For İlhan Mimaroğlu, 'the heart of an electronic music studio was the tape recorder'

Posted on Jul 3, 2019

Today I heard İlhan Mimaroğlu’s “To Kill a Sunrise” electronic/collage piece on Fabio’s June 27 Strength Through Failure show.

From Sounding Revolution: The Daring İlhan Mimaroğlu | Smithsonian Folkways Magazine:

Mimaroğlu was never a fan of composing music on a computer. For him, the heart of an electronic music studio was the tape recorder. In his early career, he studied and worked at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (CPEMC), which had all of the cutting edge equipment of the time. Ampex tape recorders were at the center of the studio. Today, a composer working on a computer can use any kind of reverberation with just the click of a button. Back then, whole rooms were equipped with EMT reverberation plates. Bode ring modulators and frequency shifters, Moog voltage-controlled amplifiers, envelope generators, envelope followers, analog filters, and Buchla modular synthesizers were also used at CPEMC, as well as mixers designed by Peter Mauzey.

In those days, composing electronic music involved much more physicality. You could literally touch the sound on a piece of tape, cut it, splice it, loop it, reverse it, and much more. Manipulating the tape with bare hands was an organic, tactile process that required the composer to use recording tape, razor blades, leader, timing, adhesive, editing blocks, and greaser pencils. The manual process of splicing and editing was time consuming and the results were irreversible. Today, composers can employ unlimited “undos” while working on a computer for a new piece of music. It is hard to imagine the difficulties that Mimaroğlu went through while composing his sophisticated electronic music compositions with analog tape. Each and every detail would have been thoroughly thought-out and executed with precision.

For Mimaroğlu, experimentation was a continuation of the conceptualization process. If concepts and political content were at the heart of his compositions, tape manipulation techniques were there to serve the idea, not the other way around. This is very evident on the albums released by Folkways Records in 1975 and 1976.