Guıtarist, composer and educator Güç Başar Gülle’s third album “Reverse Perspective” has been released through TMC label on the first week of January 2019. Gülle, who finds his footing in different genres and thought movements, has actually graduated from Boğaziçi University’s Philosophy department. He then graduated from Istanbul Technical University’s Turkish Music Conservatoire with a graduate degree in 2004 and enroled in Berklee School of Music the same year. He finished the four-year Jazz Composition programme in two years. The musician gave a classical guitar recital at Harvard University that included his own original work while living in Boston. He also performed as an accompanying guitarist and oud player in concerts that took place in many universities in the States such as U.C.LA, George Washington University, M.I.T. and Rice University. He gave workshops on Ottoman-Turkish Music in Berklee School of Music. The musician, who shared the same stage with prominent jazz musicians such as Leo Blanco, Bruno Raberg and David Fiuczynski, released his album “İlk Renk” in 2010 and “Bensiz” in 2013. Gülle also is featured in ECM’s “Journey to Anatolia” album project and became the first Turkish oud player to work with the label. He is currently undertaking the position of MMA’s (Modern Müzik Akademisi) director and is working on his second book on harmony. His latest album “Reverse Perspective” features Güç Başar Gülle on the guitar, Tamer Temel on the saxophone, Apostolos Sideris on the bass and Cem Aksel on the drums. I asked him some questions on his album and his book on harmony.
What is “Reverse Perspective” and its importance in your life?
Reverse Perspective is a visual art technique from the Medieval ages, a form that was born from the life styles that existed before the Renaissance. It is a long-forgotten perspective style that was left aside with the emerging ideas on linear perspective during the Renaissance, after linear perspective’s success in being so influential in all aspects in the Western World from physicans to music, from philosophy to geometry.
The lack of historical explanations in the theory books pushed me towards making research into other fields during a period when I was focused on understanding the Western music. Pavel Florensky’s Reverse Perspective and Erwin Panofsky’s Perspektive books helped me immensely in understanding the centrality of visuality in the Western world and how it prepared an infrastucture in other disciplines. I worked on the development of Western music harmony and its relationship to the visual arts as well as the formation of the concept of linear perspective as it relates to these.
I believe that this form, which gave life to humanity through the Renaissance, transformed into a different value following the Industrial Revolution and became a burden in our lives. I wanted to open this topic for discussion and show the existence of alternative life forms, and worked on how I could use the Reverse Perspective approach in the concept of harmony.
We know you through your work on Turkish music, why did you wait this long for a jazz album?
I always tend to lean towards abstraction in my works on Turkish music. I was looking for new forms that stemmed from the Ottoman-Turkish music’s rhythmic forms in my album İlk Renk. I wrote contemporary pieces by developing composition techniques from rhythmic forms called ‘usul’. But I didn’t know how to portray the effect of Reverse Perspective. The aesthetic form of Ottoman-Turkish music is actually built upon the Reverse Perspective form. I wanted to express this perspective directly in today’s language instead of working with material that is dependent on this form. That’s why I wanted to stay away from Turkish music.
I was to present the appropriate technical language I developed within the harmonic structure for Reverse Perspective either through a contemporary language or in jazz form. I believe that the contemporary language that exists today is purely in academic form and is struggling to survive in a framework that give little space to expression. I believe it actually embodies the main problem of the academic world. Let me elaborate; there is an explanation in Jerry King’s book on the art of mathematics, the articles on mathematics are only read by those who write or publish them in the academic world. This applies to contemporary music as well. Jazz has more opportunities to reach bigger audiences and that’s why I wanted to use the language of jazz.
I know that you named your piece “Parker’s Tappings” after Charlie Parker’s father who did tap dancing, how did you allude to Charlie Parker in this piece? What was in your mind as you were composing?
I don’t think the value attributed to rhythm is on a satisfactory level when the Turkish gaze on jazz music is concerned. Harmony is in the foreground, but I believe the swing feeling is more important than harmony. In 4 time signatures, the 1st and the 3rd beats are accented in our culture and in the rhythmic approach of Western musics, whereas jazz swing is based on 2 and 4. I have seen people in Turkey struggle a lot with this concept of 2 and 4. This isn’t emphasized enough and when groove isn’t felt in music and music becomes volumized to make it satisfactory and thus becomes tiring.
The swing feel became much more important to me when the relationship between Charlie Parker’s rhythmic structure and tap dancing became clear and I felt my perception change, connecting me closer with the traditions. This is the only swing piece in the album and is based on a rhythmic technique called anticipation that makes the swing color really vibrant.
Did the fact that you initially played the flamenco guitar affect your current jazz guitar playing?
I started playing the guitar with a pick at Berklee. Tim Miller warned me “Why are you using a pick?” when he saw my right hand technique during a class and it made sense to me. I started to play with the finger picking technique since that day. My right hand technique improved a lot during my work with flamenco. It had aspects that made arpeggio and wide spread voicing easier.
Can you talk a bit about the album? How did you come together with the musicians who recorded with you?
While traditional Western tonal harmony emphasizes centrality across linear perspective, modern harmonic approaches aim to create a form based on the lack of it. I wanted to position the center behind my back, not in front of me, and to expand my horizon. I came up with a harmonic language that expands and opens up by creating temporary and two-sided pauses in the relationship between the previous and following chords within the chord progression with cyclic symmetry. I realized my aim of translating the ever expanding gaze on the reverse perspective into harmonic language with this approach. The compositions followed right after the utilization of the Reverse Perspective technique. I wrote all the pieces in 5 days. Cem Aksel has always been the drummer who impresses me the most after I got acquainted with jazz. It was Cem Aksel who moved me the most during Bülent Ortaçgil concerts before my interest in jazz came about. I have always enjoyed Tamer Temel’s appetite for creation and his openness to try out new things, and especially the deliciousness of his sound. Apostolos Sideris and I have been wanting to make music together for a while. He became Patitucci’s student after Berklee. He is a musician who has experienced intense things in jazz and other ethnic music genres.
How does your education on philosophy affect your music?
Philosophy helped me gain an intellectual discipline. It helped me distinguish between structures of music history, theory and performance practices and to place the imitative knowledge in a healthy compartment. I am able to combine historic and theoretical knowledge with practice this way. I can say that I filled the gap between theory and practice, one that exists in the academic circles, with the aid of philosophy. There is a fantastic dialogue by Socrates. They ask him to talk about morals. He replies look at the way I act. Application is really overlooked in modern teaching tools. The gap between theory and practice prevents individuals to move forward in a healthy way. People might think I was subject to a strictly theoretical approach when they look into my past. However, my biggest claim has always been this on the contrary: Make good music, however you choose to do it. May it be nurtured by theory or other tools. As long as it is good music, the theory comes easily.
You have knowledge on Classical Western music, Turkish music, jazz and many others, and you have read many books on them. How did the idea of writing books on harmony come to mind? Did you think there was something missing in this field?
The most fundamental problem in teaching about harmony is the lack of a clear distinction between harmonic fields. I would have nervous break downs after harmony classes at Berklee and would run to bookstores. Because I didn’t receive answers to many questions I was asking. The would roughly explain about the application but I wasn’t satisfied with any structural explanation they gave. I had the same problem during my master’s degree studies at MIAM. I started my pursuit on the definitions on every single harmonic field from scratch, with a focus on Schoenberg, Schenker, Reimann and Berrie Nattles’s books 8 years ago. The biggest problem is, they explain the theory with too many axioms. This confuses the students and the theory stirs clear from application after a while. I believe it is mandatory to show these distinctions and I clearly show the colors of tonal, modal, modal change (functional) and nonfunctional harmonic structures by giving a portrayal of appropriate conditions. This way the student is more readily able to notice the harmonic colors while analyzing and approaches music with a more complete perspective. The student feels more confident with the help of this infrastructure, especially before improvizations, and is able to focus more on melodic and rhythmic sentences. I wrote this book in order to meet this need and to allow people to avoid the harmonic pressure weighing down on them.
What are your plans on concerts and the harmony book? I believe you will go to America for a while?
I will first release my harmony book in English in digital format on Amazon and go to San Francisco, Boston and New York between 29 March and 19 April to promote the book and my album Reverse Perspective. I wish to present my latest works for discussion in both academic and musician circles, especially at Berklee and New England Conservatoires, and to renew myself. I want to expand my horizon through critique on the weak and strong aspects of my works and benefit from them.
There is a sentence that includes “my students who taught me about harmony” in your instructional book, could you elaborate on that?
I have always shared everything I knew and didn’t know with my students. I always try to create an open space for discussion. I try really hard to avoid my students from feeling that hierarchical student-teacher relationship. One of my students even shouted “This is all nonsense” while I was giving a lecture during a group lesson. I turned to them and said, maybe, and kept giving the lecture. Now that student is a graduate with double major degrees in musicology and composition.
I have found solutions to many things I wasn’t able to solve before during these discussion sessions. Because students ask more direct, naked questions compared to my perspective. I combine these questions with my experience and produce solutions. I have sound solutions to many theoretical and practical problems during these discussions. I would like to thank all my students who gave me the opportunity to see the harmony in both music and life.
Could you talk about MMA (Modern Müzik Akademisi) and your teaching adventure? How did your wish to teach start?
The process that started with me giving piano lessons in 2008 when I returned from America lead to me becoming the director of MMA. I am currently in this position.
I tried to shape the academy in a boutique school format ever since I started directing it in 2012. Young people don’t feel confident in themselves in the fundamental subjects even if they graduate from music schools or they forget the information they gather during their preparation to enter these schools because the knowledge isn’t stored healthily. We fill these gaps in the fields of Jazz/Western Music/Movie Music and Music Production with a curriculum that combines these fundamental information with advanced level knowledge as well as all their applications in a way to make it easier to excel in academic institutions and in the music industry.
Teaching and learning exist on the same plane for me. Explaining something in three sentences is the prerequisite of knowledge in my opinion. This criterion helped me structure a form that is both plain and clear. I realized the things I don’t know emerge quicker with this form. There is a conception that the more complex a discourse is, the more valuable it is in every field. That is why it is hard to distinguish between those with the knowledge and those without. This uncertain situation forced me to first learn and then to teach.
What are your suggestions to young musicians who wish to study at Berklee?
Firstly, they shouldn’t obsessed about Berklee. Because there are other places way cheaper that have as high quality departments as Berklee does, depending on the field of expertise chosen. Attending Berklee has become something questioned in many places in the world, even in America, because of the economic situation we all are in. My biggest suggestion for young students is that they should get the school part done with, whichever school they choose to attend, and jump head first into life. The only place a person develops their own language is desperation. Their shell won’t break without jumping into life. It is important to deal with the feeling of desperation to break it. Schools provide such a protected space for students that the way their graduates are introduced to real life causes traumas.
This is somewhat of a cliche question but it is my favorite to ask in interviews, because I always learn something I didn’t know before. What are you currently reading and listening to?
Chul Han – The Scent of Time / William Chittick- Divine Love
Adam Rogers is probably my favorite guitarist whose work I listen to regularly. His 2005-2009 albums still have such an incredible effect on me. Appartitions-Sight- Time and The Infinite.
Mozart’s Piano Duets are really interesting, as if they weren’t written by him. It is an intriguing feeling, listening to Mozart. Debussy’s preludes are always on my play list.