on the oud, Baki Kemancı on the violin, İzzet Kızıl and İsmet Kızıl on percussion, there is also young talent (Cenk Erdoğan and Aydın Can Kutluay on guitar, Ceyda Pirali on the piano and many other young musicians). The album recordings will go to Roger Mills. Roger will not only play the trumpet but will handle mixing and the final versions. Then, mastering will once again be performed overseas. I am hopeful that by the beginning of summer all of the work will be completed and the album will be released. The album will certainly be released in 2010. I used a poem from Metin Eloğlu in one piece on this album. It has, once again, proven to be a tiring and grueling process. What came out of this process, which involved struggles with life and its accompaniments, was an album that is completely Turkish and describes the lace curtain on faded wooden frames blowing in the wind, lights with double covers on balconies, an Istanbul whose bleeding lovers watch the road with longing, a suffering Istanbul, youth groaning on the sidewalks, faces, the impassable stern expression we bear and the red pandora fish that has never been tasted. The voices are our own but from an outside perspective.
SanatLog: Thank you for this delightful interview and your magnificent music.
Mircan Kaya: And, I thank you for the interest you have taken in my work. Two days ago, on the listener supported program Open Radio, a lady had bought my Sala album. She talked about me and played the piece entitled “Song”. I said, “These beautiful people, people whose hearts I have reached and touched, these are enough for me.” You must be one of those people too.
Interview conducted by: Hakan Bilge