Cem Cakmak // NO AXIS

Cem Çakmak presented his sound installation NO AXIS in Gitterraum from 05.11.-07.11.21. We had a little talk with him about his background and projects.




Ilyas:

Hello Cem, thank you for making this possible. As the project was strongly influenced by your studies, lets get into this topic. After completing your master’s degree in composition studies and working as a sound and multimedia artist, you decided to begin a PhD research in ElectronicArts.

What was this about?.


Cem:

Overall, I developed a research framework in order to realize my practice. I was getting much deeper into theories and aesthetics and at the same time I tried to investigate different kinds of multichannel practices. Like Quadrophonics, Acousmonium and virtual worlds. Quadrophonics was the big thing in the seventies. They were, in fact, trying to find a way to get on top of 2 channel systems, using 4 speakers. The second was Acousmonium: Using asymmetrical speakers everywhere in a more artistic context. The third one was back to virtual worlds, it was web a based spatial sound with headphones and interaction with a computer. On top of that, it’s a practice based research. You come into it as an artist and you´re doing research but you´re also expected to provide works of arts and be active all the time. And it has been some really intense 4 years of research and practice and at the end it kind of came out into this thing called spatial sound in the context of social systems. How do we observe spatiality and how do we listen in a psychoacoustic sense? Then bringing these all together: connecting music, sound, space and crafting something with architecture and the observer in mind. And all of these coming together in a meaningful way that also can be enjoyed.


Ilyas:

I guess we could get into this for ages, lets get into your project NOAXIS. What was your first impulse to do it?


Cem:

The first thing was that Gitterraum is a vertical place. As soon as I saw the picture with the giant glass windows and everything, I was intrigued. Because I really enjoy figuring out how to play something in a certain place.


Ilyas:

So NOAXIS was specifically made for this space?


Cem:

Yes. Figuring out how is this specific space used in a functional manner? Where are the entry points? This was also part of my PhD. Functionally trying to draw different areas in the room and figuring out how you can have people circulating and making sure the installation is central but does not get in the way of anything. A good use of space that suits the architecture is very important. It’s everything when you’re creating sound installations. Because that is what makes the sound vibrant, right? The room is a big soup in which the sound vibrates. So, if you put speakers in different places, different things happen.


Ilyas:

I love that the room is a big soup.


Cem:

Yes but its true, it has three dimension. I try to pay extra attention to the vertical space. Because we are usually horizontal listeners. That was the starting point: Putting the speaker in a cluster, facing different directions to places that people can sit, walk around and discover, investigate or just bypass and go to the other side of the room.


Ilyas:

So, in a way, the intention is also to create a decentralized room, to encourage the listener to become active?


Cem:

Decentralized is a good way to say it, i would call it asymmetrical. In contrast to that, Quadrophonics and Ambisonics are focusing on this one point to hear everything perfectly. And there is only one person’s head going to fit in this space. I want to break up this thing, because I was in so many music concerts, where you always have a spot where you are not in a perfect location. I’m trying to do things, where you don’t need a perfect location. Like location itself is the location, wherever you sit and observe it from. I tried to make sure that there is no wrong or right place to be in the room.

Ilyas:

I had the sensation that this is also giving the sound more plasticity and at the same time it becomes a fluid thing in the room. Other than being just a wall of sound, it becomes this thing in between.


Cem:

Yeah, yeah it is a negative space you are dealing with. Between the speakers there is a relation. Between the people and the speaker there is a relation. Between the people and the people there is a relation. There are so many things happening and it’s a very social environment. With so many relations happening everywhere. For me it was intense to see it happen all together, being in this different dimension.


Ilyas:

Negative space is a good word. Coming from this engineering background, what role do mathematics play in all of this? Are you consciously shifting your awareness to mathematics while you are engaging with sound? Is it like a conscious, rational matter or are you trying to overcome this?

Cem:

I try to strengthen my intuition. Because mathematics is an abstraction, it’s like one way of representing something and communicating it to other people.


Ilyas:

Yes there is this one work of you called “Pilelebet”, where you linked numbers of pi to sounds and created a never ending change in sound patterns.


Cem:

The fascinating thing about using pi is how irregular it is. If I turn every digit into a sound, I would make a melody which never repeats. There is no consistent pattern in that series of numbers.


Ilyas:

So actually, it was about the unplanable part of mathematics. But if you think in general about mathematics you are thinking about how to recreate the environment in the most exact way that is possible.


Cem:

I just try to relate it more to nature. I’m trying to find ways to cheat mathematics. It’s a paradox. Thats the fun part. If it makes sense mathematically and you are not communicating anything to the observer, for me, from an engineering point of view, it has no function, it failed to be functional and from an artistic view it also failed from an aesthetical perspective. Sound is the medium and you can’t really just put it into abstractions or numbers. Of course, with technical things there are always mathematical things involved. I try not to make it central with how I’m constructing these ideas or systems.


Ilyas:

When I was going through your past works, I came across your work "Uzunhava" where you completely slowed down songs of the traditional music genre Arabesque, which was produced in the 1980ies in turkey. It is creating a spherical sound which is completely different to the original composition.


Cem:

Yes, it’s this frozen in time kind of thing.


Ilyas:

Yes! I was curious about how you were using sound in this context to approach concepts of time and play with how we perceive time.


Cem:

Yeah, this was one of the earliest things I made. And I really was trying to do a project with different tracks over around the same idea and the same process. And the tracks are basically turkish tapes, Arabesque is the name of the genre, and as the name suggests its highly inspired by Arabic music. This genre is deeply rooted in Turkish culture, especially for the new immigrants of the cities. I was in Istanbul in the time 2013-14 and the political situation was always kind of heated. So, I was trying to find things to work with while also thinking about time and the social aspect that musical genres reflect and also cinema movies and attitudes of politicians, soccer players and so on. This arabesque thing was a mentality, it is beyond the music. It is always about the pain and suffering with no solution.


Ilyas:

The lyrics of the music are all about suffering?


Cem:

Arabesque genre is strikingly painful; it is almost like a pleasure. People would cut themselves with razorblades in arabesque concerts. Yeah, it got really dark and intense. It’s really famous and everybody knows it, and everybody has listened to it at one point.


Ilyas:

In a way you are finding a spherical, anachronistic approach to all this suffering, to all this human dilemma?


Cem:

Yeah, I was also kind of in the same place, depressed and unhappy. I was relating to these songs very much. Coming from a different place, but I felt like I could listen more and more to understand and do something artistic with that. And then, I started to do time stretching, like freezing certain parts of the tracks, like looping 2 seconds and then stretching them so they become a 83 minutes drone sound or something. Yeah, when you start to do electronic music, you really need to let go of the notion of time. You know Beethoven’s symphony can be 1 second long.


Ilyas:

How is time affecting your working process? If you are playing with sound, you have so many infinite parameters, how do you come to an end? Is it finished because you need to finish because of time, or does it more happen that you come to an end when you feel Yes, this is done, no more?


Cem:

When I started with electronic music I was really overwhelmed with the infinite possibilities. Its literally infinity: Infinite combinations, infinite parameters. The more you learn the limitations of things, you realize it’s not actually infinite. Then you actually start shaping things and how you draw the line. I think the more you do it the more you start to see oh ok, this is not there yet, oh ok this is done, I should not mess with it any longer. I also messed with things more and more and made them worse, you kind of find your own rhythm, with time you know when it’s finished. Also, the second thing is the deadlines: like, NOAXIS it had a date and it needed to be finished at a specific time. I gave myself one month to sit down an create this composition and in the last week I came to the room to put the gear in and making sure everything is getting sound. If you gave me another month or three months it would have been a different thing, for sure. But if it wasn’t for deadlines, I would never finish anything, honestly. I have so many projects I am not motivated to finish, till someone else is going to sit down and is going to listen to this. But doing things is a good way to finish them. After Gitterraum, I did an artist residency. I came in with a patch I was playing at home for myself and then I finished and performed it.


Ilyas:

So, it’s also about time?


Cem:

It’s about people, it’s about other people really.


Ilyas:

So, it’s about how other people shape your perception of time?


Cem:

Yes, it’s a very social thing.


Ilyas:

In a way, you can say you are being inside of this timeless sphere and the only thing pulling you out, is the connection to other people.


Cem:

If I make music, I lose sense of time and space and kind of what’s up and down and up and right. After doing hours and hours of listening, your ears are tired you can’t really tell. So, it’s always this isolated, confined space where you can get intense. But you always need to take it out, so it becomes something, like in Gitterraum. So that becomes another challenge, another process.


Ilyas:

So it’s also about reducing possibilities, to shrink everything into a form which is allowing you to come to an end.


Cem:

Yeah definitely.



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