180 gram Double Vinyl in Gatefold Sleeve with Lyrics and English Translation.
The collected works of Sumru Ağıryürüyen and Orçun Baştürk
Folk songs and computer loops, electronic garble and jazz, random sounds of nature and ancient poetry. Pauses and rests between note and note, the silences that give meaning to sounds. SO Duo speaks and sings in tongues, crossing borders, carrying words from culture to culture, from tongue to tongue in a language that everybody can understand.
SO Duo, Sumru Ağıryürüyen (vocal, mandolin, keyboard) and Orçun Baştürk (panduri, voice, keyboard, electronics, drums) have been creating various projects together, in a spectrum between traditional and avant-garde since 2013. So Far is a collection of the works of SO Duo released on vinyl as a double LP for fans and collectors for the first time.
SO Duo, So Far, So Good (by Bülent Somay)
‘Where spring, the lord of seasons reigneth, there the unstruck music sounds of itself.Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore
Erkan Oğur, the maestro of pulling tales out of anything with strings, once said, ‘There are tiny infinities between one half-note and the other.’ Isn’t this what music is all about? To spend a lifetime searching for these tiny infinities, waiting for them to come to you while you are working, while you are asleep, while you are trying to decipher a musical piece that looks and sounds undecipherable, while you are improvising, or singing off-key to yourself in the shower?
SO Duo offers us yet another version of these tiny infinities, not between one half-note and the other this time, but between one beat, one repetition and the other. Sumru (Ağıryürüyen) and Orçun (Baştürk) start out by stripping their music to its bare bones. They don’t exactly call themselves minimalists, but seek the most adept impression with the least possible number of elements. They descend to the simplest riff, and then turn around and start building up, always repeating, but never repeating again. Every repetition is different, not necessarily in a crescendo, but subtly, ever so subtly, like in Tevfik Fikret’s poem, Rain: ‘tiny, recursive, timid beats’, that speak of change all the time. Not necessarily a ground-shaking transformation, but a temperate, sober change that endlessly seeks the golden ratio without ever reaching it.
Sumru and Orçun met less than a decade ago, and decided to improvise together, along with friends. They still have those friends; don’t be taken in by the phrase ‘Duo’: For them two is always more than just two. They still improvise, although sometimes they record these, sometimes in a studio, sometimes at home, with whatever equipment they find handy. We are, however, allowed to listen to a small part of these, and eagerly wait for more.
Sumru could have perfectly contented herself with having an ‘angelic voice’ and use it for fame and (maybe) fortune. Isn’t it all that matters? Everybody says so! I most certainly did, when I first met her, at the age of sixteen, until I was taught otherwise by Sumru herself as I grew up.
Orçun could have settled for being the coolest drummer in town. Many before him did. Don’t the drummers in bands pick up the prettiest girls, after all? I thought so, too, until I was taught otherwise by a student of mine, a drummer who happens to be a woman.
But no, they had to have their music, always searching, listening, listening closely, until they discover, ‘Maybe we are all made of what we have listened to’. If you want to grow and expand, you have to listen to everything you can get your hands on, and not settle for what everybody else listens and goes on with business as usual. So they listen to folk songs and computer loops, electronic garble and jazz, random sounds of nature and ancient poetry, and find (make? re-make?) themselves in these. Eclectic? Maybe, but definitely not chaotic, because they also listen to silences.
The tace, the pauses and rests between note and note, the silences that give meaning to sounds, are SO Duo’s forte: they can use silences to underline, to emphasise the tale they want to tell, or to surround the mystery that cannot be told. Silence in music can be a very tricky thing: you can flaunt it, like John Cage, very noisily but without a sound, or you can hum it modestly, like Charlie Haden, calmly but with a full brass band. SO Duo can do both; as in many other things, they follow the Way in using silences:
clay makes a pot.
Where the pot’s not
is where it’s useful. (Tao Te Ching, I/11)
But of course they also ‘make noise’. They have their instruments of choice: Sumru’s mandolin is an instrument almost every child in Kemalist Turkey was required to learn in primary school as a part of the ‘Westernisation’ project, but is usually sniffed at as you grow up: you are expected to ‘grow out of it’. She uses it with respect and mastery, as if it was an extension of her body. Orçun’s panduri, the three-stringed authentic Georgian saz is also an uncomplicated, grass-root instrument which is not ‘cool’ at all. Having found his broken and abandoned in a bar, he made it whole again; or maybe it made him whole (‘Be broken to be whole,’ said Lao Tzu).
SO Duo speaks and sings in tongues. Sometimes it sounds like gibberish; every language (other than the reigning lingua franca), sounds like a bit of a gibberish to other cultures anyhow. SO Duo embraces this difference, rather than escaping from it. Sometimes they rely on translations from little-known languages and cultures, from the Pygmies of Gabon to the Native American oral poems, or to the 15th century Hindu poet/saint Kabir. Sometimes they don’t even bother to translate, so it becomes Glossolalia: They sing couplets from Fuzuli, an Azerbaijani/Ottoman poet, in his original Ottoman Turkish (which contemporary Turkish-speakers cannot understand anyway). They sing a Karamanid lullaby, in an almost-forgotten tongue, an unusual hybrid of Turkish and Greek. Or they sing divinations from an Old Turkic fortune-telling book, in Uighur Turkish—in the hope that there will still be Uighurs in China who can understand it before the next couple of decades are over.
They act, in short, as a remedy, an antidote for the curse of the Tower of Babylon. They sing from Yunus Emre, an 13th century mystic Turkish poet that:
A multitude of languages appeared
Borders were placed between them
So they travel across borders, carrying news and words from culture to culture, from tongue to tongue in a language that everybody can understand, if they are listening. That language is music, a universal: not the universal of the popular cliché or the lingua franca, but the universal that you can only hear if you are willing to travel along, across borders and languages and cultures.
Only in silence the word,
Only in dark the light,
said Ursula Le Guin. To hear that music, you must be silent.