I will keep it short, it is a great experience of freedom and luck to be able to choose the album to write about and the musician to interview. Oğuz Büyükberber has been on the top of my list for a long while to take advantage of this freedom and luck with excitement. He is a rare and complete artist from Turkey—I think he sets the global standards as well—and a unparalleled conversationist; I find his every statement invaluable and share our conversation on his album “Off Monk” with you.
I remember from one of our earlier interviews that your sources of inspiration are always abstracted and externalized. Can we say that this album is an externalization of Monk and thus called “Off Monk”?
We certainly can.
How did you limit Monk’s huge corpus and came to a decision about the repertoire of this album?
I only brought together the musicians with whom I wanted to play this music. My aim was to interpret Monk pieces that we have internalised without setting any notes before us. All five of us came to an agreement on these pieces.
To focus on the topic at hand, this is a Oğuz Büyükberber Quintet album. But we probably have to start by stating that these five guys don’t play Monk’s music. Oğuz Büyükberber is chasing after Monk’s legacy with four close musician friends. Would this remark be correct?
If these five guys got together for Oğuz Büyükberber’s “Off Ellington” project and chose and interpreted pieces from Ellington’s complete works that they have memorized and internalized without looking at the notes, the resulting music would be completely different. Probably whatever’s leftover from Ellington seeps into my music while playing Monk, and vice versa. However, I intently keep the technical musical material I use while improvizing intently focused (I chose this word as a positive version of limited) when I decide to adamantly play a particular Monk piece. Improvization isn’t really “I felt this and played thus” for me, it is an analytical creation process and experience. I hope I was able to answer your question even a little, even though I didn’t reply with a yes or no.
Improvization and composition aren’t interchangeable concepts in your music, instead they are complimentary. You observe form and structure while improvizing as well. How did you combine the pieces which were already written in Off Monk with form and structure while improvizing?
I like the overlapping technique, which I frequently use in my visual work, in music as well. Here, instead of layering different musics on top of each other, I suggested methods like playing different parts of the piece we decided to play in that moment simultaneously, deliberately playing with the timing of the phrases and stretching the original tonality of the piece. All five of us tried to use these methods within the boundaries of the piece without making an order of operation. Music is a branch of art that is experienced by listening, that’s why it can be useful to listen to the piece while creating it.
I don’t know the ratio in your discography but I think concerts and records in the trio format were higher in number. Here, you played as a quintet with musicians with whom you share long musical journeys. How did it feel to be together?
It felt great to me, I hope the same applies to them.
How did this unity reflect upon the essence of “Off Monk”?
Let’s say as polyphony.
Who are the sources of inspiration for the five of you?
I actually haven’t heard another quintet which can be called the instrumental inspiration of this quintet. All five of us have many sources of inspiration! That is because as musicians we don’t only consider a few genres as music.
“Bemsha Swing” is definitely a Oğuz Büyükberber signature. We already know you hear sounds, melodies and rhythms differently compared to us, but what you hear is very wholesome within itself and has a high profile identity. What contributes to this?
Thank you! When I heard “Bemsha Swing” for the first time about 30 years ago, I thought it was related to Turkish music. I used to listen to Jazz Semai and Okay Temiz’s Zikir frequently back then. I think I was in a similar mood while recording this, and the 30 years that have passes and thousands of practice hours somehow contributed to bringing the musical combination I dreamt of hearing when I first listened to “Bemsha Swing” to some extent.
Let’s continue with the same question I keep asking you since your album “Ara”. But we should modify it, considering the changes in your life since 2013. Because when I asked about what you were looking for, you always replied saying peace. What is Oğuz Büyükberber looking for in life in the May of 2017?
Time and space.
You, Sanem Kalfa and I had coffee in the cafe right across the street from Amsterdam conservatory back when you studied bass clarinet there. However, we cannot drink tea in the teahouses nearby Mimar Sinan, where you studied architecture. Because we wouldn’t want to go there. Because that place started to smell bad as well. For example, there will no longer be talent examinations for internal architecture department, your alma mater, and I think for industrial design. We more or less know why this is being done. As a Turk who lives in Holland, how do we look from there?
It makes me think of the new meaning of directly translating homesickness into Turkish.