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Cenk Erg​ü​n: Sonare & Celare

by JACK Quartet

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Sonare 11:36
Celare 14:06


Turkish-American composer Cenk Ergün writes music that achieves a hypnotic effect through masses of sound, repetition with subtle variation, and microtonality. Sonare & Celare are paired works written for the JACK Quartet that stand in opposition to one another. Sonare is mostly vigorous and loud while Celare is ethereal and soft. Despite the drastic contrasts between the two, both demonstrate Ergün’s fascination with delicate shadings of pitch and subtle shifts in phrase syntax that constantly reveal new vantage points on limited material.

Listening inside the mechanisms in Sonare, the ear can focus on any one of several layers of rhythmic and textural activity, making it a kind of sonic manifestation of a pointillistic canvas, albeit one with aggressive dots. After the five minute mark, Ergün thins the texture, focusing on the sotto voce inner cogs of the rhythmic engine, and a mournful melody emerges briefly before the material from the opening returns full force. Just before the end of the piece, the visceral texture stops abruptly, giving way to fragile, unstable harmonics, like a series of creaky swing sets whistling in the playground.

Just intonation, Turkish modes, and early monophonic music provided the fertile inspirational ground for the composition of Celare. The first several minutes of the piece focus on crystalline, ephemeral sonorities. Eventually, Ergün settles into sustained chords with the individual voices in the quartet bending and flexing up and down in microtonal increments, pulling the harmonies as if they are elastic. The piece returns to the disembodied textures of the opening before closing, like Sonare, with a short coda, this time a short repeated fragment combining swelling tones and pizzicati from earlier in the work into an off-kilter loop.

Ergün writes:

“I am interested in building near-static sound fields made up of repeated patterns, sustained tones, and what can be called islands of sound: brief sound events surrounded by silence. The two works on this release pursue these interests through opposing approaches: Sonare unfolds through repetitions of fast, loud, dissonant patterns, at times evoking the sound world of a swarm of wasps. Celare is a gentle and sparse environment in which simple, transparent harmonies resonate at a hazy intersection of early European and Turkish modal music.

Sonare was composed through rigorous, close collaboration with JACK. At first, the quartet interpreted and recorded notation containing the initial sketches of a few repeated patterns. Using audio software, I spliced these recordings into tiny fragments, and treated them as source material to create a countless variety of new patterns. I then transcribed these into notation for JACK to play and record once more. The final score is the result of many repetitions of this process of back-and-forth between audio and notation.

While Sonare places noise on a rhythmic grid to form a series of quasi-mechanical patterns, Celare is concerned with the clarity and precision of tones, positioned within an unmeasured, fluid temporal framework. Played messa di voce, (the baroque style of gently fading into and out of each bowed note) the sonorities in the opening of Celare are informed by early string quartet music, most notably, Sonata a quattro No. 4 by Alessandro Scarlatti. I wanted to create a similarly pristine sound world in the context of just intonation, one that would also allow for dissonance. While experimenting with such sonorities, I stumbled upon melodic fragments of Turkish modes. These relics of monophonic music take on a new guise as the building blocks for the unhurried progression of dense sustained chords at the center of the work.

Written for JACK Quartet during 2015-16, these works have been heard across the U.S. and Europe, including performances at the NY Phil Biennial, Elbphilharmonie, and Lucerne Festival. In May 2019, JACK recorded Sonare & Celare during a two-day recording session at EMPAC in Troy, NY.”

-D. Lippel


released March 13, 2020

Producer: Cenk Ergün

Engineer: Jeffrey J. Svatek

Recording Location: EMPAC, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York; May 2rd & 3rd, 2019


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