Oğuz Büyükberber: Gestural Control of a Modular Synthesizer

As a multi disciplinary artist and a 95% blind individual, Oğuz Büyükberber aims to raise awareness to the wide spectrum of disabilities and their affect in people’s perception of reality. Previously featured on Erica Synths Garage about his exhibiton and live performance PROCESSING, in March 2024 Oğuz Büyükberber was invited to participate in Erica Synths residency program. In the aftermath of the residency, he performed a live set that is now featured on Erica Synths Garage accompanied by an interview on his process and time in Riga. The interview was held by Ģirts Ozoliņš. Later in 2024 Oğuz Büyükberber will release an album made with sounds predominantly recorded during his residency.

- What were your first impressions about the overall residency and the studio?

OB: When I first enter a room, I can't help but perceive and rate the environment with the filter of being a visually impaired person. And that's just given. How accessible is this place? How easy is it for me to move around and navigate in? How comfortable do I feel? Before experiencing physically being in a specific room, it's very hard to imagine how it's going to feel. Am I going to regret it? or am I going to feel trapped? Will I have to find one corner that works for me and not do anything else’?…

When I walked in the Erica Synths Studio, “Yes! I’ll be comfortable here!” was the first thought that popped in my head. First of all, the atmosphere felt very welcoming. And the studio space itself was very tidy, which I really appreciate so much because it's not a given in music technology spaces. There can be cables going across the room, it's very common to have all black floors, walls and ceiling, and no windows. That's my nightmare as a visually impaired person. So, speaking specifically about those aspects of my experience, it was definitely very comfortable. 

And secondly, of course the gear!!!

When you started showing me the equipment that you've accumulated, I was literally blown away. I wasn't expecting to see such a variety of instruments and tools available at my disposal. So yeah, that was really impressive.

Erica Synths studio during Oģuz's residency

- What were your weapons of choice and why ?

OB: Without knowing your entire inventory in full detail, I had a pretty good idea about what you had there, and I had very specific goals and plans prepared beforehand. I encourage others to do the same because it's like being in a candy store and one can easily get lost, and the residency days may fly by without having accomplished much. So, I was super focused. My number one weapon of choice was (and always is) the good old SYNTRX II, which I own and know really well for quite a long time. Secondly, I was particularly keen on dedicating a good chunk of time to Pērkons HD-01, primarily because I love manipulating drum machines to make them do what they are not intended to do.

My music often  isn't set to one stable tempo; instead, I focus on dynamic speed and density changes. When I first saw the Pērkons HD-01 with that giant tempo knob, I said to myself, 'Please, let that knob have a wide range, so I can go from 20 to 400 BMP in one wrist move.’ which it did! I loved running Pērkons HD-01 through Zen Delay and AcidBox in series, both of which allow for super hands-on live tweaking. Making the Pērkons HD-01 BBD go into self oscillation and then cut it in rhythmic elements using the LFO section of the AcidBox was something I used a lot. The way I like to use a good delay is to set it to fully wet with no feedback and play with the time parameter to create pseudo scratching effects and the Zen Delay does this exceptionally well with a ton of character. Both effects units have great drives built in, so, expect some heavy drum sounds on my upcoming record! 

Last but not least, my main focus was the 6U 84HP System that I had pre-designed in before coming here and had shared the ModularGrid (ModularGrid is a database and planner for modular synthesizers - ed.) screenshot with the Erica Synths team. That became my main instrument for the residency, as well as concerts and masterclasses I gave both in Riga and Tallinn. 

- What was the philosophy behind this particular system? Who knows, we might even start producing it and name it after you!

OB: That would be awesome! This case was designed with a specific patch in mind. It could have even been wired in the back, as a pre-routed instrument. It does allow for many different kinds of patching, however I already had this patch in mind while designing the case, and it remains unchanged. The main concept is to create a control feedback patch. Not audio feedback but a chain of events affecting one another in a control voltage feedback system. With only two joysticks, I'm able to control starting, stopping, speeding up and slowing down, density of musical events, at which range they occur simultaneously while shaping timbre and dynamics changes. It also incorporates digital effects. It aims for “playing” the case as an instrument via gestures, without utilising a traditional keyboard. I'm a proficient keyboard player and enjoy it when the musical style calls for that type of input method. In these performances however, I chose to explore the expressive possibilities of a non traditional interface.

Screenshot from ModularGrid

- What was your experience in performing at our space - the sound, environment?

OB:  As you know, one of my many backgrounds is being a classically trained clarinet player. I am happiest when the acoustic sound I hear in a space is already satisfying to me. Of course there are ways to improve a sound in post-production but nothing beats a good sounding room when you play acoustic instruments. I've really enjoyed even just warming up with my clarinet in that space, without using a microphone. It's a really nice room with a high ceiling. It’s not overwhelmingly large, nor is it too small and constricting. That said, I have to say that the sound system really impressed me. The speakers were facing the wall behind me, and I was unsure of what to expect at first. I was a little bit worried, thinking, 'Am I going to need monitors, will there be feedback, will I hear a muffled sound?’ However, I was pleasantly surprised by the acoustic results of this design choice. I knew you had monitors available, but I truly didn't need them, which was very special.

For my clarinet, if we weren't recording and filming, the acoustic sound would have been sufficient for the space. I also loved how you set up the desk. That's my favorite way of performing electronic music—standing and using a high desk with ample amount of space for all my gear. The lighting and the projector which we utilised for my visual art were perfect too. Overall, I had a really good experience for sure.

- Did you discover something new during the residency or had any interesting takeaways?

OB: Like I said, time flies, and you really need to have an idea. So I already have my idea for my next residency. I think I was determined to stick with my plan and not get distracted. But already on day two, I was thinking about what I’d be doing had I come here without a specific plan in mind. The space is so inspiring and it sparks so many different ideas for me to explore.

- You already had a detour with the Black Corporation イセーニン ISE-NIN , right?

OB: Oh yes, exactly! That was not planned. But I managed to find a way to make it fit my composition plan. Growing up in the 70s and 80s, Roland Jupiter was the ultimate, unmatchable, unattainable goal for all of us. Having this beautiful instrument that’s a modern take on that all time classic in front of me automatically brought back memories and inspiration. Just didn’t want to miss the chance.

Black Corporation イセーニン ISE-NIN

- Do you have any recommendations on how we could improve the studio? Perhaps something to add or do differently? Our studio isn't constructed in the conventional way, as it's mostly unwired. It won't be a studio where you push a button and everything works because each musician may have their own instrument preferences and may want to move them around. So overall, if you were in our position, what would you suggest?

OB: To me, the fact that it's not pre-wired is actually a plus because it doesn't dictate a certain set way of working; you need to be creative and take the time to set things up the way you want. And I think that's why you're there at the residency. Imagine, plan, do, make! If I had to add one thing, I would love to see an acoustic piano in that room, preferably a Disklavier type player piano. I'm not sure how many more of your fellow resident artists will need it though.

Oğuz Büyükberber at Erica Synths headquarters

- Did you like Riga?

OB: I didn't have much time partly because of my health condition which requires a certain time of the day for me to recuperate, and rest, and partly because I am a workaholic. I was spending as much time in the studio as I could endure. But Riga is definitely a beautiful city. And the time I had there going on a morning walk, watching you perform at the club, visiting the National Museum of Latvian Art was super fun and inspiring. The food was great and the whole team at Erica Synths is exceptionally nice people.

- If you would have to come up with a profile for an artist that would appreciate our studio the most, what would that profile be?

OB:  Artists who explore that area of electronic music, where beat-oriented composition and more experimental, abstract styles collide would love this place. You have the amazing Buchla and Serge systems, which would appeal to a very specific type of electronic musician. But you also have the whole range of stuff for techno and even electro-pop. So, I think the kind of musician that would benefit from the wide variety of tools you offer would be more of a broad-spectrum artist.

- What was your goal within this residency besides the performance we recorded of your live set?

OB: Using both the 6U modular system we created for the residency and Pērkons HD-01, I made a few hours' worth of recordings with the specific intention and plan to finish a composition. You might call it an EP of about half an hour's worth of music. My background in composition helps me to be able to focus when there’s limited time and a deadline. I can record specific parts, knowing where they will fit into the overall architecture of the piece without having a DAW in front of me. I'm not doing it in a traditional multitrack fashion, instead I'm purely focusing on each part independently. I know how things will align. I mainly used Pērkons HD-01 to create fluctuating rhythms that have a lot of probability in them. Not randomization, but probability. I wanted sudden and extreme temporal changes, reflecting how I play the clarinet: gestures with rapid shifts in density, register and color. I aim to replicate that energy with a drum machine, as if “I’ am the drummer but the sound is the Pērkons HD-01. I already described how I designed the eurorack system to “play”. Recordings of me playing the modular case will be used as top layers of the composition to create flexible gestures over the ''crazy drummer on acid''.

Read the interview about the evolution of his creative path, accessibility of tools to express himself as a visually impaired artist and how he made it in an industry that isn't always easy to navigate without the weight of disability here

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